A qualitative exploration of the use of a community based cultural immersion experience and ethnographic techniques with MFT MA students as part of multicultural training

Date of Completion

January 2009


Education, Bilingual and Multicultural|Education, Guidance and Counseling|Psychology, Clinical




Multicultural therapist training is greatly based on the competency areas of knowledge, skills, and awareness (Arredondo et al., 1996; Arredondo et al., 2005; Sue et al., 1982; Sue et al., 1992). Developing therapists' awareness of their own assumptions, values, and biases, has shown to be a complicated and elusive process (Collins & Pieterse, 2007; Palmer & Savoie, 2002). Research findings suggest that experiential multicultural contact allows trainees to move beyond essentialized cognitive understandings about specific cultural groups toward empathetic curiosity about cultural configurations of clients (Eyler, Giles, Stenson, & Gray, 2001; Philipsen, 2003).^ Contemporary scholars contend that a gap exists in the multicultural literature between theory and the research that forms the basis of multicultural counseling competencies (Worthington, Soth-McNett, & Moreno, 2007). This qualitative case study contributes to the literature addressing this gap by analyzing one first-year MFT cohort's experiences and reactions in community immersion encounters. Ethnographic fieldnote taking skills combined with focus groups were used.^ This study applies a qualitative framework and a grounded theory approach in the methodology and analytical approaches respectively. The purpose of the study was two pronged. The first objective was to understand how first-year MFT students participating in a community immersion requirement conceptualized and responded to observed norms at assigned community sites and to explore personal experiences as a temporary part of the community. The second objective was to explore the processes by which the participants represented and understood the social realities of others. These understandings and impressions were captured through ethnographic fieldnote taking and through semi-structured focus groups.^ Emergent themes specifically noted movement and change in social interactions and were understood using terms drawn from relational-cultural theory constructs (Birrell & Freyd, 2006; Gilligan, 2001; Hartling, Rosen, Walker, & Jordan, 2000; Miller & Stiver, 1997). This study contributes to the growing literature related to the development of multicultural competency in marriage and family therapy training programs in three distinct ways: (a) an expanded definition of awareness, (b) and expanded definition of competency through awareness, and (c) and expanded pedagogical approach.^