Serving The Amish: A Cultural Guide for Professionals.
James A. Cates's Serving the Amish: A Cultural Guide for Professionals delivers a useful tool for practitioners interacting with Amish communities as well as a notable contribution to the field of Amish and Anabaptist studies. Back in 1999, Cates published an article in the Journal of Clinical Psychology discussing the necessary balance between the art and science of psychological assessment. That same spirit underlies the premise of Serving the Amish, as Cates goes into great detail to illustrate the need to balance the professional and scientific skills involved in support services with the art of understanding the nuances of everyday life for an Amish client, patient, or customer. Using his years of work and observation as a practitioner with Amish groups in Indiana as foundational evidence for the book, Cates steadily outlines larger conceptual considerations as well as small practicalities that may help other practitioners managing Amish clients.
Seasoned practitioners with long histories working with these communities will not be terribly surprised by the content of this book; if those practitioners have managed to work with sustained success, they probably already know many of the lessons gleaned here. But as Amish populations grow, as their occupations diversify, as their geographical home expands, and as services aimed at them continue to increase, their interactions with English professionals will continue to grow. This volume provides a welcome learning opportunity for anyone who counts the Amish as customers, patients, and clients. Although they are not a focus here, English employers of Amish workers could also benefit from reviewing these chapters.
In the preface, Cates quickly gets to what he calls "principles of care" (ix-x). These principles provide a framework for practitioners to start organizing their knowledge and experiences with Amish communities, and they echo the cultural and social characteristics discussed across the Amish studies literature: the importance of Amish collective experience; the need for practitioners to realize the lack of currency their social capital might have in these communities; and the idea of balancing professional tasks with the art of balanced relativism for the communities being served. The book is then divided into four parts--the first and last each offering a single chapter with clear and practical approaches. The first chapter delivers a quick summary of Amish history, culture, and social structure. Cates recognizes that his lists and descriptions are not exhaustive, but situates the information in the context of what has been helpful to him in working with Amish communities. Aside from the brief historical and sociological treatment, the chapter contains two detailed lists to help readers better understand the experience of living as an Amish person. The first list describes ten elements of Amish faith. This list contains little attribution, so it is unclear how much of it comes from personal experience and how much is from extensive reading in the Amish studies literature, but the list stands as a helpful outline either way. Similarly, the second list contains nine elements of Gelassenheit taken from the writings of a New Order Amish deacon. The last section of the book and final chapter is similarly structured with a substantial list of sixteen pointers created by the author for "effective service with this Plain people" (191).
Two approaches split the bulk of Serving the Amish. Part II contains seven chapters covering the "Life Experience" of Amish community members. These chapters are full of vignettes from Cates's career, stories he has been told by Amish acquaintances, and some written recollections from former Amish. These narrative interjections make the reading smooth for a general audience, and they also serve to bring the reader back to the recognition that much of this analysis is formed through the perspective of a mental healthcare provider. Indeed, the areas where this books shines brightest are where Cates talks about what he knows best--developing, facilitating, and providing mental health services among a population within which he has spent a career working. Some of his analysis, particularly on women's issues, feels thin and derivative, but even these areas at least provide unfamiliar practitioners with a baseline understanding of a complex and often diverse population. Part III of the book takes a slightly different approach, offering five chapters containing descriptive advice on the specifics of "professional interaction." Again, the success of these chapters comes from their close orbit to mental health work. They are clearly voiced from the perspective of a professional with a biomedical background. This may be less useful for readers interested in getting to the root of how Amish interpret healthcare or law enforcement, yet remain valuable for practitioners looking to interpret Amish actions in these realms through the filter of an educated, English professional.
The back matter delivers a noteworthy resource for those new to working with Amish groups or wanting a deeper understanding of these communities. It provides a useful bibliography, a well-defined list of further reading, a short appendix on identifying other Plain groups, and an appendix discussing the Amish in context of mental health diagnostic conventions. The last of these is just the kind of curt and shallow cultural fluency pamphlet that gets distributed for professionals, but taken in the context of this entire volume it works as a useful part of the toolbox. In anthropology, and medical anthropology especially, we tend to be highly critical of cultural competence pieces due to their tendency to shrink culture in a number of ways: reducing culture to a bounded puzzle that practitioners can be trained to solve; making culture into a stand-in for ethnicity or language group; or shrinking culture to a list of stagnant characteristics with little diversity or change over time. I'll admit this wariness alarm went off in my head when, unfamiliar with Cates or his work, I was asked to write this review for a "Cultural Guide" dealing with the Amish. However, reading Serving the Amish gave me a refreshing opportunity to rescind my assumptions in this case. Rarely do we see cultural guides that reflect such depth of experience in the community, length of treatment that allows for sufficient detail, and writing that conveys clear respect for the breadth of scholarly literature on a given group. Serving the Amish raises the bar for a form of cultural competency writing that may be embraced by social scientists and practitioners alike.
Martha King Uni. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Department of Anthropology
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|Publication:||Mennonite Quarterly Review|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2017|
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