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Men from minority groups are mandated to treatment in numbers that are disproportionate to their representation in the general population (Healey, Smith, and O’Sullivan 1998). This is often attributed to a correlation with low socioeconomic status, lingering discrimination in the criminal justice system, and greater exposure to violence in the community (Healey et al. 1998; Williams and Becker 1994). Likewise, it is thought that resistance to treatment may be higher among minority men; for example, some African American men have likened their requirement to attend treatment to a mechanism of institutional racism. This potential racism is an issue that group facilitators and therapists have had to recognize while being careful to not allow it to become an excuse for battering (Healey et al. 1998). Such considerations can compound the complexity of therapeutic objectives and can serve to test even the most skilled and seasoned group facilitators.
I. Attrition Rates and Minority Clients
II. Cultural Competence: Latino American Populations
III. Cultural Competence: African American Populations
IV. Cultural Competence: Asian American Populations
V. Designing Feminist-Based Programs That Are Culturally Competent
I. Attrition Rates and Minority Clients
Research indicates that minority men, particularly African American and Latino men, have lower program completion rates than other cultural or racial groups (Chang 1996; Healey et al. 1998; Williams 1992). As a result, some researchers and practitioners have proposed that the effectiveness of interventions will be enhanced among minority men if programs are not merely culturally sensitive, but culturally competent as well (Healey et al. 1998; Williams 1992). While this can further complicate treatment programs, it seems that such considerations are crucial, given the overrepresentation of minority clients, the already high levels of attrition for batterer clients in general, and the even higher attrition rates cited for minority clients in particular.
Further, minorities have been discouraged from using mainstream social service agencies by racially and culturally insensitive attitudes and practices of service providers (Healey et al. 1998). Williams and Becker (1994) contend that batterer interventions must become ‘‘culturally competent’’ to improve retention and minority participation. According to Healey and colleagues (1998), a culturally competent intervention program purports to draw on the strengths of the culture (i.e., spiritual belief systems, family connections, communal social systems, etc.) and to address weaknesses within that same framework (such as alcoholism, harsh child discipline practices, rigid gender roles, etc.). While such programs have been developed, their existence is fairly uncommon in the published literature. What is more, evaluation studies of their effectiveness are rare, if at all existent. Lastly, any empirical comparisons as to the effectiveness of these few culturally competent programs with other traditional programs either do not exist or have not been disseminated in the mainstream literature. Because of this, it is imperative that such research be conducted to determine if minority clients can indeed be better served by programs that tailor their efforts to these specific clients. Currently, this research is scant, at best.
Williams and Becker (1994) conducted a survey of batterer intervention programs which indicated that for the most part, little or no special effort was being made to understand or accommodate the needs of minority populations. Rather, most of these programs instead implemented a ‘‘colorblind’’ approach where all clients were treated universally and identically. Williams and Becker (1994) contended that such an approach lacked the effectiveness of a culturally competent program, which fosters an environment that helps minority groups succeed in treatment. In specific, programs aiming to be culturally competent are advised to:
- Network with the minority community
- Locate outside consultants with expertise in working with minorities
- Obtain information concerning service delivery and programming for minority clients
- Have at least one bilingual counselor (Williams and Becker 1994, p. 287)
The need to examine cultural competence is quite apparent when one considers that clients most likely to successfully complete a batterer intervention program will tend to be white, middle-class, and educated (Saunders and Parker 1989; Tolman and Bennett 1990; Williams and Becker 1994). On the other hand, minority males who are referred to battering interventions tend to participate less, have lower completion rates, and are reported to be less successful than whites (Chang 1996; Healey et al. 1998; Saunders and Parker 1989; Tolman and Bennett 1990). As a result, some researchers seriously questioned the validity of such programs for minority battering clients (Williams and Becker 1994). According to Williams and Becker (1994), studies that examined characteristics of those clients who completed batterer programs may provide a picture that is cursory and cosmetic at best, not demonstrating the true underlying variables inherent to the minority client and batterer intervention programs.
For minority clients in particular, knowledge of social factors as a product of culture could be invaluable in overcoming abusive behaviors. For example, Williams and Becker (1994) pointed out that environments rampant with violence and poverty in which many African American men are raised can contribute to a coupling between violence and manhood. Minority males bring into treatment their cultural experiences as well as their violent tendencies with their partners. Both of these issues require attention throughout the treatment process (Williams and Becker 1994).
