My religious and spiritual identity has always been Christian. However, my Christian identity has always been a bit eclectic because I do not identify all that strongly with a Christian community or culture because there is something good that I have learned and taken from all of them. I have gone to a number of churches: Methodist, Baptist Presbyterian, Episcopalian and a number of non-denominational churches. I find that God is in my heart. He is in the forests, in the ocean and bays, in the sunrise or sunset, and in the starry sky. I do not feel Him so much in a building but I find him in the kindness and love of others, and I see Him in the natural beauty around me.
My economic class has always been of the working class background. However, I have never gone hungry, always had a place to rest my head at night, and I usually have had just enough to keep the bills paid. Ironically, my Dad’s small $400.00 monthly income was enough to buy a decent $23.000.00 home forty-two years ago. My old home would be worth about fifteen times that amount today.
I have always been heterosexual with rather traditional values. By that, I do not mean that I would not have compassion for a same sex couple, but I do not feel that I may relate to them as well if the couple had problems or confusion in that area. As a matter of fact, I do not know a huge amount about sexual issues, so that would not be an area that I could speak on with much knowledge. As for gender roles, I believe that each should do whatever they can to help the other. For example, my husband is a good cook, but I am better with the household budget.
P Psychological Maturity I believe that I have always been psychologically mature for my age. My mother expected that of me.
I consider my ethnic identity to be a European mutt because I am a Caucasian Norwegian-German with a pinch of English, Scottish, Irish, and Italian. But, I am Norwegian for the most part because both of my parents have ancestors that came from there. My maternal Grandma had Aunts who still lived there in Oslo until their deaths. My paternal Grandpa was almost born on the ship coming over here from Norway. He was the first Gilbertson. His parents changed the name from Gulbrunsen to Gilbertson because they felt it was difficult to spell and pronounce. Gilbertson literally means the son of Gilbert. To illustrate this, my Great-Grandfather’s name was Gilbert. On the major holidays, my mom or Grandma used to make lefse, a potato bread similar to a pita. It is served with butter and/or sugar while some people eat it as a sandwich wrap. Another holiday food tradition among Scandinavian-Americans is dried fish (normally cod or ling, but haddock and pollock can also be used) that has been brined in lye, and then steamed until it flakes (although it still looks and feels gelatinous). It is typically served with a warm cream or butter sauce and ample amounts of beer. I do not care for it because it shakes like Jello gelatin. My family did without the beer.
While I feel this section is probably meant for discussing developmental challenges due to aging, I have had developmental challenges all my life due to my Cerebral Palsy. I even introduced myself like this; “Hi, my name is Kathy Baker, and I have Cerebral Palsy.” I felt the need to face all the obvious questions that everybody has when they meet me. It has always been easier to deal with it from the beginning since it is visibly obvious. Besides my spirituality, this has been a huge part of my cultural and personal identity all my life. I am also in the somewhat unique position to be married and have a non-disabled daughter. I am equally a part of the disabled and non-disabled world. I have also known the pain of discrimination, being left out of things as well as being called “a stupid retard.” However, I became used to it.
The first real trauma I had was my parents’ worsening relationship and eventual divorce. This was largely due to alcoholism, infidelity and abuse. My second and worst trauma occurred when my daughter was molested and raped at four years old. I felt so terrible because I did not protect my daughter well enough. He did go to prison because I set him up to be arrested. Child Protective Services (CPS) came to the door; I thought that my daughter may be taken away because the CPS worker may feel that I could not adequately supervise her. Both my husband and I were scared to death!
In my family history, I lived as an only, lonely child until I was eleven years old when my brother was born. Our parents split up about a year later. We stayed with our mother, .and we saw our father once a week if the two of them did not start an argument. Dad would either go home early or not come at all if that happened. After the divorce was final, they both remarried quickly, about two months apart.
Since I have been in a wheelchair or power chair for if I can I can remember, my chairs have been my unique characteristic, something that I alternately blessed and cursed because the chairs gave me a measure of independence, yet not as much as I desired. I now consider the chair a part of me – as much a part of me as my own legs.
I grew up in San Diego County, California near Camp Pendleton, a Naval/Marine military base. Dad and my husband both served there in the Marine Corp. This contributed to making the area quite a melting pot. When I was growing about half of the students were Caucasian. When my daughter was in high school seventeen years, the same district Hispanics were in the majority, and there were issues with gangs in every neighborhood! In many of these areas, Spanish was the primary language.
When my daughter was six years old, we lived in Bossier City, Louisiana for three years. My husband had been raised there. It was quite a culture shock for me because it felt like we had moved to a different country. I had never lived outside of California before. There were people who were still angry about the Civil War; this included my husband’s father. Racism and the nigger were a part of daily life. There was racism against the whites as well. Children tried to take my daughter’s coat right off of her. Her glasses and her shoes were taken during P. E. class. My husband was nearly robbed and beaten on the way to the car after work a few times. Employees began to walk in groups to their cars at night.
My Significant Culture Identities
My belief in a higher power will help me show compassion and empathy toward my clients. It will help me to put myself in their shoes enough to understand their point of view. Even though I will not be able to overtly share my beliefs with them, I can certainly pray for wisdom so that I will help them to improve their lives. I can ask that they will be receptive to my ideas and suggestions because I only want the best for them. I hope that will be evidenced in my words and actions.
I would imagine that I will have little trouble relating to my clients in terms of economic background either. Many of the disabled and retired people are on a limited fixed income. This should allow me to direct them to helpful resources right away as I know about some of them from my own experiences. Knowledge of what type of resources are in the community is very helpful and will probably save me a great deal of time in researching them.
I view of how much of my ethnic identity has been lost in my own family, I believe I can understand the struggle to assimilate the “new” American culture vs. keeping some and passing down the cultural belief from the home country? How much of the new culture does one learn and incorporate into life? How much of the old culture does one keep or give up? Those are difficult questions to answer, yet they must be answered by each family. In centuries past, it seemed as though the decision was made on the ship on the way here. My great-grandfather changed the family name to assimilate much easier. But, the process of legal immigration was much easier when the U.S. had a much more open door policy toward coming here. In California, I met several families where some members were here legally while others were not; consequently, they had a terrible fear of being found out and deported. This may have a great deal to with how much they assimilate – their legal status. The path to citizenship can take years, and the amount of time varies widely (U.S. Immigration, 2011). My time living in California and Louisiana will help me to understand some of the challenges and differences of ethnic diversity that may face some of my clients. There are things that whites could learn from other cultures as well. For example, African-American or black churches really reflect joy in the worship while we tend to be very quiet and serious.
I can certainly empathize with the physical challenges that face the young couple in our book that have the young boy with Cerebral Palsy since my parents and I dealt with many of the same difficulties. For example, my mother was unable to work because arranging care for me was not an easy task and the cost of it was prohibitive. However, there are more services available than I was a child. I would love to work with such families to offer them hope and support.
My family had enough trauma and dysfunction that I will be able to recognize it and offer more effective ways to cope with it. For example, my mother was molested by the neighbor, but she kept it a secret because she did not think anyone would believe her. I handled it very differently when it happened to my daughter. I knew something was wrong, and she finally told me. I would pass that on to my clients that secrets solve nothing and to trust your child if he or she tells you this because it is seldom made up, especially by a young child. According to the American clients Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (2014), the cases of reported cases of molestation are about 80,000 annually, but the real number is much higher. There can be many reasons why the child may not say anything; fear is a major part of it. Without going into personal details, I can share some of the things with my clients what I know about it such as never blaming the child for what happened.
As for privilege, I am a Caucasian-Anglo American and was born and raised here in the U.S. However, I feel that I have enough disadvantages that I am still able to relate well to most of my clients. I am a disabled woman; that makes many types of employment difficult, if not almost impossible. I cannot drive either; this means that I depend on the city transportation system. This keeps me home at night and on holidays because it does not run late at night or on major family holidays.
Visual Identity vs. Self – Identification
This can be a touchy subject. It has to do with how others see me versus how I see myself. I am a female and I see myself as one. However, many people hear about my Cerebral Palsy or see my power chair, and they incorrectly assume that I am lacking intelligence and/or common sense. I try to prove that assumption is wrong as fast as possible. A few minutes of conversation usually does it without me having to directly address it. If it should come up in a work setting, I will do my best to put them at ease, and I usually succeed at it.
How the RESPECT Model Helps Me
I feel that the RESPECT Model helps both the client and me, the counselor, in the first few meetings most of all. It gives me a guide in which to obtain helpful information. The ten elements or factors will give me an idea of the current state of mind of the client and his or her way of thinking. Based on the responses of the client, I should get some knowledge of what the issues are that causing problems for the client or family. At the same time, I will start to form impressions of strengths and issues that do not need so much work. Does the client or family have any other supports to help get through difficult times?
Ivey, D’Andea, Ivey et al (2002) Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy – A Multicultural
Perspective (5th ed) Allen & Bacon Publishing pp. 1-9.