The Journey of Developing Cultural Humility


New York City, the melting pot of cultural, ethnicities, race, and people from everywhere. I was born and raised in Brooklyn New York, and considered myself American, heterosexual, Christian, middle-class citizen. Entering Simmons University and learning more about who I am and being culturally competent would be attainable, due to being around different races and ethnicity daily living in New York City. However my journey through graduate school has opened my eyes and mind to another world to discover my ever-growing work with diverse clients.

This paper will explore what cultural humility is and how it applies to the Gibbons family.

Why is Cultural Humility Important?

At my current employment, as a child protective specialist, we are trained to be culturally competent toward our clients, families, and co-workers. My social worker journey has taught me being cultural humility is a process of self-reflection and discovery to build honest and trustworthy relationships with myself and the clients I serve. However, culturally humility can’t be taught in a textbook, it is dependent on the individual to view it as an ongoing journey of oneself.

According to Tervalon & Murray-Garcia (1998), cultural humility used to be used to teach physicians methods to increase cultural, racial and ethnic diversity. Tervalon & Murray-Garcia (1998), defines cultural humility as “a lifelong process of self-reflection and self-critique whereby the individual not only learns about another’s culture, but one starts with an examination of her/his own beliefs and cultural identities” (pp. 2). Personal narrative and self-reflection are essential in developing cultural humility.

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Self-reflection has enabled me to explore my background, location, and environment and draw how it has shaped who I am today. Throughout ‘my’ journey of self-reflection, I look at myself differently because unconsciously I use my white privilege every day; at work, school, riding on the train and many another day to day activities.

Furthermore, I have a greater awareness of my faults, limitations, and need for improvement. Throughout the day, numerous of us interchange between several cultures, often without thinking about it. For instance, our home/ family culture often differs from our workplace culture, school culture, social group culture, or religious organization culture. The overall purpose of the process cultural humility is to be aware of our values and beliefs that come from a combination of cultures to increase understanding of others. Social Workers cannot understand the context of others’ lives without being aware and reflective of his/her own background and situation (Yeager and Bauer-Wu, 2013).

Working with Diverse, Oppressed and Vulnerable Populations

Living in New York City I interact with people of different backgrounds, religion, ethnicity, race, and economic status. I sometimes take for granted what it is to live in a diverse city and to remember that racism is embedded in society. Unconsciously, I use my white privilege and color blindness every day without thinking about the oppression that marginalized populations have to endure daily.

As I grew up, I understood the difference between equality and equity. Even though education is free in America, many schools in the marginalized neighborhood are not up to date, as compared to upper and middle-class neighborhoods. As a result, minority and oppressed children are not given a fair chance at life and equity from childhood.

In my life, I have heard any white people discuss and reinforce stereotypes and say, blacks are lazy, live off welfare, are violent and angry. However, that same white person does not consider the personal history of how the other grew up and blame them for their own victimization of success. I believe media plays a big part in how fear and stereotypes are reinforced every day. Whites are modeled in the media with movie stars, models and power CEO. The minorities are then compared to them and it promotes internal racism because they aren’t light skin, educated, smart or pretty. My field placement location is at Seamark Pros, a psychosocial clubhouse for adults, with psychiatric disabilities. I can draw from my feelings, obstacles, and experiences with mental health issues, to develop empathy and understanding for clients, and the situations they found themselves in. I need to take the clients’ culture and history into account by the ability to understand a person’s intersectionality of oppression and they have been influenced by these factors.

According to Barak (2016), a person can have more than one identity, intersectionality helps the social worker understand how each identity intersects with each other with a critical consciousness. As social workers, we must continually be curious about our client’s history and life events. I have to be culturally competent in our difference’s and promote being an appreciative ally in understanding who the client is, and the history they endured (Madsen, 2007). According to Madsen (2007), the foundation of clinical effectiveness lies in the attitude we hold regarding clients, and the way we position ourselves in relation to them. Social Workers’ must utilize a relational stance attitude, or emotional posture taken in relation to clients is important when building rapport and relationships and an increase in treatment outcomes (Madsen, 2007). At my current placement and future employment, I will continue to practice cultural competence and humility by not projecting my dominant and authoritative identity onto the clients that I serve. Recognizing that each person brings something different to the proverbial table of life helps us see the value of each person.

