This article is the second in a two-part series on cultural diversity in healthcare as it pertains to those working in rehabilitation therapy. This article breaks down internal processes that create inherent biases – and how self-actualization can identify these barriers in order to increase sensitivity to cultural diversity.
“Different” Versus “Other”
Oftentimes the concept of cultural diversity is understood as a matter of difference and openly accepting that difference. In practical reality, this same concept of diversity even more frequently comes to translate “different” as “other.”
Seemingly harmless initially, it’s a limiting perspective that can significantly influence how we view and consequently treat, the person in front of us who is different from who we are and our own sensitivity to cultural diversity. The connotation of “other” can color our mindset to regard ourselves as normative and a person’s differences as what makes them atypical or an outlier simply because they are unlike ourselves. Beginning a relationship with a new patient in this way immediately creates a divide and instantly negates the reality that we are all inherently equal.
To develop a more positive approach to understanding and embracing diversity, we can first consider the notion that diversity is not a comparative experience. We can work to understand that our perception of other people should not begin with positioning our own selves as the standard against which we examine others in order to draw our conclusions on who another person is and what they’re about. This would be a mindset of exclusivity.
Rather, understanding diversity is an inclusive process that does away with the existence of a normative standard and disregards the comparison between self and other. The process is instead one of recognition where all individuals are seen to be inherently equal as human beings, with variances that mark our uniqueness. By approaching the diversity in our patients with a mindset of equality, we can begin our therapeutic relationships by establishing a collaborative, open, and accepting dynamic. In doing so, we allow ourselves to get to know our patients better and therefore provide treatment that is more personally tailored and relevant, and ultimately, more effective.
Recognizing Our Biases
As professionals who work to serve others, we constantly strive towards integrity and a strong ethical commitment to our practice. With the best of intentions, it remains yet that we are all human and therefore flawed. Unknowingly, there may be occasions where we bring our own unconscious biases to our patient relationships, perhaps reacting to seemingly unrelated variables during the course of treatment or making clinical decisions that appear to have no personal basis. We’ve all been there at some point in our careers simply because by virtue of being naturally flawed human beings, this would be inevitable. Despite our genuine and deep desire to help every one of our patients, and to treat them equally, we are all socialized and conditioned beings whose beliefs and perceptions have been influenced by our environment and life experiences. The most significant part of this equation is the process of recognizing and addressing our biases so that we may practice in a more just, fair, and respectful manner, taking care to treat our patients and our relationships with them in exactly the same manner.
A Patient Perspective
For as diverse as our patients may appear to us, we are in much the same way just as different in our patients’ eyes. This becomes more pronounced when working in home care where, again, entering another person’s home is entering their intimate, private space. It is not only that we are seeing them in an emotionally intimate light, we are also becoming a part of their culture and personal beliefs, as one’s home is often the primary space in which we all live (and safeguard) these parts of ourselves. The need to build trust and respect then is a mutual one for both provider and patient. If we can remember this in our patient interactions, we can ease any sense of difference between ourselves and our patients and more easily bridge connections instead. In essence, if we sincerely regard our patients without bias, i.e., eliminating the idea of “other,” we’ll be quick to find in any patient interaction that we are both on equal sides of the same coin.
A Humanistic Approach to Sensitivity to Cultural Diversity
Eliminating the idea of “other” and growing in our awareness of any biases we carry are an essential start to strengthening our capacity to truly embrace diversity, though perhaps the easiest place to start is one of humanness. When we distill our actions and reactions in a more human light, going back to the basics of what we all want from one another as human beings—safety, care, kindness, respect—it becomes natural to see in ourselves how we can better appreciate diversity and allow this understanding to naturally reflect as genuine thought and action in our everyday practice. Besides the best care we aim to give our patients, this type of awareness is something invaluable we can also provide our patients. It is something I have seen my patients appreciate sometimes more than anything else, it makes me a better clinician and a better person, and it assures me that I can go anywhere in this city and work with patients all the same.