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Book Review   |    
Michael K. Cheng
Psychiatric Services 2009; doi:
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by Lisa Aronson-Fontes; New York City, Guilford Press, 2008, 334 pages, $38

Dr. Cheng is professor of psychiatry at the University of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, and cofounder of www.eMentalHealth.ca.

This is an excellent book about interviewing clients from different cultural backgrounds. Interviewing Clients Across Cultures is written for all members of the interdisciplinary team. I recommend this book for all those who work with clients from a variety of cultures. And those planning to travel to non-Western countries will find it a useful (though somewhat long) introduction to other cultural practices.

The book is clearly organized and comprehensive, covering various topics in ten chapters, ranging from a general introduction to the interview itself; biases and boundary issues; building rapport and conveying respect; nonverbal communication; building bridges with those with different native languages; working with interpreters; understanding cultural issues that may make individuals reluctant to disclose personal details; interviewing culturally diverse children and adolescents, such as the children of immigrants who may be "caught" between two cultures; referring to race, ethnicity, and other identity groups; and making a cultural formulation.

In each chapter, the author introduces a general aspect of interviewing and demonstrates how basic assumptions may change with different cultures. For example, whereas making direct eye contact is a sign of respect in Western cultures, avoiding it may be a sign of respect in others. Thus a trainee trying too hard to make direct eye contact may inadvertently be perceived as offensive.

In essence, the author deftly points out the numerous cultural assumptions that people make. Such assumptions are so pervasive that we don't notice them, in the same sense a fish doesn't notice it is in water—until it isn't.

At the same time, the author clearly conveys the importance of not generalizing assumptions for particular cultures. Every individual is unique and may or may not follow his or her cultural stereotype. It is best to make no assumptions about others and rather to ensure that you check in with clients constantly. Through improving cultural understanding, Aronson-Fontes states that her ultimate goal is to create a world where "inequality is obsolete and justice is the norm."

The reviewer reports no competing interests.




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