Domain II: Challenge Social Injustices, and Critique Their Impact on Client–Counsellor Social Locations

CC7 Cross-Cultural Transitions

Analyze critically the impact of cross-cultural transitions and social injustices on cultural identity and relationality

Sandra Collins

The focus of Core Competency 7 (Collins, 2018) is on examining how the development and experience of cultural identity and relationality may be adversely affected by experiences of social injustice. Many immigrants and refugees embrace the process cross-cultural transitions and experience positive acculturation and identity development. However, trauma, including historical or colonial trauma, involuntary cross-cultural transitions, and experiences of cultural oppression may result in a loss of cultural identity or relationality for some immigrants and refugees, Indigenous peoples, and other marginalized populations. It is important for learners to attend carefully to signs of client internalized oppression, posttraumatic stress, acculturative stress, or culture shock. It is equally important to apply a contextualized and systemic lens to ensure that the locus of control and responsibility is not positioned within the client, but rather within oppressive sociocultural discourses (Arthur & Collins, 2016; Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association, 2016; Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015).


CRSJ Counselling Key Concepts

  • Internalized oppression
    (internalized ableism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism)
  • Trauma
  • Historical/colonial trauma
  • Posttraumatic stress
  • Retraumatization

Cross-Cultural Transitions

Packing and unpacking cultural baggage (Self-study)

When culture emerges as a salient issue in counselling, it is may be because clients are experiencing some short of cultural transition. In some case, this transition is within themselves, and it changes the nature of their relationships with the world around them, as is the case of LGBTTQI persons or individuals who have a sudden onset of a change in mental or physical ability. In other cases, it is quite literally dislocation from their culture and country of origin to be immersed in a new culture, as is the case for international students, immigrants, and refugees. The following visualization on packing and unpacking cultural baggage is provided as an audio link.

It is also provided as a pdf file in case you have difficulty accessing the audio: Packing and Unpacking Cultural Baggage. Once you have experienced the visualization, take some time to reflect on the following questions:

  • What symbols of culture do you identify in the items that you packed or wish you had packed in your suitcase?
  • Which domains of your life (e.g., family, community, religion, language, food) are represented by these cultural symbols?
  • How might changes in these life domains create potential areas of stress for people in cross-cultural transition?
  • How can this exercise be useful for identifying stressors and working with clients to develop strategies for cross-cultural transitions?
  • What does this exercise suggest to you about cross-cultural transitions themselves (e.g., duration, process, phases)?
  • How might your imaginary suitcase differ if you knew you were about to be diagnosed with a debilitating disease or you came to the realization that you were attracted to a member of the same sex?

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You must be so grateful (Class discussion)

Listen to the podcast from CBC radio’s, The Current: Expecting gratitude from refugees can be toxic. [Note: The audiofile is below the photo of Dina Nayeri; it runs for 31 minutes.] Then discuss as a group the implications for this expectation of gratitude from newcomers to Canada in terms of our responsibility as counsellors:

  • to critically reflect on your own attitudes and beliefs about refugees,
  • to support newcomers’ healthy acculturation and identity development, and
  • to take a pro-human rights and social justice stand in the public and political spheres.

Prepare a short, reasoned, and reflective response (1-2 paragraphs) that you might share with a colleague who makes a comment about the gift Canada offers to refugees and how grateful they should be.

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Immigration as a foundation of Canadian culture (Partner activity)

Pair up to examine the history of immigration in Canada. Each person should choose one of the sites below.

Engage your sense of cultural curiosity to explore the various links within that site. Make notes to share with your partner about what you learn, paying particular attention to the following:

  • Your own cultural heritage. Unless you are an Indigenous person, your ancestors came to this country through some form of colonialist or settler process. Take some time to see what you can learn about your family history. If you are adopted and don’t know your cultural heritage, consider the influences of significant others in your life on your cultural worldview.
  • Other cultural communities. Seek out new knowledge that might support your ability to work effectively with clients from various cultural heritages. Choose immigrant groups that you are the least familiar with. Consider the ways in which these populations have positively influenced Canadian cultural, economic, social, and political life.

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What are people thinking? (Class discussion)

Watch this TED Talk by George Takei (otherwise know as Hikaru Sulu from the TV series Star Trek). Looking back on the decisions that were made during this time period, one might ask, “What were people thinking?”



For a Canadian perspective, check out the CBC Digital Archives section entitled Chinese Immigration to Canada: A Tale of Perseverance. Understanding the history of various populations in Canada and elsewhere forms an important foundation for culturally responsive and socially just counselling practice. Then engage in the following class discussion.

