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Counselling in a Diverse Society

Nowadays the issue of diversity is an important factor to consider as in most countries there is broad range of diversity within that country and its communities. There are different aspects of diversity that exist, such as; sexuality, gender, race and culture. There is no doubt that the counsellor needs to be aware of the complexity of culture (Pedersen & Ivey, 1993). Culture results from the interaction of a number of variables including ethnographic, demographic, socio-economic, and relational factors.

Within a culture, people develop patterns of behaviours based on a number of assumptions they have learned either directly, observationally or vicariously (Mitchell & Krumboltz, 1996). People also develop a cultural identity by examining the similarities and differences perceived between themselves and other individuals or groups. Cultural identity is based on personal preference; it is not determined by racial characteristics. It is often in part determined by language preferences, religion, lifestyle or birthplace, and may be modified by the individual life experiences and exposures (Mitchell & Krumboltz, 1996).

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There is a danger that if the counsellor minimise cultural differences, they are likely to impose the majority group’s similarities upon the minority group and uphold one group as being more important than the other. On the other hand, over-emphasising the differences may result in difficulty finding common ground upon which to build a therapeutic counselling relationship. The ideal would be to maintain a balance by recognising the importance of these similarities and differences and striving to understand them with a view to building good communication within the one to one counselling relationship (Pedersen, 1994).

Without cultural awareness, the counsellor may get the information their processing wrong and that may limit them by not giving the client fair and equitable counselling service. The limited information is likely to influence the counsellor judgment, inferences, and interpretations. For example, according to Sodowsky, Kuo-Jackson ; Loya (1997) many first generation Asians tend to show little or no affect in a counselling interview but may have such symptoms as headaches or other physiological difficulties.

In the cultural value system of British Chinese’s passivity rather than assertiveness is holy and calmness rather than verbal articulation is a sign of wisdom and self-effacement rather than confrontation is a model of refinement (Ching and Prosen, 1980). Since humility and modesty are valued in such a way, it may be difficult for the counsellor to draw out a response from Asian clients during counselling. Being reserved reinforces silence and withdrawal as appropriate ways of dealing with conflict which may be interpreted as resistance by the inexpert counsellor.

Eye contact is one aspect of the communication model that can be misinterpreted in Chinese clients. While the Western therapist would interpret a Chinese client evading eye contact as a sign of untruthfulness or low self-esteem, the Chinese client might merely be acting polite or out of respect for the therapist. Good decision making in the English context is likely to be characterised by individual responsibility, while in Asian cultures good decision-making may be characterised by keeping the best interests of the family as the decision criteria (Ching and Prosen, 1980).

Africans place great value on the family, especially their children, who are seen as a gift from God, and in social relationships, with a greater emphasis on the community and their place in it. In this context the resolution of social conflict becomes important so that peace is restored to the community, while personal conduct becomes secondary (McFadden and Gbekobov, 1984). Counsellors need to be aware of the assumptions of western pattern of behavioural assessment and consider constraints such as racial and ethnic identity, generational status, religion and family influences.

To avoid processing the information wrongly, the counsellor need to determine what is culturally relevant behaviour, within the client’s current cultural context. As people learn to express distress in culturally appropriate ways, there will be differences in how minority clients express their difficulties which in turn may be quite different from that of the majority group. There is always the danger of stereotyping clients and of confusing other influences (Pedersen, 1986). While universal categories are ecessary to understand human experience, losing sight of specific individual factors would lead to a contravention of ethics (Ibrahim, 1985). Each client is influenced by race, ethnicity, national origin, life stage, educational level, social class, and sex roles (Ibrahim, 1985). The counsellor must view the identity and development of culturally diverse people in terms of multiple interactive factors rather than a strictly cultural framework (Romero, 1985). Ridley (1995) suggested that the counsellor should adopt a bio-psychosocial model of assessment from which to understand the minority group client.

This model emphasises the whole person and considers physical health, interpersonal and social competence, and psychological and emotional well-being. Ridley (1995) suggested that this model, if used appropriately is effective for avoiding unintentional bias when working with minority clients. When the counsellor has a greater awareness of their clients’ culture into their theory and practice, they must realise that historically, cultural differences have been viewed as deficits. Adherence to white cultural values has brought about an imposition of narrowly defined criteria of normality on culturally diverse people (Romero, 1985.

However, multicultural counselling, seeks to rectify this imbalance by acknowledging cultural diversity, appreciating the value of the culture and using it to aid the client. Counsellors should gain their own knowledge of the client’s culture and not rely on the client to tell them everything he or she knows. Once the counsellor has developed this knowledge, he or she will be better able to work within the client’s framework and level of need (Pedersen, 1986). Ridley (1995) suggested that the counsellor should examine their own beliefs or attitudes about race, ethnicity and culture which may discriminate against minority clients.

These beliefs or attitudes include the illusion that the minority client is no different from the non-minority client. He terms this perspective colour blindness. Another belief is the view that the client’s problems originate from being a minority, a position he termed colour consciousness. He also suggested that counsellors may have a tendency to suffer cultural transference caused by over identification with the minority group. If the counsellor is unaware of this tendency, he or she may project his or her feelings onto the minority client.

A major assumption for culturally effective counselling is that I can acknowledge my own tendencies, the ways I envision other cultures and the limits of my own culture places on my comprehension. It is essential to understand my own cultural heritage and world view before I set about understanding and assisting other people (Ibrahim, 1985; Lauver, 1986). This understanding includes an awareness of my own philosophies of life and capabilities, a recognition of my own differing ways of reasoning, and an understanding of such factors effects on my communication and helping style (Ibrahim, 1985).

