It’s quite a challenge for someone from a minority group to find a therapist or counselor who they feel understands their lived experiences. Unfortunately, counseling is still not a field with diverse representation. Historically dominated by white, cisgendered men, the field still mostly has professionals who fit those descriptors. Those whose gender identity, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, migration or disability statuses fall outside the norm often feel that counselors can’t grasp the full complexities of their struggles.
These experiences are why multicultural counseling has become an important branch of the field that is helping to evolve approaches to every therapeutic form and environment, such as private, workplace and school counseling. “The term ‘multicultural counseling’ refers to the ability of the therapist to approach counseling through the context of the client and their surrounding world,” writes Emma-Marie Smith for Healthy Place. “This encourages practitioners to be non-biased and well-rounded in their approach to meet the needs of today’s diverse world. Multicultural counselors must be aware of the unique issues experienced by … oppressed or marginalized members of society, as well as political or spiritual nuances that influence their thoughts or behaviors.”
Bridging the Gaps
Whether they share a cultural background or not, counselors specializing in multicultural competence have the challenging task of deconstructing many personal biases and long-held beliefs to better understand the world from the perspective of their patients. This daunting task requires constant learning and updating of one’s cultural sensitivities. It’s essential in educational settings, where generational differences affect teenagers differently. The counselor needs to deeply understand the patient’s experience — the function of the family nucleus, the expectations from the parents and the culture at large, the impact of culture clash and specialized words to describe certain identities or feelings, among other things.
Every situation is unique and needs a specific approach. When speaking of his experience for Counseling Today, counselor Tyce Nadrich recounts that “when working with an adolescent [client] who self-identified as black, cisgender and queer, I asked myself, ‘What may I represent within the context of this counseling relationship?’ To the client, my identities as black and cisgender may place me as an insider or safe to speak with, but my identity as heterosexual may place me as an outsider or an oppressor.” This example perfectly illustrates the relationship and challenges of multicultural counselors. Nadrich himself had to evaluate the intersectionality of identities between him and his client and “intentionally make space for it all within the counseling relationship.”
Gain the Skills With an Advanced Degree
Counselors must take certain steps to expand their multicultural approach. Lamar University’s online Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Counseling and Development with a Specialization in Professional School Counseling program offers the opportunity to dive deep into the topic. In addition, Lamar’s program provides a Multicultural Counseling course, which “identifies the implications for counseling and learning and strategies for cross-cultural effectiveness in various settings.”
Professionals can use a variety of techniques in multicultural counseling. However, as the Healthy Place article indicated, there are four essential strategies to focus on multicultural counseling: verbal and non-verbal communication, acknowledgment of cultural limitations, self-awareness and an extra sensitive approach.
Ultimately, the objective is to help the patients navigate their lives in a way that makes sense for them. The beauty of multicultural counseling is that using all of these tools will help create a trusting bond between patient and counselor and widen both individuals’ experiences of the world.