How to Counsel Multicultural Clients

Multicultural Counseling Video

Hey, guys! Welcome to this Mometrix video on multicultural counseling.

Multicultural counseling may seem pretty self-explanatory in terms of defining it, but it has expanded well beyond working with a client from a different cultural background. Multicultural counseling is when a counselor works with a patient from a different cultural group and how that may affect interactions within the counseling relationship. The definition has been broadened to include differences in religion and spirituality, sexual orientation, gender, age and maturity, socioeconomic class, family history, and even geographic location. The first step in multicultural counseling is to recognize that there are differences between the counselor and the patient.

Expanding Perspectives

America has a diverse populace of African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and Native American groups. The Asian population should be revamped to include those of Middle Eastern descent. Currently, multicultural programs only look at the cultures of Japan, China, and Korea. The world is becoming one of a mixed culture. The counselor should be informed of issues that might arise in multiracial or multiethnic families. Educational courses include religious factors, spiritual factors, gender factors, sexual orientation, disability issues, socioeconomic statures, age factors, and immigrant issues.

In 1990, Don C. Locke defined these four elements of the ever-changing role of multicultural counseling:

  1. Multicultural counseling is aware of the cultural background, values, and worldview of the client and the therapist
  2. Multicultural counseling makes note of socialization aspects in regard to race, ethnicity, and culture of the client
  3. Multicultural counseling makes every effort to see the individual within the group of people that he or she belongs
  4. Multicultural counseling does not label the person as deficient but acknowledges that there can be a difference between the person as an individual and his or her group. The differences in a person may need to be addressed to help the person come to terms with his or her own self-identity. The individual is also encouraged to value the racial or ethnic group of which he or she is a member.

Elements of Multicultural Counseling

The linear tool used to help a counselor gain cultural competence is the Multicultural Awareness Continuum. The counselor cannot expect to achieve mastery, as the continuum is designed to be ongoing and revisited throughout the career of the counselor. Progression allows the counselor to go on to the next level, but if the counselor is confronted by a deficiency in his or her awareness when treating a culturally diverse person, then the counselor returns to the previous level for insight into that aspect of the culture.

Levels include:
(a) Self awareness
(b) awareness of one’s cultural groupings
(c) awareness of racism, sexism, and poverty in relation to cultural problems
(d) awareness of individual differences
(e) awareness of other groups of people and cultures
(f) awareness of diversity
(g) skills and techniques related to the multicultural counselor.

A high level of self-awareness is essential for the counselor to understand why he or she feels a certain way, and to identify biases in his or her own thinking. It is imperative for a counselor to understand how he or she interacts with others. Likewise, the counselor needs to examine his or her beliefs, attitudes, opinions, and values. A multicultural counselor must spend time in introspection to determine areas in which he or she may have cultural biases. The next level has to do with an awareness of one’s own culture. Certain cultures may place values upon a person’s name, its origin, and cultural significance. Other cultures may place values upon birth order. Some cultures have naming ceremonies for infants. Language and its uses can also play a significant part in the values placed upon a person through his or her culture.

The third level on the Multicultural Awareness Continuum is awareness of racism, sexism, and poverty bias. Counselors discover this awareness by looking closely at their own personal belief system. Sexism and racism are an entrenched part of cultural beliefs. Some counselors and clients may not have biases against token minority individuals whom they know personally but may think of smaller cultures folded into the American melting pot as subtly inferior. Poverty touches everyone to some extent. Either you have experienced poverty directly, or have simply seen shocking evidence of its existence. The counselor must determine his or her own biases before helping others gain insights into a cultural belief system.

The counselor must not generalize any culture too much. Overgeneralization leads to misconceptions founded on observations of only a few members of a culture. To avoid misconceptions, treat your client first and foremost as an individual with his or her own set of unique needs, and then as a member of his or her specific culture. Understand that the individual has to function both as a member of his or her own culture, and in American society at large. Avoid projecting your cultural beliefs on your client. Once you are aware of individual differences, then move on to the next level, illustrating an awareness of other cultures.

Your awareness of other cultures begins with your client’s language. As a multicultural counselor, you do not need to learn a foreign language in its entirety, but just certain words that have significant meanings.

In 1961, Kluckhorn and Strodtbect determined the following characteristics are the most identifiable:

  • Time
  • View of human nature
  • Importance of relationships
  • Human activity
  • View of the supernatural

Awareness of diversity begins with a grasp of just how fallacious the idea is that America’s cultures have joined to become one super-culture. There are marked differences in the cultures of African Americans; White Anglo-Saxon Protestants; Native American Indians; Hispanics, Latinos, or Chicanos; Asian Americans; and various religious groups and sexual orientations within races. In melting pot theory, the differences in these cultures went undervalued and unrecognized. Immigrants and the poor were encouraged to buy into the values, beliefs, and attitudes of mainstream America. Melting pot theory is being replaced by mosaic theory, and the terms “salad bowl” or “rainbow coalition.” The salad bowl idea suggests a mix of ingredients that are best when the flavors are allowed to be different and complement each other.

I hope this was helpful! Be sure to check out more of our videos here.


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by Mometrix Test Preparation | This Page Last Updated: February 13, 2024