For Professionals – Culturally Sensitive Options Counseling – Part 2

HealtCultural-and-linguistic-competence-in-Patient-care_Sushma-Sharma-1hcare 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. Here’s the second installment.

“Cultural Self Awareness

One step in becoming more culturally responsive is to become grounded in learning about one’s own cultural background and heritage, and then proceed to learn more about other groups’ cultural values and beliefs. Another step would be to consciously recognize the effect of one’s culture in viewing the world. Cross-cultural misunderstanding may be evident when it is consciously or subconsciously assumed that one’s own cultural norms are standards everyone else follows. According to Brenda Gray-Williams, ‘cultural differences may produce perceptions, coping styles, or beliefs that appear strange or even irrational to practitioners.’ Health professionals need to check and recheck their perceptions and interpretations of behaviors. This is particularly true when working cross-culturally. It can also be helpful for health practitioners to learn as much about other cultures as possible. Asking patients/clients to be ‘cultural guides’ is one strengths-based technique for doing this. However, the practitioner should continue to keep in mind that one person’s views are not necessarily representative of an entire cultural group, nor should one be placed in that representative role. Furthermore, the patient/client may possess feelings of ambivalence or resistance in being asked to ‘teach’ the uninformed healthcare professional.


Healthcare provider’s perceptions about different cultures may impact engagement with patients/clients and types of options that are offered. When working with people of varying cultures, it is important to make sure that the language used is universally understood. The cultural responsive health care provider needs to ensure that the patient/client understands all of the options available. This may be as simple as speaking in clear, easily understandable terms, having a translator present or referring the patient/client to an agency that can communicate in his/her native language.

The healthcare practitioner can use the same techniques to engage a multi-cultural patient/client as he/she uses with clients of similar backgrounds, being respectful, warm, and sincere. The goal is to gain the patient/client’s trust. This can be done by explaining what will happen during the interaction and such important concepts as confidentiality.”