Interestingly, Sue and Sue (1990) have pointed toward the concept of internal-external dimensions in a person’s locus of control. Research on generalized expectancies of locus of control have suggested that ethnic group members and those of lower socioeconomic status score significantly higher on the external end of the locus-of-control continuum (Sue and Sue 1990). Higher external end scores correlated with apathy, depression, and feelings of powerlessness regarding environmental factors. Whites, on the other hand, tended to score higher on the internal locus-of-control continuum. Higher scores on the internal end correlated with superior coping strategies, greater attempts at environment mastery, and lower predispositions to anxiety (Sue and Sue 1990).
The problem with an unqualified application of the internal-external dimension was that it failed to take into consideration the different cultural and social experiences of the individual (Sue and Sue 1990). Further, Sue and Sue (1990) pointed out that while the social-learning framework from which the internal-external dimension was derived may be valid, it was possible that different cultural groups and the lower socioeconomic classes have learned that control operates differently in their lives when compared with how it operates in society at large. It becomes obvious that Western and white approaches to counseling mimic many factors that are espoused by an internal locus-of-control ideology. Indeed, battering programs emphasize the ability of batterers to take responsibility for their actions. Most counselors are of the clinical opinion that people must take major responsibility for their own actions and can improve their lot in life through their own efforts (Sue and Sue 1990). However, when dealing with immigrant and/or minority clients, this worldview may clash with the ability of the therapist to build effective rapport (Sue and Sue 1990).
Further, clients who have high internal scores tend to be white and middle class, with such approaches seeming entirely appropriate (Sue and Sue 1990). With respect to batterer clients, this was not surprising due to the fact that white middleclass clients had the best prognosis toward completing treatment (Healey et al. 1998). Thus the internal-external locus of control seemed to produce attributional characteristics for behavior responsibility that correlated with attrition rates among whites and minorities.
According to Dobash et al. (2000), one primary mechanism for positive change among batterers centers around client views on external constraints and internal controls. The premise in this research was that movement from external forms of supervision maintained by others toward internal controls maintained by the batterer himself indicated the likelihood for successful intervention (Dobash et al. 2000). It was found that men acting relative to external constraints displayed more physically abusive behavior than men who were self-governed through internal controls. Further, clients relying on external constraints acquired fewer, if any, techniques to desist from battering than did those men who operated from an internal constraint paradigm (Dobash et al. 2000). Clients using internal controls seemed to have successfully acquired new techniques and orientations as a form of personal change (Dobash et al. 2000).
This research demonstrates the value of obtaining client self-responsibility in displays of violence. While this is indeed encouraging, the issue is nonetheless unanswered when considering minority clients who have externally driven worldviews. Studies such as those by Dobash et al. (2000) reflect positive movement for clients who are white and tend to hold middle-class values and beliefs. For the minority client, providing such a shift in worldview thinking may be difficult and inappropriate; a direct product of the structure of the program itself. In determining whether program curriculum could be a determining factor in achieving internal constraints among minority batterers, it becomes important to examine whether the treatment program is culture specific to the population it serves.
II. Cultural Competence: Latino American Populations
Providing therapeutic services for Latino Americans can be not only elusive, but also so varied, because of the multiplicity of ethnicities, as to seem impossibly fragmented and splintered. The complexity of this population is highlighted by Arredondo and Perez (2003), who note that to discuss Latino culture without consideration of within-group differences based on one’s family heritage (i.e., Cuban or Puerto Rican) and other dimensions of Latino identity is to promote cultural stereotyping (also see Arredondo and Santiago-Rivera 2000). Further, to report research findings about Latinos without citing generational and socioeconomic differences may obscure the critical factors of acculturation and ethnic identity (Arredondo and Perez 2003). This is important because consensus on appropriate interventions for Latinos is extremely difficult to achieve. Any form of culturally appropriate intervention is going to require at least some degree of subjectivity and will not be as open to quantification (similar to the contentions made by Pedersen ). This becomes even clearer when one notes the difficulty that has been associated with operationalizing multicultural competencies when counseling Latino clients (Arredondo et al. 1996).
III. Cultural Competence: African American Populations
It should be noted that focusing on one segment of the African American population hides the great diversity that exists among this population. Clients may vary greatly from one another based on factors such as socioeconomic status, educational level, cultural identity, family structure, and reactions to racism. Issues that may have to be dealt with are feelings about differences in ethnicity between the counselor and the client and issues of institutional racism. The need to discuss institutional racism is particularly relevant if the client is court mandated; this same issue is even more important if the counselor’s racial/ethnic identity is of the majority population. This is also important when one considers the fact that African Americans are vastly overrepresented in America’s current jail and prison systems.
