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Hello folks. Welcome back to The Testing Psychologist. Happy to be here. I’m happy to have my guest today, Dr. Anisa Goforth. She’s a professor of psychology at the University of Montana; an Australian and American citizen. She was born in Yemen and raised in Asia and Latin America. [00:01:00] Her research focuses on culturally responsive evidence-based practices for children and their families.
Dr. Goforth is board certified in school psychology from the American Board of Professional Psychology, and in her private practice, she primarily provides psychological and psychoeducational assessments for children and adolescents. In January, she published a book along with Dr. Andy Pham at Florida International University through Oxford University Press, titled, Culturally Responsive School-based Practices: Supporting Mental Health and Learning of Diverse Youth.
Anisa talks with me today about culturally responsive assessment. This is a topic that we really just cannot get enough of in our world, and we come at it from a slightly different lens than in the past. Anisa and Andy set forth a bit of a framework in their book for how to approach culturally responsive assessment, and we work through that framework. We talk about, of course, the theoretical [00:02:00] underpinnings and ideas in the framework, but we also talk about lots of applied strategies for how to implement the framework in your practice. I think this is a great one if you’re looking to take away some concrete strategies for working with kids or families and perhaps even adults.
Before we get to the episode, I always like to invite any practice owner or soon-to-be practice owner to join a Testing Psychologist Mastermind group. Cohorts tend to start in July and January and I think yes, we’ll be coming up in July. Definitely, time to start thinking about that. These are groups of 6 psychologists. There’s support, accountability, goal setting, and a lot of fun. We laugh too. If that sounds interesting, and you’d like some help with your practice wherever you’re at, beginner, intermediate, or advanced, you can go to [00:03:00] thetestingpsychologist.com/consulting and book a pre-group call.
All right, everyone, let’s get to my conversation with Dr. Anisa Goforth.
Hey Anisa, welcome to the podcast.
Dr. Anisa: Thank you so much.
Dr. Sharp: Glad to have you. This is nice to have you. I think we’re in the same time zone. That’s pretty rare for a podcast recording.
Dr. Anisa: Yes. Montana and Colorado having the same time zone is quite convenient.
Dr. Sharp: I’ll take it. So we’re talking about many different aspects of culturally responsive practice and assessment. This is a topic that never gets old. I’m really excited to dive in with you, but I’ll start with a [00:04:00] question that I always start with, which is, why this? Out of all the things that you could focus on in this world and spend your life doing, why focus on this in particular?
Dr. Anisa: Well, it starts in a small mountain town in Yemen where my Australian mother and my American father met in the early 80s and had me in Jibla, Yemen. They were teachers and as they met, they married and decided to raise my sister and I in multiple countries: Indonesia, Nicaragua, Brazil, and more of my formative years in Lahore, Pakistan.
And during those experiences, I attended an American-based curriculum, which is why I have an American accent, even though I’m Australian as well. And noticing in these schools where my classmates were Japanese, Korean, [00:05:00] Brazilian, Nicaraguan, Indonesian, that they were navigating their school experience across different cultures, across different languages, I became really interested in acculturation in particular.
So this idea of how do you identify with a particular cultural group when your cultural group may not be actually right there. So in my case, I’m American Australian. For your listeners, I’m a white redheaded cisgender woman, and multilingual and multicultural in the sense that I hadn’t lived in the United States or Australia.
I was navigating these experiences with my classmates and noticing that it can be really challenging to figure out who am I, what am I, and what’s my identity when there are classmates that may be different. And so that really sparked an interest in that area.
I actually wanted to be [00:06:00] an international school teacher. And when I went to college at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, I became much more interested in the psychology aspect of schools and got my degree at Michigan State University in school psychology.
My dissertation specifically focuses on acculturation with Arab Americans. And that sparked a continued interest in exploring how acculturation and religiosity can really impact psychological outcomes in children and adolescents. And that transitioned into my role here as a professor of psychology now at the University of Montana, and continuing this idea of exploring culturally responsive practice, particularly in schools, but I am interested in broadly children and their caregivers and how they navigate these different cultural experiences.
Dr. Sharp: I love that thread that has continued. It sounds like it started when you were relatively young and you’ve just [00:07:00] pulled on that thread for the past 30 years. It’s amazing when we can follow a path like that and then it stays strong and continues to be motivating for you.
Dr. Anisa: Absolutely.
