This blog is based on Ashley Acle, MBA, MFT, LMFT (she/her/ella/她) webinar, The Use of Our (Cultural) Selves as Practitioners, which she presented to the EDRD Pro community in March 2022.
Written by Kristen Nyampong and edited by Greta Jarvis
Recognizing our positionality, defined as “the notion that personal values, views, and location in time and space influence how one understands the world,” is fundamental for providers who support clients in eating disorder recovery. Thoughtful reflection around our privileges (and lack thereof) creates space for garnering different perspectives and understandings so that we can provide more equitable eating disorder care. To guide us in recognizing our diverse experiences, as well as how this overlaps with inclusivity in eating disorder treatment, Ashley Acle, MBA, MFT, LMFT (she/her/ella/她) joined us to present “The Use of Our (Cultural) Selves as Practitioners.”
After noticing a lack of diversity – and the inequalities that ensued – across various treatment centers, Ashley dedicated herself to providing and advocating for more equitable eating disorder and mental health care. She witnessed a field in which the identities of clinicians overwhelmingly align with myopic cultural expectations of what an eating disorder “should” look like: white, able-bodied, thin women. Without explicitly naming and working to dismantle this disparity, our field causes harm – especially for our clients who fall outside of these narrow stereotypes. As a multicultural Chinese, Mexican, and Lebanese American, Ashley teaches providers to welcome an honest environment for our clients in eating disorder recovery that keeps our “cultural selves” front of mind.
Exploring our “cultural selves” can take many forms, with curiosity arising as the most essential ingredient in this process. Curiosity allows us to accept what we do not know and safely learn, develop, and grow. It helps us to accept the various power dynamics that exist and how these systemic inequalities affect our clients and ourselves. Ashley encourages clinicians to couple our curiosity with openness and empathy, holding space for the discomfort that often comes with this work. When we recognize our various identities and privileges, for instance, we may also encounter our implicit biases that have inadvertently prevented us from seeing our clients as worthy and whole, exactly as they are.
Our “cultural self” also supports us in seeing our vast complexities, both as people and providers. Each of us are invested in familial and social relationships, as well as our positions in inequitable cultural hierarchies, to name a few. Thus, Ashley highlights context as another crucial element for understanding our positionality and “cultural selves,” acknowledging that equitable treatment demands a multidimensional framework. This context, she says, involves social, psychological, emotional, and cultural elements and helps us recognize our experiences – as well as those of our clients – as subjective and unique.
Taken together, broadening our cultural humility and recognizing our “cultural selves” are lifelong practices that allow us to integrate the depths of our clients’ individuality and experiences into eating disorder treatment.