Over the course of the past 10 years, there has been considerable discussion devoted to multicultural competence within the counseling professions. These discussions are only now beginning to surface within sport and exercise psychology certification. The intent through multicultural training is to provide the intended clients with health services that more closely align with their specific cultural background. However, there is a distinction between garnering multicultural competencies and skills that pertain directly to a client in relation to the cultural experience. The divide between cultural competencies and the uniqueness of each client determines whether the services are culturally safe.
Culturally Unsafe Practices
There are a variety of culturally unsafe practices sometimes committed by the practitioner. Within the writing, one finds reference to the term race blindness: an act committed by people in authority who attempt to view and treat the diversity of their clients the same—using a one-size-fits-all cultural approach. There is an obvious distinction between sameness and equality, with the latter term conforming more closely to cultural safety. A second unsafe practice is for the practitioner to engage in acts of stereotyping, where clients are classified as part of larger groups, such as a nationality, race, gender, or religion. From overarching categories of classifications, the practitioner might move forward, employing general cultural guidelines, proposed as pertinent across the group. A third example of unsafe practice is for the sport and exercise psychology consultant to approach all consultation opportunities employing a mainstream sport psychology approach, mostly built from Western academics. From this third misstep, the consultant might entirely overlook the practices of a client from a marginalized background, perpetuating the marginalization.
Cultural safety requires a close match of the specific counseling skills and proposed motivational tools of the sport and exercise psychologist with the customs and practices of the client. For example, when working with a Canadian Aboriginal athlete in northern Canada, socialized with traditional indigenous customs, the sport psychology consultant might work in consultation with Aboriginal elders or enter into meetings that begin with the use of local Aboriginal sacred medicines, such as the burning of sweet grass. For each client that holds cultural values that differ from that of the sport psychology consultant, there are specific practices that need to be accounted for, outlined within another section pertaining to cultural competence. Beyond more general cultural guidelines, there must also be a closer consideration of the client’s socialization and identity. The possibility of offending or disempowering a client exists within the diversity of exchanges encountered by sport psychology professionals. To offset culturally unsuitable applications, the practitioner must engage in a process of discovery that allows for specific practices and general guidelines pertinent to the client.
Garnering a Culturally Safe Approach
There are various ways to develop a closer understanding of clients in terms of their cultural identity. The most likely strategy is to meet with the client, and during an intake interview, learn more about the socialization through direct questions and observation. Questions might bring to light the client’s religion and level of adherence, view of self in relation to family and community, value in terms of formal and informal education, dietary practices, and use of wording, among a wider range of considerations brought forth with open-ended questions. Via observation, the astute practitioner can learn from the client’s eye contact the extent that sustaining or averting is suitable. In addition, the client will seat or re-seat at a specific distance from the practitioner, suggesting an appropriate physical distance that in turn suggests formality or informality. Clothing would also provide some visible indication of whether the client is traditional in relation to general cultural guidelines or assimilative of specific subcultural practices. One might learn about the client’s cultural standpoint, also by engaging in collateral meetings with coaches or people the practitioner is referred to as offering collateral information, by the client. From collateral interviews, the practitioner learns more about the client’s affiliations and motivational views.
Cultural safety is also relevant within research contexts. There are instances when the applied sport researcher interviews or observes participants from minority or oppressed cultures and subcultures. When entering into these exchanges, the researcher can seek to learn the specific research practices that align with the participant’s standpoint. One example might be to interview participants with a collective inclination in groups, or have people threatened by personal interviews or cross-gender exchanges via research accompanied by a family member or friend. There is uniqueness within small local groups of participants that refine more general cultural considerations, such as among a community’s early adolescents as contrasted with its elders. These details become parts of a culturally safe methodological approach, building trust and rapport with the intended participants.
Cultural competence is often gained through courses where people, including sport and exercise psychologists, might learn about, for example, Hispanic, Indo-American, or American Indian (indigenous) practices. Cultural competencies include general cultural practices within a larger cultural group. Cultural safety narrows cultural understanding to the local level, where the client is considered more closely in relation to his immediate context, peer affiliations, and familial socialization.
- McGannon, K. R., & Johnson, C. R. (2009). Strategies for reflective cultural sport psychology research. In R. J. Schinke & S. J. Hanrahan (Eds.), Cultural sport psychology (pp. 57–75). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- Parham, W. D. (2005) Raising the bar: Developing an understanding of culturally, ethnically, and racially diverse athletes. In M. Andersen (Ed.), Practicing sport psychology (pp. 211–219). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- Schinke, R. J., Hanrahan, S. J., Eys, M. A., Blodgett, A., Peltier, D., Ritchie, S., et al. (2008). The development of cross-cultural relations with a Canadian Aboriginal community through sport research. Quest, 60, 357–369.
- Whaley, D. E. (2001). Feminist methods and methodologies in sport and exercise psychology: Issues of identity and difference. The Sport Psychologist, 15, 419–430.