Wednesday, 23 March 2022

Cultural humility exercise

It is often difficult to find ways we can understand our own biases, and build greater understanding and acceptance of other cultures, power, and difference. However, I recently ran across a cultural humility exercise which explores difference and power (Mostow, 2015b, 13:00) in a webinar run by Carol Mostow, at Boston Medical Centre's School of Medicine.

Mostow prefers the phrase 'cultural humility' to 'cultural awareness' (2015a), which I also find very appropriate! The model was developed from the book, Understanding race, ethnicity, and power, by Elaine Pinderhughes, by Carol Mostow, Dawn Swaby-Ellis, William Salazar and Linda Pololi at Boston Medical Centre (Mostow, 2002, 2015a), and is used extensively in practice, supervision, and in growing teams. 

There are five steps to the cultural humility model (Mostow, 2002, 2015a): 

  1. "Establish cultural identity". Encourage participants to explore their own cultural identity, values, influences, and experiences of power (Mostow, 2002) with, through and over (Marshall, 1984). Assist them to connect through "the shared pleasure and interest" of difference (Mostow, 2002) 
  2. "What about your background do you like/dislike". Encourage participants in dyads to listen to other's stories in a few minutes, similar to speed dating. Change dyads regularly. This helps learners to find connection, differences and similarities, leading to new and rich insights. 
  3. "An experience where you felt different". Listening to other's stories, "Hearing the ways others may experience their culture", expands our own "empathic capabilities" (Mostow, 2002)
  4. "An experience when you felt privileged or powerless with others". This is the big one: "power is the most potentially threatening to both the privileged and the less privileged" (Mostow, 2002). Power and privilege is hard to see when we are powerful and privileged: it is VERY visible to those who have little power and little privilege. Learning to see where power lies is key to sound practice. "Pinderhughes recommends self-confrontation while in interaction with others. The reflections participants have while contemplating the written questions, sharing their answers, listening to others and debriefing may provide an opportunity to deepen understanding of their own relation to power" (Mostow, 2002)
  5. "How your background helps and challenges connections with [clients]". The idea in this step is to "encourage a non-defensive reflection" in how we "bring our backgrounds" to our own practice (Mostow, 2002). 

I intend to explore this model with my students to see how it assists us in assessing our cultural humility. I will update you all.



  • Marshall, J. (1984). Women Managers: Travellers in a Male World. Wiley.
  • Mostow, C. (21 Mar 2015a). Bridging Difference and Power with RESPECT: A Relational Approach to Patients, Supervisees and Teams [slidedeck].
  • Mostow, C. (21 Mar 2015b). Bridging Difference and Power with RESPECT: A Relational Approach to Patients, Supervisees and Teams [video].
  • Mostow, C. (2002). Difference and Power: Learning objectives for Cultural Sharing Exercise - What does cultural self-awareness have to do with being a good doctor?
  • Pinderhughes, E. (1989). Understanding race, ethnicity, and power: the key to efficacy in clinical practice. Collier Macmillan.

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