Dr. Sharp: I’m curious, just personally, before we get more into the practice side of things what that was like. It sounds like living and growing up in locations, at least, and cultures, I would imagine that didn’t exactly match either of your parents’ backgrounds.
Dr. Anisa: Yeah. And there’s actually a whole community of Americans and Australians living overseas. Oftentimes diplomats, missionary kids. We have the Department of Defense, of course. And so all of those kids were part of the schools that I attended. But what was interesting is that these are private schools, so oftentimes[00:08:00] quite expensive schools, so they aren’t necessarily local.
For me, it was incredibly shaping who I am and of course my research and my clinical practice. But there’s what we call third culture kids. So there’s a whole term called […] a TCK. So the idea is that I did not identify as an American necessarily when I moved to the United States, and yet, of course, I wasn’t Pakistani either.
I was this in-between cultural group that I had to navigate and figure out who I was and where I belong. I somewhat identify as American now because I’ve been living in the United States for quite a while at this point. But my Australian side is less salient because I haven’t lived in Australia, but my family is still there. I visit very often, but the connection and the cultural connection of Australia is a little less salient than perhaps my American because I’m here [00:09:00] in Montana now.
So this navigating of national identity, political identity, as well as cultural identity, even within predominantly Western countries like the United States, and Australia, my well, I would describe as like my heart is probably in Pakistan, because that was my years in high school. And so I have a very deep connection and still have friends from Pakistan who are all over the world at this point. And that’s where I was shaped in terms of my understanding as a teen, my connection with Muslim culture, my friends who were wonderful and shared with me their Muslim culture, and then Pakistan in general is just the most beautiful country and I still would love to go back.
Dr. Sharp: Of course. It makes me think about, and I don’t know if you can even guess at this question, but how much of your personal and professional [00:10:00] interests in culturally responsive practice were personality driven versus environmentally driven; just growing up in each of these different areas. Do you have any sense of that, like other kids you went to school with maybe had similar awareness or interests?
Dr. Anisa: That’s a really good question. I think my parents certainly have influenced it dramatically. I’ve been to over 50 countries. Our vacations were in Kenya and in Italy and all over the world. So their sense of adventure and respect for culture definitely shaped me. In fact, my sister is now in Guatemala permanently. She has a house there and she does social justice work in Guatemala as well. So just from genetics and environmental, it’s hard to tell.
But for me personally, I feel very passionate about ensuring that our work as psychologists is meaningful in [00:11:00] connecting with each child and caregiver’s own cultural identity, whatever cultural identity that they might feel a sense of belonging to. So, is it environmental, or is it personality? I suspect it’s both.
Dr. Sharp: That’s fair. Like everything, right?
Dr. Anisa: Yeah, exactly.
Dr. Sharp: Like everything. Yeah. Let’s see. I’m going to steer back to some aspects of practice here. I feel like we could go on. I’m going to ignore this Guatemala reference because we have a little bit of a history with Guatemala as well, but we’ll put that to the side for a bit.
I’m curious. You have co-authored this book. And I would love to talk about some of the ideas in that book. I always ask everyone who’s written a book this question, but I’m curious what led you to take on such an undertaking? I’m not one of those people who have [00:12:00] ever been like, I think I should write a book. That to me is an incredible effort. I’m always curious what led to that and how that process went for you.
Dr. Anisa: And for the listeners, I’m nodding my head very dramatically right now because it was a tenure process and one that I…It’s been simmering for about 10 years. And it came from a place of recognizing that there’s wonderful scholars out there with really amazing ideas and yet a book that didn’t quite capture everything that as a school-based psychologist, I really wanted to put together into one hands-on book and with strategies and the how-to.
I often got colleagues, school psychologists, and schools saying, I’m doing this particular assessment with this particular ethnic minoritized group. What do I [00:13:00] do? And it was hard to support them in the way that I wanted to without a concrete chapter of like, here’s an example or here’s a particular strategy.
So my colleague Andy Pham who’s at Florida International University, a wonderful scholar and an amazing person, he and I went to graduate school together at Michigan State, and so I’ve known him for quite a while. He played softball together every once in a while in graduate school in between studying. I recruited him to write this book. And it’s been a wonderful journey for both of us because I think in the process of writing this book, we’re also engaging in the work that we are talking about in this book. I’ll give a concrete example.
