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Relatively Speaking: An Interview with Patricia Arredondo | Brief Therapy Conference 2018

Relatively Speaking

An Interview with Patricia Arredondo
Image of Patricia Arredondo Banner for Interview

Relatively Speaking: An Interview with Patricia Arredondo

Photo of Patricia ArredondoPatricia Arredondo, EdD is Senior Associate Vice President with University Undergraduate Initiatives and Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University. Professor Arredondo serves as President of the American Counseling Association (ACA), and was recognized as a “Living Legend” by the ACA, for contributions to the development of multicultural counseling competencies, for dedication to Latino/a issues, and for leadership in promoting a organizational change through a focus on diversity. Her latest book is Becoming Culturally Oriented published by American Psychological Association. She gave an outstanding keynote address in December 2006 in the Brief Therapy Conference in Anaheim.

Lilian: It is great to get together and have this conversation with you. Thank you. My first question is what is your definition of Multicultural Counseling?

Patricia: My definition is based on a paradigm of inclusion of a person’s total identity. Multicultural Counseling encompasses people in their totality including their historical context, their family context, and their national or cultural context. The multicultural paradigm helps me to recognize that individuals have many forces that affect how they evolve in life philosophically and pragmatically– how they became who they are. Seeing individuals in social, cultural and historical contexts helps me understand the opportunities, or lack of opportunities, individuals have had, and the stressors they have in their life journey. Sometimes those stressors are based on parts of their identity they cannot change: their gender, their race or their sexual orientation. When I first see a person in counseling I do not focus only on the issue that is brought to therapy; but, I am thinking about the context of family, current relationships, personal history, etc. The multicultural lens is comprehensive and invites us to get to know people in their multiplicity, in their multi-dimensionality, and in their complexity. Focusing on the problem alone is not enough.

Lilian: What does a professional need in order to be a good multicultural therapist?

Patricia: The first thing a therapist needs to consider is how he or she became the multi-dimensional person they are. Think about the different parts of themselves: the roles they play in life, their gender, sexual orientation, age, ethnicity, etc.

Lilian: The person needs to understand who they are in the world and what impact they have in other people?

Patricia: Absolutely. When we walk into a room we have a social impact. When clients see you for the first time, they are making an appraisal of the therapist based on how we look. The same thing happens when we see clients. It goes beyond transference and countertransference because it encompasses the images we have from other people in other contexts. The client may have some of those images. As I mentioned, the first thing therapists need to do is to pay attention to their multi-dimensionality and understand it in order to see our clients the same way.

Second, therapists need to be curious about the client. They need to have a curiosity that indicates they do not delimit their relationship to the problem presented.

Lilian: By “being curious” you also mean being aware of the stereotypes we carry so we do not impose them to clients?

Patricia: “Who is this person?” I am sitting here with you and thinking: ”Who is Lilian? How did she become who she is? What were her antecedents? What has influenced her? What are the issues that impacted her over her lifetime? What are the issues today?”

We all evolve as cultural beings and I changed some values due to experiences I had in my life. The multicultural paradigm helps us to understand there are no right values. Values are relative to education, relative to upward mobility, socioeconomic status, culture, etc. It is an imposition to say: “this low socioeconomic family or parents don’t value education because they did not graduate from high school, they did not go to college.” As therapists we had the privilege of higher education, of being upwardly mobile. Oftentimes we may misjudge people because they appear to us to be not following a pathway that we deem appropriate. Perhaps, they had to make decisions about how to manage their economics, and what they could do on behalf of their children.

This is the second part that therapists have to consider from a multicultural perspective: Understand your own values sets and how those values create barriers. If they are unexamined we may impose those values on another person. The multicultural paradigm invites us to question a lot of the assumptions we make about the clients. Sometimes these assumptions are inaccurate.

Lilian: Multicultural counseling started in late 60s, early 70s. We developed to a point where we have multicultural competencies taught in universities training programs, and professionals are aware of the multicultural dimension in therapy, etc. What is the growing edge in the multicultural arena? What needs to be developed in the future in terms of the multicultural field?

Patricia: Multicultural awareness never ends. The multicultural competencies that we developed in the 80s, 90s and in the early 2000s are guidelines for how to think about the role of culture and the multidimensionality of culture in our lives and in therapy. The guidelines help us to think about the therapists we are and help us to develop knowledge about people from other cultural backgrounds. The guidelines can help us to develop our practice, and modify the methodology. We may apply in therapy genograms to explore someone’s cultural history, or incorporate some cultural values like “personalismo” to promote relationship-building. Personalismo is a Latino value which allows the relationships to be personal and the client to get to know the therapist when both therapist and client have a sense of being from a similar culture.

I once had client from Guatemala. She was older than me, was sent to me by an employee assistance program. There was nothing wrong with her medically so they thought she had to see a therapist. She came in and I started doing my regular, “Hi, how are you, who are you, etc.” After I found out who she was she asked me who I was. It was very sweet, very polite, and very considerate and it was necessary for her sense of comfort, and for her to see me authentically. It did not hurt the relationship. We did some work for a couple of months.

In this case, knowing who she was in relationship to her whole family was crucial to understand why she was feeling sad and depressed. We need to appreciate the sense of loss and family separation for an immigrant. She was working here and her son and his family were in Guatemala. She was sending money to them, but she was lamenting the fact she could not go to her son’s graduation from dental school. She was helping to support him to become a dentist, but she could not go to be part of the celebration. (I think she was undocumented. I did not ask.) I was focusing more on the sense of separation and alienation. Her son would come to visit her, but it was not the same. There was loneliness and endurance she needed to have. But I think that is the story of many immigrants. I already have said that it is important to understand people in their historical context, and the historical context for an immigrant is one you cannot circumscribe to their past because they are carrying their past with them. Most immigrants do.

