In the United States, mental health professions, and Counseling Psychology in particular, are often leaders in multicultural competence, awareness, and advocacy. Much of our education is focused on achieving this competence and infusing it into our professional identities. Thus, I was curious to see how those in the mental health professions in Ireland approached multicultural issues, and whether the differences in their population or culture may play into their approach.
At the Limerick Social Service Council today, we had the pleasure of learning much about Ireland’s mental healthcare system, the public’s view toward mental health, and more. I took the opportunity to ask a few questions about the mental healthcare providers’ training in multicultural issues, and was intrigued by what I heard. Until very recently, there had been very little focus on understanding of diversity issues, as most of Ireland was traditionally English-speaking, middle class, white Catholics. With a recent immigration blast, many providers have begun learning more about the cultures joining their population (e.g., Polish, Lithuanian, Russian), but there were still no specific training or requirements on multicultural competence in their training programs. I had suspected that having a more homogenous population in Ireland would mean different views on diversity than those we have in the U.S., but I had not realized how much emphasis Americans place on ‘minority status’ in diversity conversations until I realized that the majority population was the oppressed group in Ireland.
Various lecturers throughout our week began to talk more about this phenomenon. Unlike in the U.S., it was not the dominant group oppressing others – white people did not have the privilege in this country. The Irish people as a whole felt oppressed by the British, and the Catholics by the Protestants. Thus, the majority of the country felt oppressed, which made it difficult for them to rectify this oppression and their need to notice and become educated on other, smaller oppressed populations. Thus, the history of the country has made the mental health profession’s focus on diversity and multicultural competence to have a different definition, focus, and sense of urgency than in the United States, and it will likely continue to evolve in different directions. I am very grateful for my experience at Limerick Social Service Council and with other mental health professionals on this trip. These lectures and discussions with people in a similar profession but different context helped open my eyes to larger and more diverse perspectives in my field, which I believe will continue to help me grow as a well-rounded therapist in the future.