The primary premise of the book is the 4Rs of culturally responsive practice. We got reflexivity, relationship, responsiveness, and relational empowerment. During our writing, Andy and I had a lot [00:14:00] of opportunities to engage in critical reflexivity ourselves. And this was particularly during Covid when we started writing it, and also during the times in which a lot of attention was towards racial injustice and the many kinds of violent acts against black folks by police.
And so we talked a lot about the importance of our work. Why are we doing this work? The terminology that we are choosing and really thought about why we’re doing this and really engaged in critical reflexivity even by the end, we actually went back and changed things as a result.
And I think that reflexivity is an important process as psychologists ourselves because it’s really about being intentional about our process. It’s about self-critique. We integrate a lot of hook and colleague’s work with cultural humility and thinking about ourselves coming from a place of, we aren’t going to know every single minoritized group that we encounter. We will not know every [00:15:00] cultural group. And that requires vulnerability. It requires us to recognize that we have to grow as humans as well as clinicians. And so that process of engaging critical reflexivity was a little bit meta, right? So we were doing it as authors, but also in communicating ways in which we can provide culturally responsive practice.
Dr. Sharp: Sure. I love that when the practice you’re going through fits the material that you know that you’re writing about. That helps, I would imagine. Well, maybe we can dig into these 4Rs. I think that’s probably going to form the core of our conversation here. So, let’s dig into that. Do we start with ref reflexivity?
Dr. Anisa: Sure. Given our listeners’ focus on assessment, the book of course covers therapy and counseling, and then also family scope relationships but with a focus on testing and [00:16:00] assessment. Reflexivity is really a process that you engage in even prior to encountering a client, for example.
It’s about incorporating a little bit of Sue’s model, the tripartite model of cultural competence, where we’re thinking about our own background, where we came from, what is it about who we are that might shape the way in which we look at data, look at numbers, look at stories that we might gather through interviewing or through the WISC or the BASC.
It’s about understanding that we can also begin our conversations with clients whom we haven’t encountered in terms of cultural background and acknowledging and saying, hey, I haven’t worked with your community in the past. I want to know a little bit more about ways that I might have to think about supporting [00:17:00] you as we encounter or as we move forward on this assessment. That requires vulnerability in saying, I don’t know everything, which for us psychologists, it’s very hard sometimes. But that vulnerability can be incredibly empowering in connecting with the clients with whom we work.
Dr. Sharp: Right. It makes me think of.. oh,
Dr. Anisa: No, go ahead.
Dr. Sharp: It just makes me think of this conversation. I just had an interview last week with Dr. Raj Sundar, who hosts oh, I’m going to forget the name of the podcast, but it’s Caring for Diverse Communities. He’s a family physician and approaches it from the medical side. We talked a lot about just this willingness to engage with our clients and learn before making any assumptions. It seems to resonate with this process as well.
Dr. Anisa: Yeah, absolutely. And I think in terms of the next R, in [00:18:00] terms of relationships, because these 4Rs are all of course connected. When we think about relationships, I think the most important aspect of our work as psychologists providing assessment is how empowering and how meaningful an assessment can be for a lot of these caregivers who are really trying to understand how to support their child, and oftentimes the relationship that we put forward into our assessment can be really a way to open up the doors and understanding that child’s life and thinking about the strengths that child brings to their world.
So, when we think about the 4Rs and talk about relationship, I’ll give you a concrete example for my own experience. I have a private practice in addition to my work at the University of Montana. When I came to Montana, I realized that the historical knowledge of indigenous peoples [00:19:00] that had been taught was very similar to what probably what everyone else has learned in their American history textbooks which was very much from a colonial perspective, very much from negating the experience of indigenous peoples in terms of their land and the way that we stole their land.
And as a result of that colonialism, I had to recognize that our educational systems are also embedded in colonialism and that the residential school experience for a lot of our indigenous communities has really impacted traumatic experience across those communities. And I’ve had to come from a place of humility in recognizing that my ancestors are oftentimes the people who caused harm.
And so when I’m working with an indigenous caregiver, let’s say an auntie who’s coming to help their child for an assessment, I also have to understand that if I’m collaborating with that auntie and that family to [00:20:00] understand how to support that child, conduct tests and provide a psychological evaluation, I also have to understand that if I’m providing recommendations for what can happen in the school because as a school psychologist from an outside setting, I want to provide interventions and accommodations that schools might want to consider.
