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Counseling From a Multicultural Viewpoint

Counseling educators often encourage their students to embrace cultural diversity when working with clients of different racial, religious and economic backgrounds, different sexual identity, and in different stages of life. This noble concept, however, is not practiced effectively without careful preparation and intent.

In fact, according to Ireon LeBeauf, Marlowe Smaby and Cleborne Maddux, educators and other experts in counseling education believe that “whether or not mental health practitioners in the therapeutic setting subscribe to, or even understand, the principles and dynamics of what it means to be culturally competent remains a largely unanswered question.”

What Is Multicultural Counseling?

When a counselor and a client are from different cultural groups, they form an example of multicultural counseling. The RESPECTFUL model of counseling, developed by Michael J. D’Andrea, professor and executive director of the National Institute for Cultural Competence, and Dr. Judy Daniels, professor of counseling education at the University of Hawaii, identifies ten cultural factors that influence personal development and well-being and that identify counselor/client cultural differences:

Religious or spiritual identity
Economic or class background
Sexual identity
Psychological maturity
Ethnic/cultural/racial identity
Chronological development
Family history and dynamics
Unique physical characteristics
Location of residence and language differences

What Constitutes an Effective Multicultural Viewpoint?

The International Journal of Psychology and Counseling reports, “All counseling and therapy issues and interventions are somewhat cross-cultural. How a client views the world is important insofar as it contrasts with the counselor’s.” To effectively help clients with difficult issues, counselors must be aware of these cultural differences and be prepared to bridge them.

The American Counseling Association identifies three attributes of cultural competence the counselor must develop to offer effective services to all clients:

Attitudes/beliefs and cultural awareness: Highly competent counselors do more than simply acknowledge differences in culture. Self-examination makes them more sensitive to those differences. Associate Professor Saundra Tomlinson-Clarke says that “the importance of attitudes/beliefs cannot be underestimated and is particularly relevant in considering the dynamics of counselor/client relationships when working across cultures.”

Cultural knowledge: In multicultural counseling, it is not enough to simply know the differences between cultures. Tomlinson-Clarke defines cultural knowledge as the ability to share the worldview of clients and form an accurate picture of how culture and heritage are perceived by each.

Cultural skills: When cultural awareness and knowledge work together, one of the liabilities is a tendency to over-generalize and overlook every client’s unique qualities, strengths and challenges. Skilled counselors develop appropriate intervention strategies to address the needs of individuals, regardless of their primary cultural group.

Multicultural Counseling and the Family

One of the most complex issues for family counselors is the dynamics between family members and the additional layer of cultural diversity between the family and the counselor.

For example, the very definition of family varies widely by nationality. African-Americans have a wider network of family relationships than many Caucasian Americans. The Italian concept goes far beyond the so-called “nuclear” family to include all of those with strong ties to each other, from generational members to godfathers to close friends. The Chinese tradition includes both ancestors and descendants, reflecting not only a different concept of family, but also a different sense of time.

When the differences between and among family members — which may include sexual identity, physical characteristics or psychological maturity — are then mixed with what could be multiple differences between the family as a whole, the individuals of the family and the counselor, interactions become even more complex. The counselor must be aware of the differences and how they will impact intervention and therapy plans.

Preparing for a Career in Multicultural Counseling

As you pursue a career in marriage, couples and family counseling, you must prepare for a variety of family dynamics as well as how your own cultural background will affect your interaction with clients. Cultural differences will impact your approach to therapy sessions and plans of action and how your clients respond to suggested strategies.

The Master of Education in Counseling and Development with a Specialization in Marriage, Couple and Family Counseling degree from Lamar University is designed to help you gain the cross-cultural competencies required to understand family structures, life-cycle dynamics, intergenerational influences and healthy family functioning. One of the courses, Multicultural Counseling, specifically explores human diversity and cultural issues, while identifying the implications for counseling and learning. Strategies for cross-cultural effectiveness in various settings are also covered.

And according to Tomlinson-Clarke, “Assisting counselors to become self-aware and to examine their cultural attitudes/beliefs is an important attribute in developing cultural competence and increasing counselor effectiveness with culturally diverse clients.

This online program will prepare you for a position as a Licensed Professional Counselor or Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Texas. It offers the preparation you need to succeed as a culturally competent and sensitive counselor.

Learn more about Lamar University’s online M.Ed. in Counseling and Development with a Specialization in Marriage, Couple and Family Counseling program.


American Counseling Association: VISTAS Online

VISTAS Online: Multicultural Counseling Competencies: Extending Multicultural Training Paradigms Toward Globalization

International Journal of Psychology and Counseling: Multiculturalism in Counseling and Therapy: Marriage and Family Issues


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