For Professionals – Culturally Sensitive Options Counseling – Part 1

Healthcare and helping professionals need to be culturally competent if they want to provide effective pregnancy options counseling in our multi-cultural society.

For several years, Adoption STAR worked cooperatively with Spaulding for Children to deliver U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-funded Infant Adoption Awareness Training Project (IAATP) trainings across New York State.

An excellent tool included as part of the training focused on the idea of cultural responsiveness in providing options counseling. Spaulding for Children’s Natalie Lyons wrote very eloquently about this concept, and we’d like to share some of her insights in a three-part blog series.

“The concept of cultural competence continues to evolve, as various professions tackle the challenging subject matter. Along with its underlying issues or racism and discrimination, conversations regarding cultural competence can leave persons vulnerable to criticism and guilt. As the healthcare profession strives to provide equal treatment to all patients/clients, healthcare professionals, adoption counselors and social workers must consider their own cultural association and how it impacts their practice. Healthcare professionals must also take a critical look at how a patient/client’s cultural may influence his/her decision-making skills and how he/she is likely to respond to the options offered.

Definition of Culture, Cultural Responsiveness, and Cultural Competence

According to the Office of Women and Minority Health in the Bureau of Primary Health Care (HRSA), culture refers to ‘integrated patterns of human behavior that include the language, thoughts, communications, actions, customs, beliefs, values, and institutions of racial, ethnic, religious, or social groups.’ This definition can be broadened by Jerry Diller’s idea that traditional ideas and related values are ‘transferred from generation to generation,’ thus providing people with ways to live and cope with life’s problems.

Some believe that culture is learned, as it is partially made up of behaviors, values, and beliefs, which are passed on from generation to generation. Culture is threaded both consciously and subconsciously throughout the workings of everyday life, and can impact day-to-day decisions. It can illustrate an individual’s personal identification such as race, ethnicity, religion, gender, class, nationality, and has influence on thoughts, actions, and interactions with others.

Cultural responsiveness is an active term that requires the healthcare professional to treat every patient/client as an individual first and understand that he/she will not automatically respond in a manner that is consistent with his/her culture’s norms and values. Furthermore, the actions or responses of a patient/client from a represented cultural group will not provide the template of responses for all other members of the same culture.

Cultural competence requires continuous self-assessment; expansion of one’s knowledge base of other cultures; respect for cultural differences, and the ability to adopt to meet the needs of diverse populations. As it relates to health care, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing recommends that nursing graduates have the capabilities to ‘provide holistic care that addresses the needs of diverse populations.’