Culturally Biased Assumptions in Crisis Work
Unintentional and unexamined cultural and racial assumptions can impair functioning of counselors (Arredondo, 1999; Ober et al., 2000; Ridley, 1995; Thompson & Neville, 1999). That statement holds doubly true for crisis workers given the cross-cultural circumstances within which they often operate—particularly in large-scale disaster relief. Pedersen (1987) discusses the following 10 culturally biased assumptions that crisis workers would do well to remember:
1. People all share a common measure of “normal” behavior (p. 17) (the presumption that problems, emotional responses, behaviors, and perceptions of crises are more or less universal across social, cultural, economic, or political backgrounds).
2. Individuals are the basic building blocks of all societies (p. 18) (the presumption that crisis intervention and counseling are directed primarily toward the individual rather than units of individuals or groups such as the family, organizations, political groups, or society).
3. The definition of problems can be limited by academic discipline boundaries (p. 19) (the presumption that the identity of the crisis worker or counselor is separate from the identity of the theologian, medical doctor, sociologist, anthropologist, attorney, or representative from some other discipline).
4. Western culture depends on abstract words (pp. 19–20) (the presumption of crisis workers and counselors in the United States that others will understand these abstractions in the same way as workers intend them).
5. Independence is valuable and dependencies are undesirable (p. 20) (the presumption of Western individualism that people should not be dependent on others or allow others to be dependent on them).
6. Formal counseling is more important than natural support systems surrounding a client (pp. 20–21) (the presumption that clients prefer the support offered by counselors over the support of family, peers, and other support groups).
7. Everyone depends on linear thinking (pp. 21–22) (the presumption by counselors and crisis workers that each cause has an effect, and each effect is tied to a cause—to explain how the world works—and that everything can be measured and described in terms of good or bad, appropriate or inappropriate, and/or other common dichotomies).
8. Counselors need to change individuals to fit the system (p. 22) (the presumption that the system does not need to change to fit the individual).
9. The client’s past (history) has little relevance to contemporary events (pp. 22–23) (the presumption that crises are mostly related to here-and-now situations, and that crisis workers and counselors should pay little attention to the client’s background).
10. Counselors and crisis workers already know all their assumptions (p. 23) (the presumption that if counselors and crisis workers were prone toward reacting in closed, biased, and culturally encapsulated ways that promote domination by an elitist group, they would be aware of it).
All 10 assumptions are, of course, flawed and untenable in a pluralistic world. Cormier and Hackney (1987) warn that human services workers who do not understand their own cultural biases and the cultural differences and values of others may misinterpret the behaviors and attitudes of clients from other cultures. Such workers may incorrectly label some client behavior as resistant and uncooperative. They may expect to see certain client behaviors (such as self-disclosure) that are contrary to the basic values of some cultural groups. The culturally insensitive counselor or crisis worker may also stereotype, label, or use unimodal, inappropriate, or ineffective counseling approaches and concepts in an attempt to help clients from other cultures (pp. 256–258).
Specifically in the field of crisis intervention, there has been criticism of the Western-based trauma model and particularly the elevation of PTSD as a pathological entity that has been coined in self-serving ways by victims’ groups, politicians, and profiteering lawyers and therapists when there is little empirical evidence to support such an assumption (Silove, 2000; Summerfield, 1999). (James 22-23) James, Gilliland. Crisis Intervention Strategies, 6th Edition. Wadsworth Publishing Company, 2007-07-01. . mpair functioning of counselors (Arredondo, 1999; Ober et al., 2000; Ridley, 1995; Thompson & Neville, 1999).