Lack of such understanding may hinder effective counselling (McKenzie, 1986). From a Humanistic perspective such as client-centred that emphasises the human capacity for integrity, creativity and autonomy (Sheldon, 2001), the assumption is that organisms have a fundamental desire to improve themselves: to self-actualise (which is an organism’s inherent drive to develop its capabilities in order to function well and progress) (Meador ; Rogers, 1984).

When working in multicultural the counsellor must always respect the clients own integrity and strive to allow the client achieve autonomy in a different form than they may have wanted for themselves. Self-actualisation for a culturally diverse client may also take a different form. For example, in Western culture independence may be at the fore, whilst in non-Western cultures the family may be deemed more important. Thus, within the therapeutic relationship the counsellor must strive not to place his or her own values upon the client.

When examining the person’s capacity for change within the therapeutic relationship, Rogers (1982) found that psychological dysfunction occurs when individuals are prevented from efforts toward achieving self-actualisation; to realise who and what they truly are. Rogers (1957) outlined that in order for effective personality change to occur and for a truly therapeutic relationship to exist between the client and counsellor, it is necessary that the counsellor and the client are in psychological contact, that the client is in a state of incongruence, that the therapist is congruent and integrated in the relationship, that the herapist experiences unconditional positive regard and empathic understanding for the client, and that there is an attempt and also some degree of achievement in communicating this understanding to the client. Of these criteria the three most fundamental ‘core’ conditions the therapist must aim to achieve are congruence, unconditional positive regard and empathy (Rogers, 1978). In terms of multi-cultural counselling the counsellor may not be able to be congruent and integrated in the relationship unless they have examined their own cultural values and beliefs.

The counsellor must aim to experience unconditional positive regard and empathic understanding which they are more likely to be able to achieve when they have achieved a greater understanding of the both themselves and the client. Central to the humanistic client-centred model, the potential psychological development of an individual can be unlocked through a relationship where the counsellor feels and conveys genuine caring, sensitivity and non-judgemental understanding in a non-directive manner towards a client (Meador ; Rogers, 1984).

It is also important that the counselling is non-directive so that the client has the opportunity to tell their own story (Rogers, 1982), and within multi-cultural counselling it is fundamental that stereotyping is avoided. During a counselling session the client must be encouraged to express and explore self-directed inner feelings and the counsellor must respond through reflection and paraphrasing the emotional content, helping the client consider the meaning of their inner experiences (Meador ; Rogers, 1984).

The counsellor must accept the client’s statements without judgement or interpretation and attempt to understand them as the client would. Genuineness or congruence requires an absence of defensiveness and openness to experience and is essential in the interactions of both the counsellor and client in effective client-centred therapy (Rogers, 1978). The counsellor’s congruent attitude conveys to the client a genuine concern to understand the world from the client’s perspective. A main objective of client-centred therapy is to bring a client’s experience and awareness back into congruence (Rogers, 1982).

The better the congruence and understanding from the counsellor to the client, then the greater the likelihood of reciprocal communication (Rogers, 1982). Once this transpires it is hoped that the client can recount their experiences openly and accurately. Congruence and empathy are closely related factors in client-centred counselling (Meador ; Rogers, 1984). The counsellor needs an empathic appreciation of the client to see the world from their perspective. An acceptance of the person’s individuality and diversity is required for empathy to be achieved in what Rogers (1978) calls unconditional positive regard.

For therapeutic change to occur, the counsellor must present unconditional positive regard, when communicating to the client that they are worthy person (Rogers, 1966). As the client becomes more aware of the therapist’s acceptance through unconditional positive regard, an opportunity is presented for the client to relax conscious and unconscious defence mechanisms and to confront issues. Client-centred theory takes these core conditions discussed above as both necessary and sufficient for therapeutic movement to occur. i. e. , that if these core conditions are provided, the client will experience therapeutic change (Rogers, 1957).

The client-centred model is a functional counselling tool for those from all walks of life and thus appropriate for multi-cultural counselling. It is especially useful when the client is not fully aware of what is troubling them or making them dissatisfied with life. Clients who have a strong urge in the direction of exploring themselves and their feelings may be particularly attracted to the client-centred approach. The client-centred method has the potential to empower people. Clients can be guided to find their own solutions, which can be a very powerful and positive influence on the marginalised or oppressed (Okun, 2002).

Additionally, with the inclusion of concepts such as empathy and unconditional positive regard this approach strongly reflects the importance of being open-minded to different forms of diversity in people, which is a fundamental aspect of effective counselling (Corey, 2001; Okun, 2002). In summary, having examined how diversity, especially that of a cultural origin can influence the outcomes of a therapeutic counselling relationship it has become clearer that there are some fundamental aspects that a counsellor must always consider.

In order to achieve cross-cultural competency counsellors must have; an awareness of the personal cultural values and biases embedded in their own attitudes, beliefs, knowledge and skills; an awareness of their client’s worldview and how that may differ from their own; cultural knowledge of that group and counselling skills appropriate to that group; culturally appropriate intervention strategies which demonstrate respect for the minority groups’ attitudes and beliefs; knowledge of how such strategies may influence the minority group; and skills to use these strategies with the minority group (Sue, Arredondo ; McDavis, 1992) relationships.


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