Cultural considerations are crucial to both the work and the effectiveness in every counseling approach selected by the therapist. Culture is the characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people, defined by everything from language, religion, values, sexual orientation, cuisine, social habits, life experiences, music, arts, etc.
Unfortunately, some practitioners rush to make a diagnosis or immediately begin the process of providing treatment before considering the clients culture in relation to his/her “presented symptoms” and treatment approaches. However, it should be noted, some behaviors exhibited during therapy can be viewed as symptomatic or reflective of a mental health disorder, in cultures that the therapist may have limited knowledge, or lack a general understanding of. Research conducted on multicultural counseling suggest cultural differences in expressive and instrumental behaviors are a function of the prevailing cultural models of the good. Behaviors that realize the cultural models are most prevalent, whereas behaviors that obstruct the cultural models are rare.
When considering mental health as it relates to emotional disturbances it can be best deﬁned as a phenomenon that deviates from the modal and normative cultural practices. In discussing culturally competent counseling for persons of color, Ridley (2005) cautions practitioners against stereotyping by reminding them that each client is unique…and each has a different story to tell. Sue and Sue (2008) similarly warn counselors about overgeneralizing and stereotyping, noting that it is wrong to assume that all persons within a specific cultural group or are from the same minority group will share the same traits typically assigned to that group.
It is important to create a therapeutic environment that is highly individualized and collaborative in its approach to developing goals and interventions. Counseling that is individualized provide the best opportunity to strengthen client’s ownership in the change process. Therapist that create a collaborative alliance with their clients increase the likelihood that client will retain control over what he or she would like to get out of therapy, ownership of the issues that led to therapy, and actively participate in goal setting. Respecting and accommodating the goals of clients is a hallmark of effective therapy practices. Differences between the world view and values of clients and counselors are inevitable. However, counseling research makes it clear that accommodating the clients frame of reference enhance outcomes.
Effective therapy should emphasize individual strengths, limitations, and resources. Unfortunately, rushing to assumptions of psychopathology in…minority clients, counselors often miss opportunities to help clients identify their assets and use these assets advantageously (Ridley, 2005).
Helpful Tips That Can be Used to Promote Multicultural Counseling Include:
- Creating an individualized treatment plan the specific needs and goals of your client
- Prior to selecting a treatment approach, identify different approaches to therapy that has been shown to be beneficial within different cultures
- Develop an enhanced understanding of cultural beliefs about mental illness, including spiritual beliefs.
- Identify ways in which the client’s spiritual beliefs can be used as a tool for healing
- Utilize culturally sensitive communication, including the avoidance of potentially triggering terms and figures of speech
- Validate feelings in regards to individual feelings of racism, discrimination, and personal world view
- Recognize the impact of your client’s cultural values and the ways in which culture shapes his/her family relationships, ethics, core beliefs, and communication styles.
- Develop an understanding of variations in communication styles; some cultures prefer close contact while others need more space during a therapy session.
It is important to understand that some therapists may never fully understand or master the ability to understand every unique cultural difference; this is a continual state of learning. Knowledge and understanding comes with continued education, training, and work with diverse clients, however, learning doesn’t stop there. Working in this area of professional counseling will continually provide you with opportunities to gain new insights and skills with each new client.