Life Changing Events Through Human Interactions Essay

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Collaborating and Advocating for Diverse Clients: The Case of Jun

Context

Jun is a 15-year-old girl whose parents have contacted me to request that she enter counseling.  They indicated that they had concerns about her “plummeting grades” and shared that this decline in academic performance coincided with the death of a beloved grandmother who lived with them.  Jun has reportedly withdrawn from her usual activities and distanced herself from friends and has verbalized to her parents that she has been feeling self-conscious about being “different.” Her family emigrated from China to the United States when Jun was 2 years old and settled in New York State where her parents found stable employment. Jun has no siblings.  They live in an affluent school district that does not boast significant diversity (racial, ethnic, or economic). Before the start of 9th grade and her transition to the high school in their district, Jun had seemed happy, connected, and academically successful. It is now late November and Jun’s first quarter report card shows a sharp decline in grades and concerned comments from her teachers.  This, in combination with the behavioral and emotional changes they are seeing at home, prompted Jun’s parents to contact me for counseling and assistance in approaching Jun’s school for support.

I anticipate my work with Jun will be most effective if I intentionally involve her parents, and collaborate with her school counselor, and representatives from the CNY Chinese Culture Center and CNY Hope for Bereaved.

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Attending To, Empowering, and Advocating for Jun

My approach to working with Jun will be from a primarily emic perspective, conceptualizing Jun as an individual within a larger cultural context (Erford, 2014).   Her Chinese culture, family system, stage of racial identity development, stage of human development, stage of grief processing, and the culture of her school community are all important to consider and incorporate in our discussions and treatment planning.  When I meet Jun, I will explore her interest in and openness to counseling (since her parents referred her and she did not initiate the counseling herself). I will strive to establish a trusting working relationship and pay special attention to nurturing an openness in our sessions, so Jun understands that it is okay and helpful, to share thoughts and feelings.  I will also tease out how much of her presenting issues are related to the common human experience, and what aspects are related to race/ethnicity or gender, for example. Let us assume for the sake of this case study that her presenting concerns stem from a combination of these possibilities. Given that Asian American culture often does not encourage open expressions of emotion, it will be important for me to give Jun options for how she feels most comfortable expressing herself.  This might include a combination of talk therapy, journaling, drawing, or other creative techniques to enable Jun to show how she is feeling.

In our initial meetings, I would want to explore several things.  One would be Jun’s stage of racial identity development. Based on her statements about feeling self-conscious and “different,” I would expect that she is in the encounter stage, pushing up against crisis or conflict due to an increasing awareness that racism exists (Erford, 2014).  I would also want to explore with Jun whether there have been any recent racial incidents at school or in the community that involved her or that she witnessed that brought this reality into clearer or more personal focus for her. I would also consider whether there have been any national events that have stoked fires of racism in the media or communities in the nation.  Another thing I would want to explore with Jun is the loss of her grandmother. In traditional Asian American families, there are strong familial bonds and there is great respect for elders. Given that Jun’s grandmother was living with them, it will be important to explore how close the two of them were, and help Jun articulate her feelings and reactions to her grandmother’s death.  In exploring both her POCRID and her grief reactions, I would incorporate psychoeducational information about identity development and the stages of grief to help educate Jun and normalize some of what she is experiencing.

To empower Jun to self-advocate, I would help her identify her existing coping skills and work on expanding those. I would see how she has dealt with grief in the past (if she has) and explore how she has successfully approached transitions and periods of adjustment in the past.  I would help her articulate her feelings of loss and grief, and her feelings surrounding the cultural identity issues she is struggling with currently. With the goal of Jun reaching out and opening up to her parents and school counselor herself, I would have her identify and express her feelings in session with me (either verbally or through writing) and then help her practice how she would share these feelings with her parents and her school counselor.  As a young Asian American woman, she may not be used to openly expressing her emotions or asking for what she needs. Her previously strong academic performance and apparent ability to “fit in” indicate that she may feel the pressure to be a “model minority” (Erford, 2014), introducing the possibility that her recent mental health and academic struggles may be sources of shame for her and making it even more difficult for her to express herself and reach out for help.  It will be important for Jun to learn about the psychological, physical, and emotional benefits of expressing one’s feelings and to determine for herself how she feels most comfortable doing that. Given that Jun’s academic performance has been affected by her mental health needs, part of our self-advocacy work will be geared toward helping her communicate her needs to her school counselor, and seeing her school counselor as an ally in approaching teachers to coordinate efforts to get back on top of her school work.  If Jun has had issues with her friends related to her race or culture, we will incorporate self-advocacy work that involves her communicating directly with these friends to express her concerns and needs.

