Thursday, April 20, 2006

Up Against the Wall

I am running smack into cultural/language issues with my very first client. It is a Latino family; the parents were born in Mexico. I believe all three children were born in here, certainly the middle child (my client) and the youngest were.

Cara, my client is doing very poorly in school, is a 14 year old bilingual female, who is very shy, not savvy about peer structures, and is very anxious about racial tensions and gangs at school.

I have brought up that I would like her tested for learning disabilities to rule them out (or in) in order to shorten the list of possible reasons for her school truancy (one of the primary factors that brought her to TBS). In late March I went to a parent/teacher night with the mother and saw an example of her writing – it was terrible, incomplete sentences, no relational construction, no paragraphs. She recently received a report card where she received a C+ in Advanced English and C- in English Language Development (and two "F"s and a "D-"). I had spoken at length with the ELD teacher who has no idea what happens in Adv English – I can’t begin to speak about how terrible this is in my mind. I notice that Cara doesn’t seem to process orally that well which could be because of only speaking English at school, or it could be something else. Her vocabulary is very limited, which does make some sense given that much of her conversing with adults outside of school is in spanish, but it's still a concern.

Yesterday in a meeting with her outgoing therapist, her WRAP coordinator and her mother I was told how bilingual folks have difficulties and felt like Cara’s poor showing in school (failing two classes, a D- in another as well as the above mentioned grades) is because of cultural issue and was given the feeling that it wasn't a concern. I was told about how there have been studies on this, as if I don't know about this. Yes, I was the only white person in that room. It may be the case that there are language difference because of her bilingual status but we have a girl about to flunk out of 8th grade and even if by some miracle she doesn’t she is woefully unprepared for high school. I was also told that a resource teacher that no longer works with Cara felt she was very bright, much smarter than many of her classmates. Given the school and city, I have to wonder about the expectations and whether she viewed Cara as a good student because she was well behaved. I felt so much like “The Gringa” who couldn’t possibly understand and that Cara was succeeding quite well given everything. So frustrating.

It was been a long time since I felt like the only white chick in a room, and you know, it hasn't gotten any easier. I felt myself undergoing so many different feelings in that room and since the meeting. I struggle with the language barriers, mom's english is limited, dad's is practically nonexistent - so it's hard to bring him into the treatment solutions. The cultural differences hit me in the face daily. The other team members keep telling me how hard it is for latina women to say what they need, like white women never suffer from that, like I don't know this about their culture and they have to keep reinforcing it. They really don't. I actually have some familiarity with other cultures, I really do. This is not to say I absolutely "get it", I can't, I was raised very differently. However there are points where we all intersect and I feel like that is outside their comprehension. I feel like they think because I'm white and have some education that I always spoke my mind, that I was never shy, that I was never misunderstood, never had stereotypes applied to me. Yes I am white and speak english, but am I also jewish, lesbian, raised in a non-traditional family, had family secrets to keep, had expectations applied to me that had nothing to do with me - argh I can't even articulate what I want to say about this.

I guess I am having difficulty seeing my successes with this family right now. This work is very intensive given that I see my client usually 4 times a week, for at least 2 hours each meeting. I work very hard to amend my vocabulary, speaking style and speed (I tend to talk fast - blame it on being a New Yorker by birth) every minute I am with them. I work very hard to balance creating a bond with them with working therapeutically. I struggle to come up with creative interventions and meaningful rewards (this is cognitive behavioral after all - sigh) while working with a teen who is apathetic a great deal of time.

Consider this long pity party/whine post.

*Not her real name.


Gandksmom said...

I am sorry that you are feeling so frustrated, but I think you are doing great work. I think one of the hardest things about being a mental health professional is working with folks from other cultures. Trying to be respectful of their customs while making an impact on their lives and helping them develop skills is very daunting. I think you are really doing a great job. Sometimes when you are so close to it, you can't see the progress that is being made.

wen said...

i think you're doing great. :) and a little rant is definitely in order every once in a while.