I also have to think about the ways in which the educational system is representing or who I represent as part of the educational system is Colonial. And so the relationship I have to build with that auntie, for example, I have to think about how I’m communicating recommendations. I have to come from a place of recognizing that perhaps I need to collaborate more closely in understanding how perhaps they don’t trust the educational system because their educational system has harmed them in the past. So why should they trust them now? And how I can create a relationship perhaps with the family, the school, and me, in a way that we can come collaboratively and [00:21:00] think about focusing on strengths, focusing on the cultural heritage that their family wants to maintain and what that can look like in the schools.
I think that’s another piece that perhaps falls in reflexivity in the sense that I’m coming in being, oh gosh my learning, my knowledge was pretty blatantly incorrect. So how do I relearn, how do I engage in the community in a way that is more meaningful?
Dr. Sharp: Right. I think that’s an important point. These are not distinct principles that live independent of one another, of course. So with reflexivity, how does that differ if at all from reflection or insight or self-examination?
Dr. Anisa: That’s a good question. Critical reflexivity comes from qualitative research work. And it’s very similar, right? They’re not dissimilar in the sense [00:22:00] that it does require reflection. I think it’s an intentional process where you have to pause and think about the actions that you’re taking, the integration of your background knowledge, and the lens by which you’re looking at particular maybe could be data or it could be the family in front of you, but that’s not dissimilar at all.
I would say that with qualitative research, what I’ve appreciated as I’ve engaged in that work is that it prompts you to realize that you are the mechanism by which you look at information. You are the SPSS of the data analysis, right? You as a human being are the lens by which you look at those numbers, and I think it allows us to re-recognize that even if the BASC has a 72T score, that T-score is interpreted by me as a human being and it is [00:23:00] shaped by my knowledge and background and norms that I have raised as a human being.
So I think I appreciate that about the qualitative research is that it acknowledges that we are not robots, we are human beings within this work, but we are trying to do the work that we do with acknowledging that to the greatest extent that we can.
Dr. Sharp: Yes. I love that. It sounds like a very deliberate process that likely takes quite a bit of practice. Would you say that’s fair?
Dr. Anisa: I think that’s fair. And one reason I also appreciate about the word culturally responsive practice versus say, culturally competent, the competent, I always worry that if someone believes that they’re competent, they get that gold star that maybe they probably aren’t competent. As soon as you think you’re competent, probably the less likely you are.
And so I think there’s always this lifelong journey that [00:24:00] we’re engaging in, if we ever reach that gold star, it would worry me because there’s so much more to learn. I continue to learn. I continue to make errors. I continue to make mistakes in the work that I do. I’ve done every full paw that I probably can do in a cultural context, and I say that out loud on purpose especially to my graduate students because I think there’s this fear of error and fear of mistakes that holds us back and that actually makes us not engage with our clients in a deeper way. That is really important as part of assessment.
Dr. Sharp: I 100% agree. It is a risk and there’s some vulnerability associated with it. And I think a lot of people hold back, myself included just from being afraid of doing it wrong.
Dr. Anisa: Yeah. And that’s absolutely okay. And I guess to us as psychologists, we fear that we’re going to step on toes or say something the wrong way. But if we can approach it from [00:25:00] humility and reflexivity, then we can say, oh, I made that mistake. Let me repair that and let me hold myself accountable on making sure that I prepare it.
Dr. Sharp: I wonder, are there practices, rituals, or anything that you do to increase your reflexivity? Any exercises, if someone was listening and saying, I’d really like to engage in this critical reflexivity a little more, how could I do that?
Dr. Anisa: That’s a good question. Two suggestions. Journaling is actually a fantastic way. The act of writing forces us to reflect inherently. Perhaps there’s some prompts that could help.
Let’s say that you’re starting an assessment or starting a psychological evaluation with a child. I’m child-focused, so [00:26:00] I’m focusing on children. Then perhaps would be questions like, what do I know about this particular cultural group? What are my assumptions or stereotypes that may shaped by people around me or environment that have provided those assumptions? In what ways are my test instruments normed for that particular group? That’s oftentimes a common one, but also, do I need those test instruments or measures to gather the information that I need to gather?
I think we oftentimes rely on test instruments that are like the WISC or BASC or other common measures to answer the questions we might need to answer. And the prompts that I, as I’ve learned more perhaps those aren’t needed to answer the questions that we might want to answer. Sometimes they are. Sometimes there’s insurance requirements and [00:27:00] there’s other expectations in our profession, but I think the act of asking if you need it is in itself a reflexive question, right?
