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Qualitative Social Work


Therapists are faced with the challenge of developing effective ways to advance cross-cultural engagement with a rapidly growing diverse client population. In this qualitative study, we characterized the way clients and therapists described the quality of working alliance during the mental health intake and examined whether these descriptions vary as a function of their social identities. We conducted in-depth interviews with Ashkenazi (socially advantaged group; n = 22) therapists and their Mizrahi (socially disadvantaged group n = 29) or Ashkenazi (n = 26) clients immediately following their intake session in four mental health clinics in Israel. We performed a thematic analysis. Overall, interrater reliability among three raters who coded the narratives was high (kappa = 0.72, therapist; 0.70, client). Across all client and therapist interviews, we identified eight central themes detailing different qualities of the working alliance: (1) feeling understood, (2) feeling comfortable, (3) openness and cooperation, (4) trust, (5) empathy and identification, (6) frustration and disappointment, (7) anger and hostility, and (8) emotional disengagement. On average, clients reported 2.56 (standard deviation = 1.17) and therapists described 2.65 (standard deviation = 1.45) themes in each session. Overall, concordant and discordant dyads described similar themes with few exceptions. In particular, being part of a discordant dyad may affect the client’s interpretation of non-verbal communication as well as the therapist’s evaluation of the client’s openness and trustworthiness. Although less frequent, when anger and hostility were described by therapists, these characterized the interaction with Mizrahi clients. We discuss implications to care including the need to promote a culturally humble approach to providing care for minorities.


ethnic minorities, intake, mental health, Working alliance





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