The Sociology of Culture and the Paradoxical Nature of Diversity. Culturally-Infused Practice in Counselling.

Born from and into relationship, we are – the human race is, anything but an isolated species.  Indeed, there is a universal reality that self-concept and identity are insurmountably enmeshed within ever evolving cultural contexts (Lago, 2005; Lott, 2010; Matsumoto & Juang, 2008; Siegel, 2012).  Yet, it would be foolish to dismiss that this same enmeshment, if not explicitly conceptualised, has the potential to create group and individual levels of segregation and identity disintegration that are disadvantageous to wellbeing (Seigel, 2012).  Accordingly, in the past half century cultural context, the ever-changing diverse factors that shape experience and impact multiculturalist societies, has been a predominate focus of awareness within multiple areas of biopsychosocial studies (Lott, 2010; Matsumoto & Juang, 2008; Siegel, 2012).  As a prospective counsellor, such has come to raise a poignant question: how could I, a white woman born into a middle-class world filled with a sense of nurtured connectedness, systematic security, inclusion, and prospect possibly sit before someone of diverse means and opportunity without bias, prejudice, or a power dynamic that was unconducive to culturally-infused practice?  This question has stirred within me the realisation that there is a paradoxical nature to cultural diversity that requires a dichotomous duality of awareness.

Indeed, within a culturally-infused counselling paradigm there is the need for a level of self and other awareness that takes into consideration the dynamic realms of unique identities, which have a vast history of enculturation (Collins & Arthur, 2010).  Such will be exemplified through an articulation and delineation of culture as an emergent, contextual, relational, embodied concept that cannot be separated from self-concept, identity, or behaviour (Matsumoto & Juang, 2008; Siegel, 2012); specifically, as it relates to my own socialisation and enculturation and the resulting psychological processes as they may pertain to my practice as a culturally competent counsellor.

Albeit, while I previously eluded that I was born into “the lucky country” (Evason, 2016, ¶4) and may not have experiences that allow me to fathom the paradox of enculturated unique identity, I feel that the cultural evolution of my life actually has a certain je ne sais quoi to it, which allows for opportune understanding of the aforementioned dichotomous duality of awareness (self and other) that must lie within the person behind the culturally competent counsellor role.  That is, there are aspects of my own history which, with continued mindfulness, assist me to understand that culturally-infused counselling requires acknowledgement that each of us view the world through our own experiences: as humans we hold an evolutionary ethnocentrism and as such bequeath unavoidable levels of stereotyping and prejudice based in denial, defence, or even minimalisation (Bennett, 2013; Matsumoto & Juang, 2008).

Such aspects of my own history that allow for enigmatic awareness begin with the explicit recognition of my socialisation and enculturation into an amalgamated Dutch-Australian family.  This enculturation was one that certainly highlights the combined assertions of culture by Bennett (2013), Lott (2010), Jahoda (2012), and Matsumoto and Juang (2008); that culture is not a thing nor a theory, nor is it static, but rather it is a sharing – implicitly or explicitly – of meaning and action that begets a sense of belonging and thus the cultivation of identity.  Indeed, impressions of the world I can now attribute to either the Australian culture or the Dutch culture (see Appendix) enabled me to feel at one with who I was and how I behaved.  There were clear expectations, attitudes, values, norms, interpersonal communication, and mutual meaning that allowed me to make sense of myself in space, place, and time.  I knew that I was under the constant care of my mother; that my father was a diligent yet private man; that my grandparents cherished us immensely; that we would ‘waste not, want not’; that respect was vital; that my schooling was of utmost importance; and, even as a small child, there was an implicit knowing that God was real and faith allowed us to love in compassion.  Moreover, during the formative years of my life there were socially acceptable, salient gender identifications, as well as social stratifications and certain pillarisations that, while overtly noted, were met with authentic pragmatic acceptance and tolerance.  Life, and who I was in each place, space, and moment in time made sense to me.