  • If your birthday is between January and June, do a bit of research online about the experiences of various immigrant populations in Canada historically. Answer the question What were people thinking? by considering some of the myths or misperceptions at the time.
  • If your birthday is between July and December, focus your research on modern day Canada and answer the question: What are people thinking? as you examine the rationalizations and misperceptions promoted by media, special interest groups, or others about immigrants and refugees.

Compare and contrast your observations.

  • How does this dialogue shape what you are thinking about immigrants and refugees and how you might approach these issues at both professional and political levels?
  • What is our responsibility, both as individual counsellors and as a profession, to advocate for, or otherwise engage in, systems level change to shape Canadian law in ways that foster social justice and ensure that we do not see an erosion of basic human rights over time?
  • At the end of the conversation, share one action step that you can take to change the systemic discourses that marginalize immigrants and refugees.

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Bicultural Identities


Multigenerational Issues

Different acculturation rates across generations (Class discussion)

Consider the following case scenario of a second generation immigrant.

Luciana is 14-years-old and has attended school in Canada since she was 5. Her family immigrated to Canadian from Argentina when she was 4. Luciana speaks English at home to her sister, Mariana, who is 18 months younger. Her father, Lucas, considers her use of English to be both a barrier that prevents him from being able to understand her thoughts and behaviours and a threat to her retention of her native language. When he demands that she speak Spanish in the home, she interprets this as just another instance of her father attempting to control her and purposely continues to speak English to spite him. The father reacts to her “disobedience” with anger and reissues the order, and the conflict continues to escalate. He has been working two manual labour jobs since arriving in Canada, nine years ago, so that Luciana and Mariana can attend a private Catholic school. Luciana excels in her studies and has lots of friends. For the most part, her friends are Caucasian and monolingual. Her best friends share an interest in fashion, movie stars, and Justin Trudeau; however, they also aspire to careers such as astronaut, computer scientist, and ecologist. She has not talked to her father about her own aspirations to join the Canadian military as a medical doctor.

Analyze critically this case example of multigenerational issues in acculturation. Assume you are a school counsellor, and Luciana’s teacher has asked you to talk with her because Luciana revealed her conflict with her father through a writing assignment. Work together on a plan for how you would approach this scenario.

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Acculturative Stress

We are not all the same (Class discussion)

The following case scenario captures the experiences of a first generation refugee and her children.

Nooda is a 35-year-old refugee from Syria who arrived in Toronto with her three young children. Her husband disappeared two years ago after being forced into military service by the Syrian government. Nooda grew up within the Alawite religion in a region of the country controlled and protected by the by the government, because of the current Alawite affiliation of the ruling party and president of Syria. Nooda came to Canada through the support of a private sponsorship group, made up of Caucasian business women who have also sponsored two other Syrian single mothers and their children. The sponsors were very excited to find a newly renovated older home in a predominantly Muslim area that had been divided into three units. Although she repeatedly expresses her deep gratitude to her sponsorship group for the opportunity to be in Canada, Nooda is withdrawn, her affect is very flat, and she shows no interest in building connections with the other women with whom she has been housed. Her sponsors have made several efforts to include all of the newcomers in group events; the children are delighted to play together, but Nooda stays mostly to herself and the other women seem disinclined to engage her.

You are Nooda’s counsellor at a local women’s immigrant and refugee counselling service. She came to the first session with one of the sponsors, who expressed concern about Nooda’s mental health. Nooda’s English is minimal, so you included an Arabic-speaking interpreter in the session.

Work together on a plan for how you would approach this scenario. Consider also your personal and professional experiences and any other academic or professional resources that you find helpful. You will first need to do some research to understand the potential complexities of Nooda’s pre- and post-migration experiences.

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Culture Shock


Loss of Cultural Identity and Relationality


Internalized Oppression

As counsellors, it is important to listen carefully for the subtle ways in which internalized oppression seeps into or lies beneath clients’ self-talk, their reflections on their cultural selves, their sense of responsibility for problems that may actually be systemic in nature, or their feelings of disempowerment or disconnection.


The many faces of internalized oppression (Class discussion)

There are a lot of great resources on the Internet that support cultural competency development. Take a few moments to find and read a resource that speaks to internalized oppression. You may want to revisit Collins (2016), Professional writing in the health disciplines Web Resources, for guidelines on selecting credible and scholarly resources. Be prepared to integrate what you learned into the class discussion.

Then, consider the two case scenarios below.