The Gibbons Family

The Gibbons family consist of Ezra, who is he husband to Katie and the biological father to Brittany, Jared, and Avery. Katie is the step-parent to Brittany and Jared, she is the biological mother to Avery. Katie’s mother, Suzi also reside in the family home. Ezra is actively employed as a United States Marines, and as a result of a promotion, the family moves from California to Virginia. Ezra also has a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder and utilizes alcohol to as a coping mechanism. Both Brittany and Jared have different biological mothers. Brittany’s mother currently resides in California. Jared’s mother is also active in the Marines, as a result, he rarely has any contact with her.

The Gibbons family is a blended biracial family, which consist of different races as, Ezra is African American, and Katie is Caucasian. Culturally, they come from a different set of values, norms, family dynamics, rules, boundaries, and exceptions. Utilizing the intergenerational family theory, one of its concepts is the differentiation of self, which can derive from traditions, customs, and norms from childhood. Katie’s differentiation of self can be seen as a problematic conflict behavior within the family system. Katie is resentful that she had to quit her job to be a stay at home mother to her daughter and step-children. Katie also relies on her mother for validation and decision making due to her husband not being available to her emotional needs when he is working or intoxicated. Katie and Brittany have a rigid relationship due to a lack of boundaries and unrealistic expectations.

Katie believes the older children should have more responsibilities by completing chores around the home and caring for Avery with assisting her with homework. This can be seen as a multigenerational transmission process, as her childhood experience differs from that of Brittany’s. By doing so the family therapist is attempting to restructure distorted beliefs and increase successful behaviors for family functioning (Spillane-Grieco, 2000, pp. 110). After viewing the Gibbons case scenario, I believe the social worker did not help navigate emotionally charges issues when they raised among the family members. She would allow the family to control the conversation.

The therapist did remain natural throughout the video segments and did not side with one family member. She also attempted to ask a fact-based question that focused on the problem, expectations and how the current functioning of the family is impending growth. During the third session, the therapist asked a miracle question, which is solution focused intervention. I believe the therapist answered Ezra’s question with cultural humility. She maintained she is not the expert on his family and was there to observe what was working for the family to function and communicate well (Simmons College, n.d.). The therapist discussed the difference between herself and the family.

Therefore, she maintains a therapeutic relationship with cultural humility, by acknowledging that she is always in the process of learning and growing. Madsen (2007), discusses that clients/ families are the experts in their lives and often have more competence than realize, our work together can become a collaborative process that draws on the abilities, skills, and knowledge of both parties. By taking a collaborative partnership stance, the therapist is minimizing the power structure between herself and the family (Madsen, 2007). Cultural humility is particularly relevant to a trauma-informed, human-rights-based approach to social work practice; it underscores the dignity and value of the individual and empowers the client as the expert in their experience and can be applied to the Gibbons family (Madsen, 2007).


A number of skills contribute to the development of cultural competency. According to Tervalon & Murray-Garcia (1998), these include the ability to: 1) articulate one’s perspective respectfully and clearly; 2) question one’s perspective; 3) demonstrate awareness of one’s biases; 4) manage personal biases and stereotypes; and, 5) personalize observations and rephrase using “I” statements. As a social work student, I must take my clients values, norm, and experience into account. Social workers must have an acceptance and nonjudgmental stance toward people being individuals (NASW, 2008). We must have empathy for a person and practice to promote self-determination of all clients (NASW, 2008).

I will continue to manage and explore personal biases and stereotypes. Be nonjudgmental, as people have a common tendency to judge those we perceive as different. Culturally humble individuals have a more accurate view of the self and greater awareness of their limitations; they maintain a respectful, other-focused perspective (Davis et al., 2011) Cultural humility involves an open and aware mindset and a lifelong commitment to self-examination and the redress of power imbalances in the client (Davis et al., 2011).

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The Journey of Developing Cultural Humility. (2021, Apr 26). Retrieved from

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