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BookREVIEW: Race and Culture

Reenee Singh and Sumita Dutta

Systemic Thinking and Practice Series, Karnac Books, 2010 pp192

Reviewer Karin Parkinson

This book is a marvelous resource for anyone wanting to initiate training on diversity in a group setting or to include this important subject in an existing training. As the title suggests, the focus is on race and cultural diversity, but the practical tools provided can easily be adapted for any aspect of difference.

The authors are systemic psychotherapists and the practical material in the book comes directly from their experience of training professionals working with refugees in their own communities, at the Centre for Cross Cultural Studies at the Institute of Family Therapy, London.

The book is divided into five parts. Each consists of a theoretical framing of the area discussed, followed by between 5 and 21 group exercises. Throughout the book, theoretical concepts are well referenced and illustrated in the context of race and culture: the aims of each exercise are clearly described, the ideal number of participants is stated and precise instructions with approximated timing and materials needed are given. Helpful notes for trainers regarding possible issues arising from the exercises and useful references (books and films) are also provided.

Part One begins with brief information about working systemically: explaining self-reflexivity, the concept of domains and ideas from social constructionist thinking. A series of sections then highlights some of the challenges that can arise when we actively bring awareness of diversity into our relationships with others. These include an overview of the field of diversity; a presentation of current thinking regarding the definition of race, culture and ethnicity; an exploration of theory regarding our construction of “the other”; current thinking about “the self” and “the family”; and cultural ideas concerning health and healing. The 21 generic exercises that follow are organised around the theoretical themes.

Part Two concerns the refugee and asylum-seeking community and includes practical material from other professionals working in this field (Andrew Keefe, Jocelyn Avidard, Yesmin Deveci, Robin Ewart-Biggs, Karen Jacobs and Renos Papadopoulos). There is reflection, both through theory and the exercises, on human experiences of transition, loss and change; how human beings remain connected to their sense of identity and the degree to which this is internally or externally located; migration and the asylum-seeking journey and how this may deepen a person’s capacity for resilience and allow for personal development as well as cause trauma. Thought is also given to working with interpreters and the process of communication beyond verbal language.

Part Three focuses on working with a) mixed heritage clients and b) intercultural couples: the terms “mixed-race”, “mixed-race identity” and the impact of the choice of language to describe people of mixed race are explored. The section on intercultural couples looks at the impact of two (and possibly more) cultures, languages, religions and stories of loss and migration on the couple relationship and how this informs their individual parenting styles.

Part Four, “Kinship Care: working with children”, focuses on how racial identity may be experienced by the child. There is discussion about the dislocation a child may feel following the loss of parental care and the move to care by another, whether a statutory service or another family member. The variety in cultural norms concerning childcare is stressed and thought is given to the impact of different family traditions especially around preparing and sharing food.

Part Five is aimed at managers and supervisors. It explores how the ideas presented and discovered in training might translate into the workplace. Different methods are presented and the advantages and dilemmas discussed.

I found this is a very useful, user-friendly book and an excellent resource for experiential learning about oneself, race, culture and diversity in general. Hence I would recommend it to those seeking to raise awareness of the issues brought about by all kinds of diversity in any setting.

Karin Parkinson is a BACP Senior Accredited Counsellor & Supervisor and a Skills Trainer at The Minster Centre, London. She has worked for 15 years as a counsellor in primary care, with clients presenting from a wide range of “difference”, and for seven years was a supervisor for the Mapesbury Clinic, a multicultural counselling service for refugees and asylum-seekers attached to the Minster Centre. www.karinparkinson.co.uk email: karinsplace33@googlemail.com