Many African American clients will note the importance of the church or of spirituality in their lives. This should not be overlooked as a therapeutic tool in reaching this community and is discussed later as a specific cultural recommendation for improving current programs. It is important to note that African American values have been shaped by social class variables, experiences with racism, and a struggle for group identity. Because of this, the use of family, and more particularly the use of extended family, in African American culture has been widely noted as an important consideration in treatment.
IV. Cultural Competence: Asian American Populations
When discussing Asian Americans, it should be mentioned that there is no general consensus on the number of disparate cultural associations that are grouped under the category ‘‘Asian’’ or ‘‘Pacific Islander American’’ (Sandhu, Leung, and Tang 2003). Indeed, as many as thirty-five distinct cultures have been identified as part of the Asian and Pacific Islander category (Sandhu et al. 2003). This points to the true difficulty in creating any blanket definition of cultural competence for this population. Unless this group is simply lumped together as a general category (obviously running the risk of oversimplification and even stereotyping), both the counselor and the researcher can end up with so many distinctions as to make their task seem scattered and overspecialized.
Nevertheless, it is true that each Asian group has its own distinctive cultural background, historical experiences, and reasons for immigration to the United States (Sandhu et al. 2003). Thus, any degree of general competence with this population may be best achieved by identifying variables and techniques that are found to be commonly effective with the Asian American population. For instance, the use of ‘‘matching’’ has been deemed effective by some researchers (Chin 1998). Researchers have found that counselors of the same race as the client population tend to be more effective than counselors of a different race (Gim, Atkinson, and Kim 1991; Sandhu et al. 2003). In general, counselors of Asian American ethnicity and counselors who have been culturally sensitized through training are given higher ratings for effectiveness by Asian American participants in therapy (Gim et al. 1991). Thus, while it may be difficult, if not impossible, to develop specialized competence with each specific ethnic group, it may be possible to find certain techniques that run as a commonality throughout the broader Asian American population.
V. Designing Feminist-Based Programs That Are Culturally Competent
Feminist scholars have bemoaned the fact that in addressing women’s issues, the feminist movement has failed to provide adequate analysis of the unique issues faced by women of minority status. Feminism has been likened to a theory based on the historical and social experiences of white, middleclass women. Experiences have often been quite different for African American, Latino, and Asian American women. In regard to domestic violence issues, the distinction has been even more profound, particularly for those minority families that come from nations of origin other than the United States. For these women, a variety of issues surround their abusive relationships that many white women do not face. These differences also affect the means by which abuse is perceived, greatly modifying victim options available in coping with such problems. Further, some minority women may view certain credos of feminism to be contrary to their own cultural and personal viewpoints and belief systems.
With respect to batterer intervention programs, this becomes even more important as these belief systems are no doubt native to the battering males as well. Thus, within these abusive family systems cultural definitions and responses for coping may be quite different for both the minority victim and the minority perpetrator of battering. Just as feminist thought and theory has been criticized for overlooking the unique factors for minority women, by implication this theory may likely do the same for minority males as well. The need for feminism to tailor itself to these concerns has been addressed in the literature. However, many programs dealing with domestic batterers have failed to take such considerations into account. This can be particularly problematic for both the offender and the victim.
However, as mentioned earlier, many minority cultures operate on what is referred to as an external locus of control, where responsibility for one’s behavior is seen more as the product of fate or chance rather than self-directed motivations (Rotter 1966). But if abusive beliefs include notions of centrality, superiority, and deservedness of the self, this runs counter to notions of minority self-beliefs that revolve around external loci of control. On the surface, this seems to be a bit of a paradox, with minority men feeling powerless on the one hand, yet superior and self-deserving on the other. However, research has shown that in Indian, Chinese, Japanese, and South Asian immigrant communities, strong patriarchal values are tied to domestic violence (Bonilla-Santiago 1996). In many Latino cultures, machismo and male entitlement, among other correlates, are prevalent connections to spouse abuse (Bonilla-Santiago 1996; Erez 2000; McWhirter 1999). In African American culture, issues of violence and black male masculinity have likewise been connected with domestic violence (Williams 1998).
Essentially, it is this paradox regarding behavioral responsibility in the home versus in the broader society that must be addressed among minority batterer clients. It is within this paradox that the justification, denial, and deflection of responsibility occur, and it is precisely this narrow paradox that warrants challenge. However, batterer intervention programs that focus on the values, belief systems, and experiences of Western, middle-class, white culture will be of little use among many minority clients (Healey et al. 1998).
