The human brain receives information from its environment constantly, but how does it make sense of all this information? One way is through the use of schemas, which are mental structures that help the mind organize new information and relate it to old information and experiences. By relating information in this way, humans can more quickly process experiences and make judgments and decisions. When you meet someone new, your brain automatically uses these schemas to identify characteristics or behavior that would allow you to classify the person into a group that you may already know. While an adaptive and helpful strategy that the human brain possesses, when taken to an extreme, it could lead to the formation of unhelpful or incorrect stereotypes about groups.
When working with clients from diverse groups, human and social services professionals need to bring conscious thought to their perceptions of people, in addition to the automatic thinking that humans engage in. In other words, use your schemas and acknowledge commonalities, but also research information on groups you work with, take the time to become aware of individual differences, and always seek to bring cultural sensitivity to your understanding of and practice with clients.