Do you need those numbers to be able to help that student? And particularly thinking about social, cultural factors, and ecological perspectives. So social, cultural factors, I think of a language and a level of acculturation, but I’m also thinking about family values, perspectives of wellness, perspectives of mental health, stigma of mental health, any of those social-cultural factors that might be shaping how we might support that child might be important reflexive questions. And so journaling would be one.
And the second is actually I always recommend a professional development community, like a community of other psychologists who want to learn and engage with each [00:28:00] other. I know there’s an heightened conversation about anti-racism and having those conversations so engaging with others who are trying to have those conversations would be also a really helpful way to engage in reflexivity.
Dr. Sharp: I love that. I like this question of do I need this measure? I think that’s a great question to ask across the board, honestly, and a great question to ask in this context as well. Maybe I’m engaging in reflexivity as I asked this or as comment on your answer that maybe there’s no need to separate it into non-culturally responsive assessment and culturally responsive. I mean, we should be doing culturally responsive assessment across the board for …
Dr. Anisa: That’s right. And for every child, right? No matter what cultural like, just because we might look at them and think, [00:29:00] okay, they’re a particular racial group. Then I do culturally responsive practice. No, this is something that happens with everybody because
everyone has a culture.
There are certain important questions to be thinking about when we’re perhaps supporting a child who’s from a racially minoritized group. And we want to think about the importance of racism and the importance of how that systemic oppression and marginalization has impacted that particular minoritized group. And that might be something that we might engage in reflexivity about if you aren’t familiar with what that systemic oppression might have looked like.
Going back to our 4Rs, the 3rd R is being responsive. One of my favorite parts of engaging in culturally responsive practice is relational interviewing and integrating that into my assessment. And when I think about relational interviewing, also coming from qualitative research actually[00:30:00] is really thinking about how you can create a space that’s culturally affirming, that is connecting with probably both the child and the caregiver or the caregiver’s extended family and thinking about how can I foster a relationship through this assessment in order to focus on strengths of that child? What aspects of their social cultural background that has really worked well that I can understand better in order to inform interventions or treatment as part of my psychological evaluation?
And there’s a couple of my favorite questions that I pose in my own practice one of which is, what does wellness mean to you and your family? And I love that question because let’s say that you’re working with a family that really does not see medication as a [00:31:00] viable treatment, and perhaps as a child with some attention issues and you might be thinking, okay, how do I address medication or psychotropic or psycho-pharmacology?
The question of what does wellness mean to you creates an opportunity to hear the family’s perspective broadly about wellness. Sometimes they’ll look at you and be like, huh, what do you mean about wellness? And so sometimes you need a little prompt, but if you think broadly, wellness can be, well, I want my child to be happy. So then you can explore what happiness means to them. Or they might say, I want my child to be successful. And then that can engage in lots of conversation about what success means. Is it money and then having a job, or is it having a family? Is it staying with the family after high school? So it can lead to really important conversations about their values and the importance of their concept of wellness.
My other favorite [00:32:00] question in relational interviewing is particularly for families that might be forcibly displaced or were refugees or are refugees is tell me about your journey. Sometimes there’s hesitancy particularly in a mental health field or particularly if you’re a psychologist, perhaps in a hospital setting where there might be hesitancy about authority in the government oversight of those kinds of things.
And so you might want to ask about their journey. And asking that question allows them space to give as much information as they want while also providing them an opportunity that if they do want to share their journey and the impact that has on their child, you can get that information as well and you’ll understand a little bit more about perhaps where they see themselves in the next part of their journey, not just their past journey, but their next journey as [00:33:00] well.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, that’s nice. It catches both sides. I’m glad you pointed that out. I initially didn’t think of it that way, that we were maybe just talking about whatever past journey, but that can easily include the future. Also really enjoy that question about what does wellness mean to you and your family? It’s very simple. It’s very direct. There’s not a lot of pretense to it, but it can go so many different directions and it’s a very nice open-ended question.
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The PDDBI can be used to assist with diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders. It was developed to assess both problem behaviors as well as appropriate social language and learning/memory skills. The PDDBI score report was recently enhanced and now includes a new interpretive guidance section, a revised look, and an optional items and responses section. More [00:34:00] updates are coming later this year. Learn more at parinc.com\pddbi.