Samsung: Internalized Homophobia
Samsung is 75-years-old, and has lived on his own his whole adult life. He has recently reconnected with his closest childhood friend, also 75, who was in a same sex relationship for 40 years, but lost his partner three years before. Alex and his partner lived overseas for a significant portion of their relationship. Samsung visited them once when they were first together, but they lost touch after than visit. Samsung was uncomfortable with the openness of their relationship even though he longed for that type of connection and companionship. When Alex moved back to the small town in rural New Brunswick to live with this sister, he ran into Samsung at the local grocery store. Samsung felt an immediate pull towards Alex and they embraced for a long time. They have been meeting for coffee twice a week, and it feels to Samsung like are the best friends of their youth once again. It has been a long time since Samsung has been excited about his life. A couple of weeks ago they were watching a ball game together at Alex’s sisters, and she jokingly said to them “Don’t you just look like an old married couple cuddled up there on the couch.” Samsung laughed but he felt his body go rigid and he moved away from Alex. Alex clearly noticed but didn’t say anything. Later that week Samsung went to confession; he was shocked when the priest told him that God would want him to follow his heart. Father Bibaud suggested to Samsung that he find someone to talk with, so that he didn’t lose out on the wonderful gift he was being offered. 

You are a community counsellor at the seniors centre that Samsung has attended for many years. You have never seen him for counselling, but you have played many games of chess over the years. Samsung makes an appointment but does not show up. Later that week, you run into him and play another game of chess. You don’t mention the missed appointment. This is the second appointment, and Samsung is early.

Stella: Internalized Ableism
Stella has just started high school and has option to attend a new school that focuses on arts and music. Most of her friends are attending the high school in her local community. Stella takes the handy bus to school now, instead of joining her friends to travel the short distance to her previous school in her wheelchair. All of her friends are talking about meeting new boys in high school. They all started dating in the last few years, but she hasn’t. She tells them she isn’t interested because she has to focus on her art and the violin she has just started playing. In her first few weeks of school, she finds it hard to make new friends, but she tells herself that this is because she is new to this area and many of the students went to the same middle school. No one has asked her anything about her art or music interests. The few interactions she has had were from one or two students who have taken it upon themselves to rearrange desks for certain classes so that she can easily position her wheelchair near the front of the class. One of these students is an attractive guy who she likes quite a bit, but he seems more interested in helping her than talking to her. Stella has always refused to let her physical abilities barrier her from accomplishing her goals, and she always felt like just one of the girls among her small group of friends. Since coming to this new school her confidence has diminished, she has changed her attire from the flashy, colourful clothes she has always preferred to a plain t-shirt and jeans, and she spends more time in her room than she used to when she returns from school. Stella attends a local support group for young women with various disabilities. The most recent group session was on the topic of sexuality; Stella was withdrawn and seemed uninterested.

You are the group counsellor, and you notice the difference in Stella’s appearance and disposition in the group session. You invite her to meet with you one-on-one to talk about how she is finding the transition to high school. At first, she resists, saying everything is fine, but then she reluctantly agrees.

Draw on your knowledge about culturally responsive and socially just counselling practices to inform your dialogue about Samsung and Stella. Consider also your personal and professional experiences and any other academic or professional resources that you find particularly helpful. Work together on a plan for how you might support these clients struggling with internalized oppression. Be sure to incorporate what you learned from the Internet source you selected in the study process.

[Note for instructors: You may want to break the class into two smaller groups or two separate discussion threads, one for each case scenario. Then bring the class back together to debrief and share their insights.]

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Unearthing internalized racism (Self-study)

If you are a member of a nondominant ethnic group, you have likely been exposed to both overt and covert racism over your lifetime. These messages can easily become internalized and integrated into one’s sense of self. I invite you to complete the Internalized Racism Inventory as part of your cultural self-exploration. You may want to pair up with a colleague, friend, or family member with whom you feel comfortable to debrief this activity. What are the implications of internalized racism for your work with members of dominant and nondominant ethnic groups?

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The internalization of sexism (Self-study)

If you identify as female or have been positioned as female at some point in your life, please complete the Internalized Sexism Inventory. Those of other genders may also want to skim through these questions to assess your tendencies to accept and reinforce androgeny in your interactions with others and to think critically about how internalized sexism may affect the perspectives of all clients.

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Historical/colonial trauma


Posttraumatic stress





Arthur, N., & Collins, S., (2016b). Multicultural counselling in the Canadian context. In N. Gazzola, M. Buchanan, O. Sutherland, & S. Nuttgens (Eds.), Handbook of Counselling and Psychotherapy in Canada (pp. 73-93). Ottawa, ON: Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.

Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. (2016). Call to action: Urgent need for improved Indigenous mental health services in Canada. Retrieved from

Collins, S. (2018). Embracing cultural responsivity and social justice: Re-shaping professional identity in counselling psychology [Epub version]. Victoria, BC: Counselling Concepts. Retrieved from

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2015). Honouring the truth, reconciling for the future: Summary report of the truth and reconciliation commission of Canada. Retrieved from


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CC7 Cross-Cultural Transitions Copyright © 2018 by Sandra Collins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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