Cultural Awareness is the ability to communicate, understand, and relate to individuals across different cultures. Cultural awareness is important when attempting to reach out to and help diverse populations. It is also an important principle to remember when conceptualizing and implementing interventions. SAMHSA addresses the importance of this topic in a podcast that can be viewed by clicking here.
In the podcast, Dr. Russell Jones, a professor of psychology at Virginia Tech University, who specializes in trauma psychology as a Clinical Psychologist, discusses the importance of using cultural awareness as a tool for developing trust among populations effected by large scale disasters and other traumas. Dr. Jones points out that there is a great need for cultural awareness among ethnic minorities given “the frequency of traumatic exposures, greater risk for negative outcomes, and often lack of culturally sensitive disaster services”. Dr. Jones then goes on to give an example of when consideration of culture can affect efforts to help during disasters. While responding to Hurricane Katrina, Dr. Jones spoke to a man who would not talk to any of the first responders because they were white and he was black. The first responders did not understand fully why the gentleman was refusing help. A lack of education and sensitivity as to how certain cultures respond to others was the cause for confusion in this situation. However, by continuously increasing your understanding of various cultures, you will find ways to relate to them and develop their trust. Dr. Jones says continued efforts are needed to remove the fear, mindset, and stigma some people have regarding mental health assistance. He also states that it is very important to know how to relate to individual you will interact with prior to, during, and following the trauma.
After Dr. Jones is finished, Dr. April Naturale, a specialist in traumatic stress, discusses cultural awareness as it pertains specifically to children during disasters. Dr Naturale makes the point that children’s culture, religious beliefs, and spiritual beliefs affect their perception of events. Dr. Naturale notes that adults tend to underestimate the impact of disasters and trauma on children, which can differ from culture to culture. Children often look to caregivers to determine the impact of a traumatic event. Because different cultures view children and their feelings differently, it is important to be aware of those differences in order to tailor your approach to the individual who will have the most impact on the child. As well, it is also important to discuss with caregivers how children will react to the caregivers’ emotions. This is especially true for children under 5 who base their emotions on those of their caregiver.