The importance of cultural awareness in working with clients

Living and working in Singapore it is impossible to ignore the important role that culture plays in our society and what better time to discuss cultural awareness than during Minority Mental Health Awareness Month.  As clinicians we are acutely aware that therapeutic rapport is at the very centre of the work we do, without it we would be unable to foster a healthy, safe and respectful relationship with our clients.  We need to have a connection with our clients and be empathetic, non-judgemental and supportive.

Being aware of cultural differences, especially when working with clients from a different cultural background than our own is vital.  We must be aware of and acknowledge our own cultural beliefs and values as well as look at biases and assumptions that we may hold about other groups of people.   It is important to regularly ask ourselves how our own culture informs our attitudes and beliefs.  What stereotypes and generalizations about different cultures do we make?  

In my work with clients I often see cultural differences play out with regards to values that a client holds.  Being Asian myself but with a largely Western influenced upbringing I can often see how working from a Western cultural perspective of valuing independence and autonomy for example, does not always translate well when working with clients from an Asian background where respecting and obeying parents is often of utmost importance.  At the same time I have to be equally careful not to assume that because a client is Asian that they will hold those particular values.  By being aware of the influence that culture plays it is easier for us to understand where a client is coming from and how their culture may be informing their values and attitudes and therefore be able to provide more effective counselling while being cognizant and respectful of our clients culture and the role it plays in their lives.

Written by:

Anita Bartholomeusz

Registered Counsellor with Singapore Association for Counselling

Masters of Counselling

Cert. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy