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Self-assessment makes participants realize the pervasive role culture plays in their lives, says Weigl. It also makes people aware of their own biases while sparking open-minded curiosity about other cultures. Plus, it's fun, he says, adding that students are "sometimes swept away by healthy narcissism" as they explore their own backgrounds.
Learn about different cultures. If you know you're going to be researching or providing therapy to people with unfamiliar backgrounds, seek cultural insight through journal articles and academic books, says Mattu. But don't stop there. "There's a richness to memoirs, for example, that scientific journal articles just cannot capture," he says. He also recommends novels such as "The God of Small Things" — an examination of India's caste system — and such documentaries as "Divided We Fall," about post-9-11 hate crimes against South Asians.
However, one of the best ways to immerse yourself in another culture's worldview is to learn a second language, says private practitioner Pamela A. Hays, PhD, of Soldotna, Alaska, and author of "Addressing Cultural Complexities in Practice: Assessment, Diagnosis, and Therapy" (APA, 2008). "One of the most mind-expanding experiences is to learn a word or concept that doesn't exist in your own language," she says. "Plus, learning a language means you're more able to reach out and connect with people who speak that language."
Interact with diverse groups. Arranging a research project, practicum experience or internship where you work with people from a culture that's unfamiliar to you is a great way to enhance your cultural competence. Depending on the kinds of cultural experiences you're seeking, you may want to volunteer at community centers, religious institutions or soup kitchens, says Mattu. Take a friend or two with you, he recommends, and spend some time afterward discussing how the experience may have changed your views.
It's also important to supplement work and volunteer experience with nonclinical social interactions, recommends Hays. Instead of solely interacting with members of diverse groups who are seeking help, get a fuller picture by interacting with them as peers at parties, religious services and cultural events. "Put yourself in social situations where you're the only one of your cultural group," she recommends.
Attend diversity-focused conferences. Get formal training on diversity-related research and practice issues, learn about the latest research, and meet potential collaborators at APA's Annual Convention, as well as conferences that are focused specifically on diversity issues. Check APA's online events calendar for news about upcoming meetings. One such conference, the biennial National Multicultural Conference and Summit, will take place Jan. 27–28 in Seattle. "We'll be exploring how science can be more sensitive to diversity, as well as how science can have an impact on diverse communities that have been marginalized in the past," says Francisco J. Sánchez, PhD, the summit's lead coordinator and a psychology research fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Medicine.
Interested students who are short on cash can often volunteer at conferences in exchange for reduced fees, or apply for a travel grant. Check out APA's searchable database of scholarships, grants and awards.
Lobby your department. If your program isn't giving you the training you need, push the faculty to do better, says Helms. Whether you plan to send the departmental chair a formal letter with concrete suggestions and complaints or handle the matter more informally, be sure to gather allies — students from within and outside your department — to help you make your case. That way, says Helms, "the program gets the message that this is something important to students."
And remember: These steps are just the beginning, says Hays.
"Cultural competence is a lifelong project," she says, adding that competence with one group doesn't mean you're competent with another. "You have to keep finding ways to expand your learning."
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