Such sense-making and secure attachment has been noted as one of the foundational qualities to wellbeing (Siegel, 2012) and grounded my own sense of being as a small child.  Correspondingly, as I take the time now to make sense of my past, it is this primary discourse that allows me to see the value in my maternal grandparents’ inherent tendency toward maintaining Dutch tradition through connections to specific music, language, foods, shops, and even specific homemaking rituals.  Moreover, though I was not aware of the associated meaning at the time, I can now make sense of repeated colloquialisms – “butter is only fit for the queen”, “birds of a feather flock together”, and “waste not, want not”, as remnant from my grandparents’ experiences of World War 2 as Dutch citizens.  Similarly, in retrospection, as a culturally competent counsellor with a grounded sense of cultural identity, I am able to see the impact migration had on the lives of my maternal grandparents, on the socialisation and enculturation of my mother, on the underlying subjective enculturation of myself, and now (in part because of my awareness and choice) on the socialisation process and enculturation of my daughter.  Indeed, with perceptive introspection, I am beginning to attain a level of self and other awareness that takes into consideration the dynamic realms of unique identities that have a vast instrumental history of biological, psychological, sociological, and ecological influential factors that are passed through hereditary cultural lines (Matsumoto & Juang, 2008).

With this same perceptive introspection, I am able to distinguish and conceptualise further aspects of my life and recognise that the enculturation that occurred in the formative years of my life was simply the tip of the “sociocultural iceberg” (see E.T. Hall Iceberg Conception of Culture, cited in Lago, 2005, p. 58 for analogical reference).  Albeit, while I have made sense of my cultural experiences in a manner that allows me to continually come back to my Dutch-Australian cultural identity, it cannot be negated that beneath the surface lies a painful personal history of identity dissonance and discord.  Such identity disintegration arose from an attempt to developmentally create a self-concept while struggling to integrate into a diversity of cultures that varied significantly in language, attitude, class, and behavioural norms to my previous socialisation and resultant rudimentary “embodied ethnocentrism” (Bennett & Castiglioni, 2004, p. 261).  Indeed, there is an accord among scholars (Bennett, 2015; Baruth & Manning, 2016; Gannon & Smith, 2007; Lott, 2010; Matsumoto & Juang, 2008; Taylor & Kachanoff, 2015) whereby “culture shock” (see Gannon & Smith, 2007, pp. 99-100 for definition) and subsequent issues of self-concept or identity arise when one cannot effectively adapt, adjust, or ultimately integrate psychosocial elements of change within diversely different cultural contexts.

The culture shock I experienced was one where not only was there far too many unfamiliar stimuli, experiences, and feelings to process, but there was also overt and covert expressions of cultural humiliation and an underscoring feeling of rejection, which sometimes still impacts my identity today.  At seven years of age my immediate family temporarily migrated to Paris, and while the experience was one that opened up my world to vast appreciation for the more explicit or physical and visual elements of culture, the immeasurably different cultures between home, community, and the industrious upper-class private British school I attended presented encounters that left me in states of uncertainty, confusion, and embodied feelings of segregation.  More explicitly, there was a level of shock that came from the inability to comprehend the French language, as well as intercultural language barriers that arose from the seemingly infinite difference between the Australian dialect and the British dialect; my accent, humour, inept sophistication, and encultured interpersonal behaviours facilitated a prejudicial social class classification and power differential between my peers and I; even more so due to the developmental stage I was in. The loss of a sense of locus of control, combined with encounters of social and academic ‘failure’, affected my self-concept more than I could possibly have realised at the time.

Correspondingly, while the culture shock and emotional turmoil that arose from my migration is still a recognisable part of my identity, with effective emotional processing, compassionate self-understanding, and cognitive closure the totality of my cultural experience allows me to fathom that there is a certain universal need that underscores what it means to be a cultural being.  To clarify, I recognise that there is a universal human need to attune to oneself and others in connection and belonging, particularly in community or the “ingroups” that allow one to create the sense of intimacy, familiarity, and trust (see Matsumoto & Juang, 2008, pp. 373-376 for ingroup/outgroup definition and extrapolation).

It is this universal need for connection that has guided scholars and practitioners throughout history.  More recently, there is a level of appreciation for this need that has led to profound assertions that the functionality of the mind itself is shaped by connectedness and begets the totality of wellbeing (Siegel, 2012).  Such is evident not only in Siegel’s (2012) work on interpersonal neurobiology, but so too in Bennett and Castiglioni’s (2004) concept of embodied ethnocentrism and the somatic quintessence of culture as an implicitly felt notion rather than an explicitly known notion.  This then further highlights to me the paradoxical nature of cultural diversity, which requires a dichotomous duality of awareness: the appreciation, essential mindfulness, and attunement required to pursue culture-infused practice that not only actively pays attention to varied lived and felt experiences, but also identifies multilayered dimensions of self, other, and environment as they interact.

