Power, multicultural competence, and trainees' preparation for treating survivors of torture: A qualitative inquiry

Jessica Irene Harbaugh, Fordham University


Working with survivors of torture (SOTs) illuminates power and cultural differences that challenge mental health trainees beyond the reaches of what is often taught in multicultural competence (MCC) coursework. This study used a grounded theory methodology to create a model of how trainees attempted to apply their MCC training with a SOT client. Participants were 11 graduate students from various mental health fields working with SOTs as part of a clinical training experience. Participants identified a significant in-session event that occurred with a SOT that made the trainee feel like she or he had arrived at a momentary impasse, empathy block, or some quandary for which the trainee felt unprepared. The investigator conducted a semi-structured interview about this in-session event with particular attention to the role of power and culture differences between the SOT and trainee, to what extent trainees drew from their MCC training, and whether they found their training to be useful in this instance. The theory that emerged from the data indicated that the trainee's willingness to learn from and accompany the SOT, beyond what they had learned about the MCC paradigm, facilitated a sense of Ubuntu or interconnectedness that facilitated healing. Trainees were also able to articulate gaps in their MCC training relevant to working with SOTs. Suggestions for future training are based on participants' identified needs to hone their conceptual and skills-based understanding of the healing process with SOTs. Suggestions for future research emphasize the need to hear from SOTs themselves about their healing process.

Subject Area

Counseling Psychology

Recommended Citation

Harbaugh, Jessica Irene, "Power, multicultural competence, and trainees' preparation for treating survivors of torture: A qualitative inquiry" (2015). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3683433.