Wednesday 3 March 2010

Culture and Diversity in Member Care—Part 3

Cultural Sensitizers for Good Practice

“Is it true that all of you folks in Africa really live in trees?”
a North American student bewilderedly asked her new African classmate.
“Yes it is true,” replied the recent trans-Atlantic arrival, with a slight grin.
“But don’t worry, it's not so difficult, because we we all have elevators.”
(inspired by a quote in Figuring Foreigners Out, 1999, p. 157)
In member care, as in life, we want to promote understanding, respect, and competency regarding human diversity and cultural variation. How do we develop these qualities? One interesting way is through “cultural sensitizers” which are a special type of brief case studies. Culture and the Clinical Encounter, is an easy-to read book filled with dozens of these sensitizers-cases

Culture and the Clinical Encounter: An Intercultural Sensitizer for the Health Professions  (1996, Rena Groper, Intercultural Press; You can also preview a large part of the book this book on Google Books)

In each case presented in this book, cultural factors have a significant impact on how health problems are perceived and treated—by both the patients and the health professionals. Each case includes a choice of four possible responses for dealing with the situation, with an explanation in a separate section as to the appropriateness of each response. The book concludes with 10 pages of helpful principles for working with those from different cultures, including the awareness of the influence of our own culture on our perceptions of others (Section Four). We find the sensitizers to be challenging and quite fun! It is a great way to further develop helping skills regarding human diversity/cultural variation.

Culture and the Clinical Encounter is written in a multi-cultural context for medical care practitioners in North America. However, you will likely see its relevance for other settings too. Perhaps you will want to develop similar sensitizers for your own setting. It would also be great to see something like this developed more specifically for the member care field.

Other Books (among many!)
Here are two other books on culture appreciation/learning that are east to read, enjoyable, and filled with lots of examples and practical helps.
**Figuring Foreigners Out: A Practical Guide (1999) by Craig Stori
See preview at Google Books
**Foreign to Familiar: A Guide to Understanding Hot- and Cold-Climate Cultures (2000) by Sarah Lanier

Note: Be sure to check on sites like to compare prices.

Reflection and Discussion
1. Do the first two sensitizers on the Google Books site linked above. How did you do? Note that the answers are not included in the Google book preview—if you are not sure feel free to contact us!

2. Give an example of a culturally insensitive thing that you have done. Also, what is an example of a culturally insensitive thing done to you?

3. Think of a situation in cross-cultural member care that would make a good cultural sensitizer. What would be a couple wrong responses and what would be some more helpful responses? (e.g., seeing a person who is of the opposite sex and from a more traditional culture, for an “informal” time of counselling, giving the person a friendly hug, looking the person in the eye often, calling the person by his/her first name, meeting the person in the family home where the relatives can hear some of the conversation, ending the session “on time”, doing most of the talking as the other person nods his/her head, etc.)

4. How could you use the three books mentioned above in your setting, training, or organization? For example it might be helpful to have a short refresher time together and go over some basic principles and also issues specific to your setting, using some of the book materials as a point of departure.

5. What would be a couple indications for not being “culturally sensitive?” Any experiences of this in your life/work? (e.g., someone is a danger to themselves or others but this is not acknowledged by family members for cultural reasons; not allowing a child to participate in a “cultural” ceremony or celebration; challenging the belief in past sins or spirits as being the cause for chronic/incurable illnesses, etc.)

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