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Adler students address need for more cultural competency training in mental health care for Arab/MENA clients

Stories | 02.15.24

Recognizing a need for counselors and therapists to provide more culturally sensitive care to Arab and Middle Eastern/North African (MENA) clients, three Adler University students published a textbook chapter that could help future mental health care providers gain more cultural competency.

“From linguistic barriers to a lack of understanding of lived experiences, I was seeing a dearth of culturally competent care that is often not the focus in clinical training,” said Sahar Al-Najjar, student in the Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology program and lead author of “Working Towards Prevention Rather Than Pathology With Arab/MENA Clients.”

“We went in with the intention of centering the voices of this population within clinical practices,” added Al-Najjar, who co-authored the chapter with fellow Psy.D. student Reshma Hitesh Parikh and Dejah Amos, a Ph.D. student in the Couple and Family Therapy Program.  “And we are so proud to accomplish that goal.”

Their chapter was included in the textbook “Facilitating Social Justice, Service Delivery, and Advocacy Through Multicultural Counseling Competencies,” which was published in August 2023. The textbook underscores the significance of certain social and cultural variables, and the impact of those on how one might be perceived and treated in various settings, including in mental health care practices.

The students’ chapter highlights the need to understand and respect the cultural values and traditions of the Arab/MENA population in mental health counseling practices. It emphasizes the importance of prevention and cultural competency and discusses language and rapport building as a fundamental aspect.

The chapter also provides culturally appropriate considerations for clinicians working with the Arab/MENA population. Readers are able to conceptualize Arab/MENA demographics and cultural variations, along with gaining a clear understanding of the history and identities that comprise the population.

The research on decolonizing clinical care for Arab/MENA clients started through a research team facilitated by a professor who pushed and guided the three students to begin their own research. By 2022, the students were presenting their findings at various conferences, including that year’s convention of the American Psychological Association in Minneapolis, where they were asked to contribute a chapter based on their research. The students credit the idea of writing the book chapter to a former fourth member of the research team — Hanaa El Moghrabi, a student on the Vancouver Campus.

“We immediately said yes because we believed in the topic,” said Al-Najjar, a 2023-24 Albert Schweitzer Fellow. “And we believe in the textbook, which addressed different types of care disparities people from gender, religious, and racial minority groups face.”

Today, she said, the open access textbook is taught in various educational institutions, including Columbia University and Adler University. It is tailored for use in master’s and doctoral level multicultural competency classes.

“If there’s one thing we want current and future clinicians to take away from this chapter, it is that they challenge the way they sit and listen to their clients within the Arab/MENA population,” said Al-Najjar. “We hope it starts to peel away the layers of white-centered hegemony in mental health care.”

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