Practicing Psychologists

So what is our current challenge as practicing psychologists? One challenge that continues to surface in the profession today is that while we have made, and continue to make, progress in our harmonization of ethically and culturally responsive practice, there are some who continue to call into question cultural issues and cultural competence in the profession, thereby placing more credibility on being clinically responsive, sans cultural responsiveness. In essence, if the philo- sophical underpinnings of psychology, in both theory and practice, placed culturally responsive practice first and foremost, our dis- course, and continued debate in the interpretation and utilization of the ethics codes, might look different. The ethics guidelines and codes do not need to be called into question when implementing culturally responsive practices. While the dialogue about these two domains continues to evolve, much of our focus in applied psy- chology is to ensure that practitioners and trainees have a strong clinical foundation, “to do no harm”. While doing no harm is of critical importance, it is of paramount importance that we place our desire to be culturally responsive alongside our desire to be clinically responsive when attempting to do no harm. It is important that our discussions about ethics and multiculturalism not be an either/or debate, but a both/and discussion.

The profession continues to make progress in incorporating issues of culture in our training programs, thereby impacting the practice of psychology in the field. However, for many practitioners and students alike, many ethical and clinical dilemmas continue to challenge the therapeutic encounter. One challenge in particular has to do with practitioners’ decision- making skills when faced with dilemmas therapeutically. That is, do practitioners and students begin their therapeutic decision- making process with an ethical lens first and foremost, or do they begin the therapeutic process with a cultural lens at the forefront? More specifically, when practitioners are faced with a “dilemma” therapeutically, which lens supersedes the other, the “ethical lens,” which potentially places the needs of the clinician before the client, or the “cultural lens,” which places the needs of clinician and client at the forefront? What remains debatable in this latter point is that when the ethical lens supersedes the cultural lens in a potentially “unclear” therapeutic encounter, thereby placing the clinician be- fore the client, the clinician’s desire to “self-protect” may over- shadow the clinical needs of the client. As with all scenarios much of this depends on the situation, context, and individual client and therapist, but nonetheless, when we begin to dissect the relation- ships between the ethics codes with multicultural practice, the lines can become blurred. While many would argue that our ethical guidelines and codes are in place to protect the client, first and foremost, when confronted with potentially unclear and indistinct therapeutic situations, practitioners may utilize our guidelines and codes as a measure of self-protection rather than therapeutic re- sponsiveness. As a result, the ethical lens that many practicing psychologists rely upon is the assumption that we need to do what we can to protect our own professional and personal livelihood rather than assume that our primary intent is to respond in a culturally, and clinically, consistent manner for the betterment of our clients. A resultant outcome of this underlying premise is that most psychotherapists find themselves practicing on the defense, thereby reacting to therapeutic situations, rather than being proac- tive in their approaches under certain circumstances. Many practitioners and students are left attempting to reconcile practice with demographically diverse individuals and communities, while negotiating a decision-making process that potentially sets up well-intentioned practitioners and students per- petuating unintentional violations in cross-cultural encounters.

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