The vast majority of batterer intervention programs (nearly 80 percent) are based on some form of feminist educational style of curriculum (Gondolf and Hanneken 1987). It is not surprising that these programs based on confrontation are more successful for Western, white, middle-class clients. Notions of individual responsibility, control over environment, and ability to achieve are all congruent with likely experiences for many of these white clients. While being challenged on their belief systems regarding sexism, male entitlement, and dominance are not warmly welcomed messages, white clients are nonetheless more apt to internalize self-responsibility due to socialization differences.
The assumption of responsibility within interpersonal relationships is no doubt interrelated with personal constructs of gender. One study by Anderson and Umberson (2001) specifically examined the construction of gender within batterers’ accounts of domestic violence. These researchers found that batterers used diverse strategies to present themselves as nonviolent, capable, and rational men. What is directly important among these findings is that these men called on cultural discourses, such as innate masculine aggression (which, as men, they cannot help but have), feminine weakness, and men’s rights, to explain their actions and support their notion of being typically nonviolent, capable, and rational (Anderson and Umberson 2001). Likewise, these men exhibited the stereotypical external locus of control for their own behaviors by blaming their partners for the violence in the relationship and depicted themselves as victims of a biased criminal justice system (Anderson and Umberson 2001). From this research, it was concluded that violence against female partners was a means by which batterers reproduced binary frameworks of gender (Anderson and Umberson 2001).
This is interesting because it demonstrates how cultural belief systems of batterers generate the violence in their relationships. These belief systems may in fact not only serve to justify their abuse actions, but also serve as a buffer against external criticism and challenges that they may receive from therapists and other community members. An interesting study supports this notion by using a symbolic interactionist perspective to examine perception of battering among male perpetrators (Goodrum, Umberson, and Anderson 2001). This study demonstrated that batterers minimized the negative views of them that were held by others. Further, they dissociated themselves from their partners’ physical and emotional injuries (Goodrum, Umberson, andAnderson 2001). The researchers pointed toward the need for research that examines how batterers construct their violent versus nonviolent self-images in other contexts, such as with friends or colleagues (Goodrum, Umberson, and Anderson 2001).
The two studies by Anderson and Umberson (2001) and Goodrum, Umberson, and Anderson (2001) demonstrated how batterers use cultural and personal justifications to construct definitions of both gender and self-image, while simultaneously buffering against external challenges that may be presented. These justifications may indeed be the central issue in why such violence tends to occur. But for the minority client, this may completely overlook other crucial cultural variables. Issues such as family identity and honor, extended family support, and religious and spiritual contexts may all be extremely important in keeping minority batterers in therapy. Thus feminist theories of intervention, based on batterer responsibility for self-behavior, will likely have to modify their treatment approaches in creating egalitarian relationships among many minority clients. An infusion of minority awareness, sensitivity, and knowledge is paramount to effective change.
Psychotherapy and/or group treatment is nonetheless a process of belief change (Russell 1995). Effecting this change requires that beliefs be brought clearly into awareness and confronted, with alternate beliefs developed (Russell 1995). Batterer treatment, to be effective, must go beyond a topical approach where simple behaviors are addressed (Russell 1995). Rather, underlying belief systems that condone battering must be confronted and modified. With this in mind, it is necessary for therapists to be multiculturally sensitive to their clients’ worldviews. By the same token, therapists cannot allow minority status to become a tool to evade responsibility for batterer clients. Providing such a balance between sensitivity to culturally influenced, externally attributed worldviews and feministic orientations regarding power, equality, and gender can be very difficult and test the skills of even the most seasoned therapists. But because feminist-educational curriculums dovetail so well with goals of criminal justice systems (Healey et al. 1998) and because the need for multicultural competence among batterer programs seems to be so pressing (Williams and Becker 1994), each of the two components are essential to effective treatment programs for minority batterers.
According to Healey and colleagues (1998), tailoring interventions to the needs and values of specific racial, ethnic, or subcultural groups is consistent with the feminist and social learning theoretical frameworks inherent in a wide number of batterer intervention programs. The feminist model, used widely by a large number of intervention programs, takes into account only one social factor related to battering, that of sexism. However, other social factors may also promote violence among both minority and nonminority clients (Healey et al. 1998). Due to this, it is the contention of this research paper that those programs which infuse cultural competence and culturally specific techniques into a feminist theoretical framework will tend to deliver optimal results in completion rates for minority clients.
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