My efforts to advocate for Jun will begin with conversations with her parents.  Initially, these may not involve June and might simply be psychoeducational meetings to help her parents understand what Jun may be experiencing and what might be helpful for them to do for her as her parents.  As they are the ones who contacted me, I assume that they would be open to me doing this with them. My larger goal would be to facilitate conversations between Jun and her parents in which Jun expresses herself directly to them and practices her self-advocacy. It would be important for me to empower Jun’s parents with the skills to self-advocate and advocate for Jun, so I would explore their reasons for feeling intimidated by the school counselor (is it based on cultural differences or norms, language barriers, etc.) and do what is necessary to educate/counsel them to a place of greater comfort.  I would then initiate a meeting with the school counselor for Jun, Jun’s parents, and myself, to establish a collaborative relationship that will provide support for Jun both in and out of school. I would also advocate for Jun with the school counselor by asking him or her to help coordinate with teachers to design a plan to help her get back on top of her school work in a way that feels comfortable for Jun and acceptable to the school.

It will be important for Jun and her parents to be made aware of the community resources that might be beneficial for her (and potentially all of them).  In their upstate NY community, there are two groups with which I would connect them: the CNY Chinese Culture Center and Hope for Bereaved. The former exists to enhance the livelihood of Chinese living in our area and seeks to build bridges between communities through community events, cultural classes, and civic engagement.  Through grassroots activities, CNYCCC’s mission is to provide opportunities for Chinese Americans to share their culture in the community and for the community to learn about and appreciate Chinese American culture.  Given the fact that Jun’s parents are first-generation immigrants, it is understandable that Jun might be experiencing cultural conflict, particularly at the time of adolescence when she is developmentally seeking belonging.  Connecting her to other youth in the community who may have shared experiences, and to a group that celebrates and spreads her cultural heritage in her community, may provide valuable connections for Jun and her family that help with her racial identity development.  Hope for the Bereaved offers support for people who experienced loss and has specific groups and services for youth who are struggling with grief. I would gather and provide information from this organization to Jun and her parents, with the understanding that they may need encouragement to seek help there directly.  It may be helpful to Jun to connect with other young people in the community who have suffered a loss and faced struggles during their grief.

Addressing Potential Barriers

Considering the full context of Jun’s presenting problems, I would need to pay attention to cultural and institutional barriers to her success.  In terms of cultural barriers, it is imperative to be sensitive to the norms of Asian American culture and explore with her the degree to which those norms exist in her family system.  I must explore whether her parents are very traditional, how or if shame is used as a tool to motivate or control, if the emotional expression is not acceptable or seen as a sign of weakness if youth and being female are treated as inferior, if family goals supersede personal wellness...all of these things are important to understanding Jun’s presenting issues and will inform how I work to empower Jun and advocate for her.  As a white woman, what feels comfortable to me in terms of self-advocacy, may not feel comfortable or acceptable to Jun, so we would have to identify what feels right for her. This might involve pushing against some of the cultural barriers that would have her remain stoic or keep her from asking for help or asserting herself, but we would come up with ways for her to do this that help her get what she needs without disrespecting the culture of which she feels a part.  Addressing these cultural barriers might involve Jun’s parents, as well, to help educate them about the conflicts Jun feels surrounding her racial identity and foster empathy between Jun and her parents for the others’ positions. (For the sake of this case study exercise, I am assuming that SES, religion, and sexual identity are not contributing factors to her presenting problems and that we don’t need to address associated barriers.)

Institutional barriers we might need to address include financial barriers (do Jun’s parents have access to insurance coverage or personal funds to pay for her mental health counseling, and are our sessions limited); social stigma (will Jun have to deal with negative judgment in her family or at school about her decision to seek counseling and will this impede her willingness to access services); access to services (is Jun able and willing to make arrangements to get to our sessions, is her school counselor accessible); school culture (is the school willing to collaborate with me in supporting Jun or are they unwilling or unable); discrimination (is there a culture of discrimination in the community or school, or is cultural difference acknowledged and celebrated).  