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Dr. Anisa: It’s interesting, some of the clients’ responses; sometimes they’re confused. They’ll be like wellness and they’ll sit there and question, but then it really often, especially if there’s both let’s say two parents in the same space and they’ll have different concepts of wellness or different ideas, that can lead to some interesting conversations about what the purpose of the assessment is, right?
So if one parent’s thinking one way and the other parent’s thinking another, coming together and really understanding, well, what is it about this particular assessment that you’re trying to help answer? What does wellness mean to your family in the context of this assessment? And so it also can drive maybe some hypothesis generation. It can also drive [00:35:00] what measures or not measures to use. So I find it quite helpful.
And I always think of the psychological evaluation report as a reflection of their own story. I actually write pretty detailed background reports. I try to be concise. There’s been multiple testing psychologist podcasts that I’ve been like, yes, I’m trying to be concise and yet there is something important especially for children for their psychological evals to have a little bit of depth in their background because that report moves with them as they go to school to school, or a mental health agency to agency. And so their parent’s story about their ideas of wellness can come through in that background section too.
Dr. Sharp: Sure. That triggers another question for me about if we’re including some of this information in the background, this is very practical, but that’s how my brain works sometimes. Just curious where you might include this information, maybe [00:36:00] about wellness, but then also if there were say experiences that a family or child has gone through that fall outside the norm or feel important to communicate? Where are you putting that in the background?
Dr. Anisa: That’s a good question. I usually have a section that says developmental and family background, and I usually try to integrate a little bit of their story into that section. I try to do it chronologically because honestly, as a psychologist working with a high school student, if the preschool evaluation doesn’t have a lot of detail, I really appreciate a chronological order of the story. And so I understand the context of why I’m doing this second evaluation later.
So I’m always thinking about the future psychologist as well as I’m thinking about the caregivers and thinking about what’s useful for them. So sometimes I don’t include detail. So I check with them as they share their journey or they share their [00:37:00] information. I say this report can go with you. You can share with whoever you want, and acknowledge that if you share this with others, this information is out there. So are there pieces that you do not feel comfortable with? And here’s another way I can rephrase it so it’s not so detailed. And that includes, of course, traumatic experiences that you don’t have to go into too much detail but you can speak to it, but usually in that developmental and family background and history section.
Dr. Sharp: That’s fair. Thanks. This is great. I see us folding these 4Rs into one another as we go along. We’ve talked about reflexivity and how that plays into building relationships, and you talked a little bit about relationships and how that folds into responsiveness a little bit. Before we totally leave the relationships component, is there anything else in that [00:38:00] realm that is worth mentioning as far as building relationships with folks? I know we talked about relational interviewing and some of those questions that you ask. I just want to make sure that we…
Dr. Anisa: I think I’ve hit on the big ideas. When I talk to my graduate students about assessment and some of them are interested in the assessment, but they might be more interested in counseling. But one thing I always talk about with evaluations is how powerful it can be for the family and how there’s a sense of relief, there’s a sense of disappointment, there’s so much emotion that comes from a process of assessment. And the feedback session is such a powerful way to wrap up the whole assessment.
And I really have multiple feedback sessions, sometimes months apart [00:39:00] for sure, because I think it takes time to sit with the information, to process it, and to ask questions. And so the relationship doesn’t end necessarily at the end of the feedback session or the last feedback session. I really can continue. At the same time, for me personally, gosh, I wish I could know what happened to that particular kid or what happened as a result of this particular assessment.
So there’s also part of me that it’s hard as a testing psychologist to be like, oh, two years from now, I’d love to hear what happened. And at the same time, that feedback session and connection with the family, I do hear from them later and that relationship continues even if I’m not necessarily providing treatment or anything else afterward.
Dr. Sharp: Sure. Well, let’s talk about responsiveness a little bit more. What do you see happening under responsiveness?
Dr. Anisa: We were engaging [00:40:00] critical reflexivity, Andy and I, about whether we call this culturally responsive or culturally sustaining. That’s another word that has been often used in research about this work. And I think really we’re talking about strength-based and actionable steps to support children and families. It’s about being proactive rather than reactive. It’s about ensuring that when we are conducting assessments to inform intervention, is to inform treatment to support the family to the maximum extent.
