Using Strategies and Techniques
Cultural Sensitivity in Play Therapy
Each geographic area, religion, institution, group, family, and person has their own identity, culture, and practices that make them who they are. Being culturally sensitive and aware is one of the most important keys to becoming a competent and compassionate therapist.
Play therapy is no exception. In fact, play therapy [because of its creative and multi-dimensional interactions] is one of the biggest areas where cultural competence is absolutely necessary.
But where should therapists begin? They should first begin exploring themselves- their personal identity, group identity, culture, practices, and values. By having a strong personal identity and awareness, a therapist will have a base, or building block, on which to start their exploration of cultures and practices that differ from their own.
After exploration has occurred and a personal identity discovered, Eliana Gil and Athena Drewes suggest doing three things: (1) Building sensitivity, (2) Obtaining knowledge responsibly, and (3) Developing active competence, moving from knowledge to behavior (Drewes, 2005). The first, building sensitivity, entails starting on a journey of awareness in regard to personal biases, stereotypes, etc. During this stage, therapists should also read books and articles about other cultural practices, trying to understand and empathize with other cultures and groups (Drewes, 2005).
The second stage, obtaining knowledge responsibly, means exactly what it says. As the therapist explores different cultures and begins to gain understanding, the therapist should begin "practicing with accountability", or working with experienced colleagues to allow for exposure, feedback, and direction (Drewes, 2005). This practice of holding yourself and others accountable for cultural competence is the beginning of a life-long journey of maturity and humble realizations.
Lastly, the therapist may move into the stage of developing active competence. This level may be the hardest of them all to achieve- taking the knowledge that has been gained in the last two levels and converting it into actions. This not only takes confidence, but also thought, care, and purpose. The therapist must make a choice to change behavior, thoughts, and biases in and out of the therapy room. If this can be achieved, the therapist will "remain aware of self, behavior, and the client's response to each clinical behavior" (Drewes, 2005).
Drewes, A., Gil, E. (2005) Cultural issues in play therapy. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.