Of interest to me would be the current environment in the school that Jun attends.  Through collaboration with the school counselor, I would want to gather some information about the racial/ethnic diversity and the general culture at the school (is it accepting, is there excessive pressure to disidentify with one’s racial group to fit in, are their racial tensions or discriminatory incidents that the school is aware of and what does the school do to address these, if so, etc.).  I would want to find this out to identify whether there are any indications of systemic patterns or problems around race at the school. If there are, I can collaborate with the school counselor, and reach out to other counselors and administrators in the district to encourage or coordinate the provision of educational programs about cultural sensitivity, propose the establishment of a school club focused on cultural awareness and diversity, and look at district- or community-wide events like culture fairs that help individuals celebrate their culture and educate other about their culture in fun ways.  I would also want to see if there is an existing need for grief support at the school for students in addition to Jun. The loss of a loved one is a profoundly sad and life-changing experience, and, likely, Jun is not alone in this experience. If a group does not currently exist for young people at the school who are dealing with grief, this could be another area in which I could work with the school counselor to advocate for the establishment of this support network in the school system.

Policy Issues to Consider

In my work with Jun, my collaboration with Jun’s school counselor will be an important bridge to facilitating her healthy functioning. The current state of affairs with school counselors and their excessive, and often unmanageable, caseloads, may impede our efforts to establish support across settings: her school counselor may not be as accessible as I would hope.  Given the fact that some schools are not particularly accommodating for students who need regular in-school counseling interventions at the expense of instructional time and that some schools have what can feel like impossible requirements for making up work and improving grades, I would want to advocate for Jun, encourage her to advocate for herself, to get the support she needs at school.   I would also join my ACA and ASCA colleagues in their call for legislation to reduce the caseload of counselors and reinforce the importance and value of what school counselors provide. Finally, considering the current political climate and emboldened anti-immigrant sentiments, I would want to sensitively explore Jun’s family’s experience with citizenship in the U.S. and determine whether there is any instability or insecurity in that situation that might be affecting or impeding Jun’s racial identity development or exacerbating her feelings of or concerns about being “different.”  I would also seek to understand Jun’s experience in her school and community as an Asian American girl, particularly during a time when the undercurrent of racism seems to be flowing ever closer to the surface in the U.S.

Advocacy Strategies

As described throughout the narrative above, I would use client empowerment and advocacy as well as community collaboration and systems advocacy in my work with Jun and, to a lesser degree, with Jun’s parents. By, incorporating these strategies and infusing them with psychoeducational information about racial identity development, human development and stages of grief will help Jun normalize her experiences, feel a greater sense of belonging, and feel less helpless and overwhelmed. Collaborations with the school counselor (and, indirectly, the teachers), will be key.  Referrals to and utilization of community groups that offer relevant programs will expand Jun’s support system and give her a more diverse community in which to feel a part. Finally, advocating with and on behalf of Jun for a school culture that celebrates diversity will create a higher-level change that may mitigate some of the institutional challenges that Jun has become more aware of since starting high school.  

References

    1. Central New York Chinese Culture Center. (2018). Retrieved from http://www.cnyccc.org
    2. Erford, B. T. (2014). Multicultural counseling. In Orientation to the counseling profession: Advocacy, ethics, and essential professional foundations (2nd ed.) (pp. 240–272). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Inc.
    3. Erford, B. T. (2014). Settings and counseling career choices. In Orientation to the counseling profession: Advocacy, ethics, and essential professional foundations (2nd ed.) (pp. 321–355). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Inc.
    4. Hope for Bereaved. (2018). Retrieved from https://hopeforbereaved.com
    5. Rudow, H. (2013). Collaborating with clients to remove barriers to treatment. Counseling Today.  Retrieved from https://ct.counseling.org/2013/10/collaborating-with-clients-to-remove-barriers-to-treatment/

 

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Life Changing Events Through Human Interactions Essay. (2024, April 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 12, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/life-changing-events-through-human-interactions-essay/
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Life Changing Events Through Human Interactions Essay. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/life-changing-events-through-human-interactions-essay/> [Accessed 12 Jun. 2024].
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