Sunday, March 22, 2009

Transcultural Education for Clinical Psychologists, Part #1

I will now propose a transcultural expansion to diversity training in which I hope to integrate the critical dialogism of Paulo Friere (2000) and Ignacio Martín-Baró (1994), with the more recent ideas appearing under the label of "postcolonial".


This section on pedagogy is curriculum-wide proposal. It is crucial that liberation pedagogy not be marginally located only in certain courses, typically those concerned with minorities, such as a required diversity course, but rather should be both the norm in the majority of courses and linked to the establishment of public community dialogue events. Boyle-Baise and Gillette (1998) urge us to prioritize pedagogy in multicultural education, which would include providing “an intellectually safe, respectful place for learning, a place to share personal knowledge, agree to disagree, experiment with new ideas, and wrestle with contested issues…(p. 23). They suggest that educators involve themselves in “encouraging student-generation of knowledge, creating democratic teaching and learning communities, pursuing cultural critique, and fostering activism that makes a difference” (Boye-Baise & Gillette, 1998, p. 23).

In order to address issues of social justice, training in multicultural diversity must be grounded in processes of conscientization. Ignacio Martín-Baró said, “the task of the psychologist must be to achieve the de-alienation of groups and persons by helping them attain a critical understanding of themselves and their reality” (p. 39), and “can only be realized through dialogue” (p. 42). His proposal for a liberation psychology included three elements: (a) focus on serving the needs of the poor rather than on preserving the status of the discipline, (b) view knowledge as something that is created by thinking with the oppressed rather than for them, and (c) recognize that knowledge is informed by taking action in real life for social change, through “a new praxis” (Martín-Baró, 1994, pp.27-28). He warned:

"Thus, to acquire new psychological knowledge it is not enough to place ourselves in the perspective of the people; it is necessary to involve ourselves in a new praxis, an activity of transforming reality that will let us know about what is but also what is not, and by which we may try to orient ourselves toward what ought to be" (Martín-Baró, 1994, pp.28-29).

Conscientization refers to a process of developing critical awareness of contradictions in one’s economic, political and social world, which is followed by action to undue oppressive social structures. Conscientization’s most distinctive feature is its critical attention “to how power and meaning are employed in the construction and organization of knowledge, desires, values, and identities” (Giroux, 1992, p. 52). To my mind, a commitment to conscientization in the training of clinical psychologists for social justice would mean that each learning context (classroom, supervision, advising, collaboration) would involve the co-examinination of power and meaning, as suggested by Giroux, in combination with creative engagement in envisioning and enacting alternatives, however local.

In order to facilitate Paulo Freire’s process of conscientization, there would be instructor-supported dialogic opportunities for engaging students in uncovering and reducing those power differences in their own learning situation (Freire, 2000). Faculty would bear the responsibility of creating an atmosphere that would foster students’ capacities to criticize and affect both the nature and processes of their education, which means a greater commitment from faculty to view education holistically. As bell hooks (1994) explains, in “progressive, holistic education, ‘engaged pedagogy’ is more demanding than conventional critical or feminist pedagogy. For, unlike those two teaching practices, it emphasizes well-being” (p. 15). I would say that engaged pedagogy emphasizes and models “being,” and that an educator embodies specific characteristics of dialogue: an immediacy of presence, openness to unanticipated consequences, willingness to be surprised, vulnerability (openness to being changed, persuaded), belief in human interdependence, and genuineness (Cissna & Anderson, 1994).

I am proposing that an engaged pedagogy founded on dialogue, as described above, that is facilitated and modeled by the teacher, parallels our educational objective: that students feel morally committed to engaging in the dialogic process of multicultural awareness as a practice for social justice. The structural demands for dialogue to occur do not reflect our current social or academic order. Necessary conditions for dialogue are fair and equal access to speech, listening, and decision-making without retaliation (safety). Only when these conditions are met can optimal conditions for dialogue, such as openness, curiosity, reflexivity, occur. Therefore, a teacher will implement basic formal structures and ground rules to build in safety for students. In addition, she will perform a practice of “dialogic reflexivity” (Hawes, 1997) as part of the course’s commitment to conscientization. Dialogic reflexivity is an explicit engagement in “reflexive critique” of oneself, the particular context of hierarchical power relations, the institutionalization of these power relations, and “the multiple, shifting ways in which power is exercised and contested in and across each of these domains.

The next section will argue for the inclusion of postcolonial theories as an important expansion of multicultural training for clinical psychologists, beginning with a brief introduction to some of the ideas most relevant for professional psychology.

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