Lilian: You were recently recognized as a “Living Legend” by the American Counseling Association (ACA) and you are the immediate past president of the Association. It is incredible to have your work recognized like that. What an honor. What do you think it is your major contribution?

Patricia: That is a good question. I would say I have been a principled leader. I live by principles. I am forthright about them, and I clearly articulate those principles. When it comes to the profession of counseling, I have taken risks that other people would have shied away from. For example, I have led women’s initiatives in the ACA in the early 80s when it was not so popular to do that. I felt women were invisible and I was frustrated that competent women were not being recognized, and only men got awards. I thought there was something wrong with that picture. I pushed the idea of women supporting and mentoring other women. I promoted professional leadership development for women. I initiated that within the ACA in a forthright way and it is still going on. I created a stream of consciousness as well as practice.

In the multicultural area, at ACA we initially focused on guidelines coming from our African-American leaders. We owe a lot to those early leaders. At the same time we needed to put the “multicultural” word into practice. I was able to develop professional relationships with my African-American colleagues and then support the inclusion of Latinos, American-Indians and Asian and Pacific Islander’s groups. I mentored groups of people so that they could have a place at the table for decision-making and for professional leadership. I did it in collegial, supportive manner – and these professional endeavors continue today.

Lilian: You set the standards so they could keep working that way.

Patricia: Right. It was putting multicultural competencies into practice.

We have to do the same things with each other that we say that we should do with clients. I have been forceful about multicultural competencies. At first they were not accepted. I kept lobbying so that colleagues would see that this paradigm is essential. I encouraged others. Then I focused on Latinos. I wanted to be sure that professionals in the United States understood that Latinos were a growing force.

Lilian: I read in the Arizona Republic that 50% of newborns in Arizona are Latino. I also read in the APA Monitor about the percentage of immigrants that graduate from college. Latinos are among the lowest number. What needs to be done there?

Patricia: We cannot continue to allow the disparity. Higher education, K-12 school districts, and the public sector need to work together as partners to ensure that the student population under 18 succeeds academically and graduates from high school and goes to college. Early childhood education programs, when children are learning to read, is a key time to intervene. But when children come from homes where their parents have not gone to college, it might not be easy. First-generation parents need to be helped and become involved with their children’s learning. The public schools need to work with the universities and with community agencies to ensure the success of school children because they represent the future. Arizona Latino children, primarily Mexican-American children, are the future of Arizona. We cannot ignore that reality because it’s essential to Arizona’s economy.

Lilian: You worked to place multicultural perspectives into everyday practice in organizations. I’m thinking about international colleagues who are going to read this newsletter. How can we address their concerns?

Patricia: Multiculturalism is not a US phenomenon. Every country is a multicultural country. For example, there is a French national identity, but France is still a multicultural country because it is home to people from backgrounds that are not necessarily French. There are immigrants who came to France to escape oppression and find a new home.

Internationally, when we think about multi-dimensionality, religion has a role. Latin American countries historically have been Catholic. The same is true of some European countries. Part of our identity is our religion. We can examine the way a person’s religious heritage is accommodated in many spheres of life. Jews, for example, are a minority in the world, and they can still be marginalized no matter what country they inhabit. We can examine the intersection of culture and religion in one’s country of origin. In counseling we cannot merely think about the religious part of a person. We cannot merely think about how religion has influenced values and attitudes about gender and sexual orientation. In many ways religion teaches us to be prejudiced. Religious groups are value-laden and cause people to form judgments about others based on these beliefs. In an international context, culture and religion work hand-in-hand.

I’m reminded about research by a Dutch social scientist, Geert Hofstede. He studied national values in more than 50 countries. He describes these national values as “transcending institutions.” Those institutions included schools that are greatly influential in shaping identity. He examined cultures according to values such as masculinity versus femininity, individualism versus collectivism, power distance and predictability. There are countries that are masculine in their orientation, and masculinity permeates the values of that country so that women may be second-class and have less status than men. A second national value is individualism versus collectivism. The US is built on individualistic principles. Collectivism is more valued in Latino countries. That does not mean that Americans do not have collectivistic feelings, but those values are not as prominent as they are in other countries where there’s more of a tribal or kinship system. The third national value is power distance. The United States is low on power distance because it’s easy to have access to people in power. We are a democracy. A citizen can write to the President and be critical of the President, which provides a lot of freedom. Countries that are high in power distance have more layers between the common person and power sources. This can include countries where there is a monarchy or dictatorship or military government in which citizens have little voice. The fourth value has to do with certainty versus uncertainty. In some cultures people are able to look forward to life with a lot more predictability and continuity. We have that luxury in many ways in the United States. On the other hand, in some African countries there is continuing social turmoil including revolutions. Citizens there live under tremendous amounts of uncertainty.

Another issue that is currently important especially in some European countries, including France, Italy and Germany, is the national identity confusion. There is a lot of dissonance because their national identity and intrinsic values are being affected by the immigrants who have settled there. For example, in England there are many immigrants from India and Pakistan and Jamaica, etc. That phenomenon perhaps is creating a new English identity. The dissonance between old and new is creating identity confusion in the country. To some extent this is happening in United States because there are so many immigrants in large cities.

Lilian: How do you see the difference between what is happening in Europe and what is happening here in the United States?

Patricia: In the United States we have so many different nations who settled here from its inception. The US has been home to immigrants, home to slaves, and home to American Indians. That’s different from European countries. The US had a whole different foundation. We been grappling with cultural identity issues for 250 years, and we continue to grapple with them. Countries where there has primarily been one national cultural identity do not have the same experiences addressing cultural diversity.

Lilian: It was wonderful to talk to you today. I learned a lot. Thank you