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    Educating the Next Generation of
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Cultural Variables in the Therapeutic Setting

As a professional in the healing arts, both as a Registered Nurse as well as an advanced practice bio-energy healer and counselor, I get very excited about human nature, psychology and what makes us tick. When I contemplate the things which unite humans in a common bond, I’m always equally curious about the complexities of what makes us different.

As human beings we share some very fundamental traits whether we are born in Japan, the Congo or in Canada.These similarities are the bedrock of what frames us in our current state of consciousness in 2012. They are the basic ingredients of what shapes us on a psycho-social level.

But despite the fact that our psycho-social development begins with a standard blueprint, humankind eventually diverges into a menagerie of intricate and intriguing variations

There are numerous causes for our disparity but one single element appears to have a monumental influence; culture.

The culture in which we are raised plays a staggering role in shaping who we are and what is “normal” and “odd”.

In order to provide the most therapeutic and informed counseling and bio-energy therapy, it is vital that we understand how we are similar and yet, how we are different from one another.

In his book, “The Social Animal: The Hidden sources of Love, Character and Achievement”, David Brooks identifies amazing information about how culture and other factors dictate who we are and what we use to measure our character and success.

All cultures share some basic similarities which are stored in our genetics
Anthropologists have studied these factors and can safely tell us the following:
*All cultures differentiate colors-White and black. However these are the only two colors that are uniform across all cultures. If a third color is named, it’s always red.
After these, however, cultures move into individual color palates. In some cultures there is no such color as blue, for example. In fact, the color blue is not even recognized by the human eye.

  • Humans uniformly display the same basic facial expressions for the emotions of fear, disgust, happiness, contempt, anger, sadness, pride and shame. Babies who are born blind will display the exact same facial expressions as those who are born with eyesight.
  • All people divide time into past, present and future.
  • All cultures identify with fear. Spiders and snakes are uniformly feared across the board, at least initially,  because they were a threat to life for our distant ancestors.
  • All cultures embrace art
  • Every culture fundamentally disapproves of rape and murder.
  • Every single culture dreams of harmony and worships a Divine source.

Donald E Brown, in his book, “ Human Universals” lists a multitude of things that all humans share and the list is endless.

A few more of the noteworthy items are that all children fear strangers and are more attracted to sugar solutions than plain water from birth. Stories, myths and proverbs are common in all cultures. Across the board men display more group violence and tend to travel further from home then do women. Women provide more child care then do men. Holding false beliefs is present in every culture. False beliefs in that the psyche makes up beliefs and images about life based on their personal experience.

People everywhere have opinions about others according to prestige; whether that be a positive opinion or a negative opinion.  Or just something a person notes. 100% of the world categorizes people into those inside their group and those outside their group. Even if we feel we are non-prejudice, we still separate ourselves even if it’s “the prejudice ones” and the “non-prejudice ones”.

The basic thing to understand is that no one lives in a universal culture. We all live within a specific and unique culture. And what is right, good, normal, acceptable in one culture may be completely absurd in another.

It is these specific cultural differences that we are called to recognize as professional practitioners.

In Germany, plays and movies are more likely to have a tragic or unhappy ending than those produced in the USA. Their culture also is ten times more likely to walk in a bathing suit on the beach no matter what their body type and size over those in Japan or North America.

When it comes to fear, nearly 65% of Japanese cannot identify a specific fear, but rather just feel fear all the time. While in the USA the strongest fears have to do with being rejected and behaviors which might cause that.

When we look at physical contact, what’s normal and abnormal also differs between cultures and society.
Whereas it is cross-cultural to perform sexual acts in private, public display of affection seems to chase along a vast spectrum.  The University of Florida sent researchers to observe couples having coffee in a public place. They made their observations in cities across the world.
In London couples rarely or never touch each other. In Paris, they saw an average of 10 touches during their coffee and in San Juan, Puerto Rico they saw contact an average of 180 times.

Cultural differences even exist within the same country depending on the region. For example, if you bump into a man in the North of the USA, the testosterone level in his bloodstream does not rise significantly. However, if you bump into a man in the Southern states, where a culture of honor is highly regarded, a sharp rise in cortisol and testosterone can actually be detected.

It is culture and not so much human instinct which ascribes morals and values beyond the inherent aversion to killing and rape. In some culture it is even acceptable to lie and cheat. In these cultures corruption  is expected and accepted.

Yet even within particular cultures there is a continuity of conflict. Meaning, there are differences within the culture which provide for thinking and behaving outside of the norm.

Considering these vast cultural variations is essential to a thriving and effective therapeutic practice. It is wise to consider an individual’s cultural influences when evaluating any particular client. Familiarize yourself and understand their culture and what their particular culture considers as their norms and values.

Witness your counter-transference issues moment-to-moment. Are there cultural differences provoking your reaction? Find a qualified and skilled supervisor who has gained wisdom through practice as well as one who has education in the various ways of psycho-social development.
Professional supervision is not optional for those who consider themselves professionals in the therapeutic field. The support and insights you gain through professional supervision will continuously develop your professional aptitude and leadership qualities.

More on supervision in future editions.
Suggested readings:
1. The Social Animal; The Hidden Sources of love, Character and Achievement  by David Brook
2. Human Universals by Donald E Brown, professor of cultural anthropology (emeritus)
3. Connected; The surprising Power of our Social Networks by Nicholas A. Christakis, MD Ph. D and James Fowler, PhD

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