Lynn Hendricks, Sherianne Kramer and Tasneem Hassem

[1] Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, Stellenbosch University;[2] Executive Member: PsySSA Division of Research and Methodology; [3] School of Human and Community Development, University of the Witswatersrand


The human brain and the mind are the axes on which the field of psychology revolves. The study of the mind has attracted legions of researchers for centuries. People are drawn to psychology with a keen interest in understanding themselves and others and in attempting to make sense of how we exist and co-exist with one another in specific contexts. In South Africa, this interest is made complex by the multifarious and often intersecting identities that comprise the diverse and cross-cultural nature of the country’s populace.

In order for one to reach contextually appropriate levels of understanding and empathy, an individual needs to be cognisant of their biases and the impact these have on their thoughts and behaviours. In the psychological context, the clinician, counsellor or psychological researcher can never fully appreciate the other’s context and experiences, regardless of the other’s disclosure of life experience. Whilst the embodiment of the other’s experiences cannot fully be achieved, we are able to relate on varying levels based on our capacity to be self-reflexive, to tolerate difference and to appreciate diversity. Understanding the role of diversity is critical to the information exchange and assimilation process in the context of psychology.

Accordingly, it is of interest to identify South African psychologists’ understandings of diversity and how they implement these in practice. drm-2The 22nd South African Psychology Conference presented the perfect opportunity to gather information concerning diversity beliefs and practices from South African psychologists that practice across a range of disciplines such as therapy, education, industry and research. As such, we collated data concerning perceptions of psychologists regarding diversity with two research questions in mind:

  1. What does diversity mean to South African psychologists?
  2. What do psychologists need to do in order to be more sensitive to diversity in their practices?

Data was collected through an interactive poster at the South African Psychology Conference. Two large posters, each addressing the aforementioned research question, were displayed side by side as part of a larger Diversity in Practice presentation. Delegates were invited to write their responses to these questions on the posters at any time during the congress.

In total, 35 delegates participated in the interactive poster. Data in the form of individual delegate responses were collated and categorised into themes as presented in the table below:

The data demonstrates that South African psychologists tend to define ‘diversity’ as the ability to appreciate difference. More specifically, respondents felt that difference should be valued and othering should be minimised. Additionally, respondents implied that each individual is the expert of his/her own culture and thus interaction provides opportunities for learning. Key to this process is the ability to be open-minded, to adapt to varying contexts and to integrate a variety of experiences.

Psychologists offered a variety of ways to increase diversity in their practices. Suggestions included the avoidance of sdrm-3tereotypes and judgement and the intention to view each unique experience through a diverse set of lenses. Self-reflexivity, sensitivity, knowledge production, and listening were also key to practicing diversity.

It is evident that South African psychologists have begun thinking through issues relating to diversity and how this can be appreciated in the context of psychological practice. We would do well to platform these ideas and start wide and collaborative discussions on how to implement these successfully so that their impacts are felt across the individuals, families, and communities that South African psychologists find themselves working in.

We value the responses of delegates and trust that this article contributes to the conversation concerning diversity and the practice of psychology.

Useful resources on diversity

Cole, M. (1998). Can cultural psychology help us think about diversity?. Mind, Culture, and Activity5(4), 291-304.

Comas-Díaz, L. (1991). Feminism and diversity in psychology. Psychology of Women Quarterly15(4), 597-609.

Leach, M. M., Akhurst, J., & Basson, C. (2003). Counseling psychology in South Africa: Current political and professional challenges and future promise. The Counseling Psychologist31(5), 619-640.

Nobles, W. W. (1972). African philosophy: Foundations for Black psychology.A Turbulent Voyage: Readings in African American Studies, 280-292.

Painter, D., & Blanche, M. T. (2004). Critical psychology in South Africa: Looking back and looking ahead. South African Journal of Psychology34(4), 520-543. disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3DCritical_psychology_in_South_Africa_Look.pdf

Redding, R. E. (2001). Sociopolitical diversity in psychology: The case for pluralism. American Psychologist56(3), 205.

Rothmann, S., & Cilliers, F. V. N. (2007). Present challenges and some critical issues for research in industrial/organisational psychology in South Africa. SA Journal of Industrial Psychology33(1).

Stevens, G. (2003). Academic representations of ‘race’and racism in psychology: Knowledge production, historical context and dialectics in transitional South Africa. International Journal of intercultural relations27(2), 189-207.

Vasquez, M. J., Lott, B., García-Vázquez, E., Grant, S. K., Iwamasa, G. Y., Molina, L. E., … & Vestal-Dowdy, E. (2006). Personal reflections: Barriers and strategies in increasing diversity in psychology. American Psychologist61(2), 157.

Watson, M. B., & Fouche, P. (2007). Transforming a past into a future: Counseling psychology in South Africa. Applied Psychology56(1), 152-164.

Wober, M. (2014). Psychology in Africa (Psychology Revivals). Routledge.


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