Of course, this is a school-based book and I think sometimes within our work as school psychologists, we end up being gatekeepers and our role as testers is what we are known for, but we have so much more to give and so much more to provide. And that assessment doesn’t require a psychological evaluation. It can be a formative [00:41:00] assessment. It can help understand intervention effectiveness. It can help in adapting interventions to be culturally responsive. So, there’s aspects of culturally responsive practice that really require proactiveness that I think is what we are trying to highlight.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. Do you have any examples of that, when you say being proactive, things that we haven’t already mentioned that are worth highlighting?
Dr. Anisa: Yeah. Honestly, from a school-based perspective, the family, school, community partnership is really foundational for culturally responsive practice. So when we think about our work in schools, understanding our community, understanding members of our community that could be faith leaders, it could be leaders in the community and really engaging with those community members and the school to ensure that [00:42:00] the cultural background and knowledge, the cultural identity is acknowledged within the classroom setting.
In fact, one of my doctoral students is examining cultural matching in the classroom, ensuring that the community culture is reflective in the classroom experience. And this is particularly with indigenous groups.
And I think there’s something really valuable in ensuring that teachers, school psychologists, school counselors, administrators, are really thinking about ensuring that the culture is matching that of their community. So that’s what I think of tier 1: Prevention. That’s proactive. Before we do the evaluations. Before we ensure that we’re doing tier 2 or tier 3 interventions is really ensuring that that solid base that the culture’s reflecting in the schools.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. I know I keep pushing you for examples. With this indigenous population that y’all are working with, what would that look like in the classroom? Just one or two [00:43:00] things that we might be aware of.
Dr. Anisa: So some of my work, my research right now in fact is related to that. So we are creating a social-emotional learning program that is from the ground up. So aligns with the language and culture and identity of the indigenous group that we’re working with.
And so for practical ways, that could lead to lessons that integrate the values of place, values of land, of language, of identity within lessons about emotional self-regulation, about lessons about respect and reciprocity. So it’s about modifying or adapting evidence-based practices with the culture and language of the group with whom you might be working with.
Dr. Sharp: I love that. There’s so much good work being done on social-emotional learning out [00:44:00] there. That’s a whole other conversation, but I’m hearing that a lot in different contexts. It’s great that y’all are doing some of that work as well.
Dr. Anisa: Yeah, it’s been amazing. It’s been six years now we are working on this particular group, so it’s been great.
Dr. Sharp: Well, and I like that you highlight. Before we move to relational empowerment, which I’m really intrigued with, this process of choosing the language to use, there’s culturally responsive, there’s like you said, culturally sustaining, I’ve heard force cultural humility. There’s all sorts of ways to get at this. I appreciate the deliberate consideration there and how you might apply it to this work.
Dr. Anisa: And most importantly, whatever word you want to use, whatever term you want to use, I think it’s just about the engagement in it, right?
So, however, it’s meaningful to you, that’s the important [00:45:00] thing for me. So, call it culturally responsive, call it culturally sustaining. I’m supportive of all of it.
Dr. Sharp: Sure. Well, let’s talk about this relational empowerment component. What does that entail?
Dr. Anisa: One of the things that I think is really important for our role as a psychologist is not just the individual work that we do, whether it’s testing, whether it’s counseling, therapy but also really the advocacy. And so this is really about an intentional process being active in our role as advocates, acknowledging the equitable distribution of power that exists across us as psychologists, as administrators in schools, as teachers in schools.
We had a big conversation about why we called it relational empowerment. And I think it’s because there’s this very fine line, particularly in a profession which is predominantly white [00:46:00] between acting as a white savior and working with cultural groups and minoritized groups with empowerment. I think there’s often the sense of good intention, yet also comes with maybe condescension that comes with empowerment.
And so we talk about as relational empowerment because it’s about ensuring that we’re connecting with community, connecting with family, connecting with caregiver, and asking what is needed and what actions we might need to take to advocate. And we are talking about advocacy at all levels.
At the school level, it could be talking about ways in which how religion might be discussed and recognized within a public school setting. So we are in the United States, a Christian-based [00:47:00] calendar. So by default and inherent is a Christian-based educational system, whether it’s acknowledged explicitly or not. But it’s also recognizing, like right now is Ramadan, so are we providing prayer space and opportunity for kids to have space to pray during Ramadan?
It could also be advocacy at the state level. And so making sure that we are hearing from community about what is needed and using the power of our degrees with PhD behind our name to speak to issues at the state level or federal level when laws are being made about our children’s mental health. It’s across the gamut, right?