Such identification of interaction begins with the person behind the counsellor and the recognition of personal attitudes, bias, and beliefs that arise from experience, which may interfere or prejudice culture-infused practice (Collins & Arthur 2010).  To emphasise, as a culturally competent counsellor, I must be aware and mindful not only of a client’s vast history and encultured identity, but so too of how my own embodied ethnocentrism – what I have learnt cognitively and affectually – must be met with integrity and diligence in order for belief’s, values, attitudes, and ideologies to not permeate my practice in a malicious manner.  Such for me may be a continued awareness of the bias and passion I hold toward stratification and equality, authenticity and respect, the paradoxical idealism I hold to pragmatism and tolerance, heightened compassion for the oppressed, specific inclinations toward gendered roles, and bias toward non-traditionalist religion, among many others.  Each of these enculturated and embodied beliefs, as aforementioned, hold within them certain values that may have the potential for bias, prejudice, or power dynamics unconducive to culturally-infused practice.

I began by asking myself how a white woman born into a middle-class world filled with a sense of nurtured connectedness, systematic security, inclusion, and opportunity could possibly sit before someone of diverse means and opportunity without bias, prejudice, or a power dynamic that was unconducive to culturally-infused practice, and, within the contents of my ever unfolding enculturation, a succinct realisation has been explored; there is a paradoxical nature to cultural diversity that requires a dichotomous duality of awareness.  Indeed, there is an irony to humanity that, while each of us are unique beings with subjective levels of embodied ethnocentrism, it cannot be denied that this uniqueness emerges through contextual relationships with self, other, group, and environment.  Moreover, through the unfolding of my own enculturation I have come to appreciate that there is a dichotomous duality of awareness needed within culturally-infused practice.  That is, in order to create culture-infused practice I must ensure there is active awareness of my own and others varied lived and felt experiences, as well as mindfulness of multilayered dimensions of self, other, and environment as they interact.  Finally, I deduce (albeit in my own idealistic nature) that although as human beings we cannot negate the process of our own socialisation, enculturation, and embodied ethnocentrisms, to live in a cultural-infused inclusive manner is to continually come back to a grounded self-concept that integrates the recognition that each unique human identity is both universally and culturally relational, inseparable from biological, sociological, and ecological pasts, presents, and futures.


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Bennett, M., & Castiglioni, I. (2004). Embodied ethnocentrism and the feeling of culture – IDR Institute. In D. Landis, J. M. Bennett, & M. J. Bennett (Eds.) Handbook of Intercultural Training. Retrieved from

Collins, S., & Arthur, N. (2010). Culture-infused counselling: A fresh look at a classic framework of multicultural counselling competencies. Counselling Psychology Quarterly23(2), 203-216. doi:10.1080/09515071003798204

Evason, N. (2016). Australian Culture. Retrieved from

Gannon, M. J., & Smith, R. H. (2007). Paradoxes of culture and globalization. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Jahoda, G. (2012). Critical reflections on some recent definitions of “culture”. Culture & Psychology18(3), 289-303. doi:10.1177/1354067×12446229

Lago, C. (2005). Race, culture and counselling (2nd ed.). Milton Keynes, United Kingdom: McGraw-Hill Education (UK).

Lott, B. (2010). Multiculturalism and diversity: A social psychological perspective. West Sussex, United Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell.

Matsumoto, D., & Juang, L. (2008). Culture and psychology (4th ed.). Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.

Siegel, D. J. (2012). Pocket guide to interpersonal neurobiology: An integrative handbook of the mind. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.

Taylor, D. M., & Kachanoff, F. J. (2015). Managing cultural diversity without a clearly defined cultural identity: The ultimate challenge. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology21(4), 546-559. doi:10.1037/pac0000131


Cultural Historical Timeline

Cultural Timeline

Resources used in Cultural Investigation

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