And importantly, it’s not us assuming that we know what is needed, but it’s about connecting with community members, which isometimes the most important part is just visiting, sitting with them for coffee and tea listening, [00:48:00] hearing stories, hearing what they’re thinking that the school needs to change.
It’s about being patient in that change and not wanting to immediately take action as soon as you think something’s needed, but it’s about pausing and thinking, is this my role. Is there another person who can speak to this? What information do I need to understand more deeply? What assumptions have I been made? Again, reflexivity through this process. And in what ways can I support? And so that deliberate intentional process is an important part of what we think about culturally responsive practice and that relational empowerment.
Dr. Sharp: Yes. Now you made a comment, I think as we were planning the episode about walking this line between empowerment and maybe it’s the white savior thing, but how do we be mindful of undermining the relationship and the family’s [00:49:00] ability to advocate for themselves? That seems like an important consideration here in this whole process.
Dr. Anisa: Yeah. And it is a fine line because we are trained to be experts in mental health, right? And immediately our hats are like, well, I have the answer because I’ve been trained, or I have this expertise, it’s also acknowledging, yes, you might have some expertise and the family knows their child best, right? So, the family knows what strengths that child has that might have, and they might have answers to questions that we haven’t even been able to pose. So coming with, and working alongside family can be incredibly important for their own sense of advocacy and empowerment for themselves.
So it could be just, hey, let me explain the special education process to you because that in itself, knowledge is power. So here are the questions that you might want to think about as you move along in this [00:50:00] eligibility process. You are a member of the team. Your voice is as important as others in that team. Please make sure you can think about how to work through that process.
It could also be here’s how you navigate the mental health system, what insurance is about. It’s nitty gritty. It doesn’t have to be this big huge thing of advocacy, but it’s about ensuring that you are working alongside and you’re not assuming that you have the answer for the family. And I think that’s an important consideration.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. I like that distinction. There are many ways to support and advocate for someone and empower them at the same time. Knowledge is very valuable in this whole process. And support -just knowing that there’s support.
Dr. Anisa: Yeah.
Dr. Sharp: I know that we’ve touched on the [00:51:00] 4Rs. I love a good framework. These 4Rs. We talked a lot about application, to be honest. Like I said, I’ve pushed you for different examples here along the way. Any other strategies or ideas around… folks are listening and they’re saying, okay, this all sounds great. Maybe I want to go get this book. But if there were threads that we could highlight to take away from all of this and maybe even put into practice pretty quickly, where would you land with that?
Dr. Anisa: That’s a good question. I think when folks think about culturally responsive practice in testing, they immediately go to thinking about cultural bias in testing or the measure itself. And certainly, that is an important [00:52:00] component and we talk about that in the book, but I think it’s about a broader context than just, hey, does this measure or does this test include this particular minoritized group within the norms? It’s also about the way in and process of our assessment of the questions that we ask. Why are we asking the questions that we do? What is our intent? And being intentional through that process.
So from clinical interview all the way through feedback session, we have our own system that we might have as psychologist. I think it’s important to recognize that having our battery of tests is only a small component of the assessment as we think testing and assessment are very different; testing is a component of assessment. Assessment is about asking the bigger questions. It’s about thinking about the social, cultural variables, the strengths of that child,[00:53:00] what questions haven’t you even thought about posing that maybe you can work with the family to think about.
And then as you look at the information, look at the data, coming up with interventions or treatment plans or suggestions for school-based work, do those actually align with the values of the family? Are they meaningful? Are they important? You might need to ask the family that, like, are these meaningful to you? Some of them are going to be not, and some of them are, and they might have ideas themselves of what that could look like. So. I would say that culture-responsive assessment isn’t just thinking about one thing, it’s about thinking it broadly from an ecological perspective, from a social, cultural perspective.
Dr. Sharp: Fantastic. I think that’s a nice note to end on. It’s hard to summarize all this material in just [00:54:00] an hour. So, I highly recommend that folks go check out your book. I really enjoyed it and there’s so much good info in there on a topic that we’re continually evolving with and like you say, need to continually, critically reflex on ourselves to keep getting better. So, thanks for your time. This was great. I really appreciate it and enjoyed our conversation.
Dr. Anisa: I appreciate being here.
Dr. Sharp: All right, y’all. Thank you so much for tuning into this episode. Always grateful to have you here. I hope that you take away some information that you can implement in your practice and in your life. Any resources that we mentioned during the episode will be listed in the show notes, so make sure to check those out.
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