ERIC Identifier: ED357316
Publication Date: 1993-00-00
Author: Locke, Don C.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Personnel Services Ann Arbor MI.
Multicultural Counseling. ERIC Digest.
Multiculturalism has been defined as the fourth force in psychology, one
which complements the psychodynamic, behavioral and humanistic explanations of
human behavior. Pedersen (1991) defined multiculturalism as "a wide range of
multiple groups without grading, comparing, or ranking them as better or worse
than one another and without denying the very distinct and complementary or even
contradictory perspectives that each group brings with it" (p. 4). One of the
most important debates within the field has to do with how this definition
relates to specific groups within the context of a culture. Pedersen's
definition leads to the inclusion of a large number of variables, e.g., age,
sex, place of residence, education, socioeconomic factors, affiliations,
nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, making multiculturalism generic to
all counseling relationships. Locke (1990), among others, advocates a narrower
definition of multiculturalism, particularly as it relates to counseling. The
narrower view is one where attention is directed toward "the racial/ethnic
minority groups within that culture" (p. 24).
Regardless of how one defines the term or the degree to which the concept is
restricted or broadened in a particular context, multiculturalism encompasses a
world of complex detail. Hofstede (1984), identified four dimensions of
cultures. These dimensions are:
Power distance--the extent to which a culture accepts that power in institutions
and organizations is distributed unequally.
Uncertainty avoidance--the extent to which members of a culture feel threatened
by uncertain or ambiguous situations.
Individualism--a social framework in which people are supposed to take care of
themselves and of their immediate families only. Collectivism refers to a social
framework in which people distinguish between in-groups and out-groups,
expecting their in-group to look after them, and in exchange for that owe
loyalty to it.
Masculinity/Femininity--the extent to which the dominant values within a culture
are assertiveness, money and things, caring for others, quality of life, and
A number of generic counselor characteristics are necessary, but not
sufficient, for those who engage in multicultural counseling. To be effective, a
counselor must be able to:
Express respect for the client in a manner that is felt, understood, accepted,
and appreciated by the client. Respect may be communicated either verbally or
nonverbally with voice quality or eye contact.
Feel and express empathy for culturally different clients. This involves being
able to place oneself in the place of the other, to understand the point of view
of the other.
Personalize his/her observations. This means that the counselor recognizes that
his/her observations, knowledge, or perceptions are "right" or "true" only for
him/herself and that they do not generalize to the client.
Withhold judgment and remain objective until one has enough information and an
understanding of the world of the client.
Tolerate ambiguity. This refers to the ability to react to new, different, and
at times, unpredictable situations with little visible discomfort or irritation.
Have patience and perseverance when unable to get things done immediately.
Counselors bring with them their own degree of effectiveness with these
generic characteristics. They also bring with them their cultural manifestations
as well as their unique personal, social and psychological background. These
factors interact with the cultural and personal factors brought by the client.
The interaction of these two sets of factors must be explored along with other
counseling-related considerations for each client who comes for counseling. The
effective counselor is one who can adapt the counseling models, theories, or
techniques to the unique individual needs of each client. This skill requires
that the counselor be able to see the client as both an individual and as a
member of a particular cultural group. Multicultural counseling requires the
recognition of: (1) the importance of racial/ethnic group membership on the
socialization of the client; (2) the importance of and the uniqueness of the
individual; (3) the presence of and place of values in the counseling process;
and (4) the uniqueness of learning styles, vocational goals, and life purposes
of clients, within the context of principles of democratic social justice
The Multicultural Awareness Continuum (Locke, 1986) was designed to
illustrate the areas of awareness through which a counselor must go in the
process of counseling a culturally different client. The continuum is linear and
the process is developmental, best understood as a lifelong process.
The first level through which counselors must pass is self-awareness.
Self-understanding is a necessary condition before one begins the process of
understanding others. Both intrapersonal and interpersonal dynamics must be
considered as important components in the projection of beliefs, attitudes,
opinions, and values. The examination of one's own thoughts and feelings allows
the counselor a better understanding of the cultural "baggage" he or she brings
to the situation.
of one's own culture. Counselors bring cultural baggage to the counseling
situation; baggage that may cause certain things to be taken for granted or
create expectations about behaviors and manners. For example, consider your own
name and the meaning associated with it. Ask yourself the cultural significance
of your name. Could your name have some historical significance to cultures
other than the culture of your origin? There may be some relationship between
your name and the order of your birth. There may have been a special ceremony
conducted when you were named.
The naming process of a child is but one of the many examples of how cultural
influences are evident and varied. Language is specific to one's cultural group
whether formal, informal, verbal, or nonverbal. Language determines the cultural
networks in which an individual participates and contributes specific values to
of racism, sexism, and poverty. Racism, sexism, and poverty are all aspects of a
culture that must be understood from the perspective of how one views their
effect both upon oneself and upon others. The words themselves are obviously
powerful terms and frequently evoke some defensiveness. Even when racism and
sexism are denied as a part of one's personal belief system, one must recognize
that he/she never-the-less exists as a part of the larger culture. Even when the
anguish of poverty is not felt personally, the counselor must come to grips with
his or her own beliefs regarding financially less fortunate people.
Exploration of the issues of racism, sexism, and poverty may be facilitated
by a "systems" approach. Such an exploration may lead to examination of the
differences between individual behaviors and organizational behaviors, or what
might be called the difference between personal prejudice and institutional
prejudice. The influence of organizational prejudice can be seen in the
attitudes and beliefs of the system in which the counselor works. Similarly, the
awareness that frequently church memberships exist along racial lines, or that
some social organizations restrict their membership to one sex, should help
counselors come to grips with the organizational prejudice which they may be
supporting solely on the basis of participation in a particular organization.
of individual differences. One of the greatest pitfalls of the novice counselor
is to overgeneralize things learned about a specific culture as therefore
applicable to all members of the culture. A single thread of commonality is
often presumed to exist as interwoven among the group simply because it is
observed in one or a few member(s) of the culture. On the contrary, cultural
group membership does not require one to sacrifice individualism or uniqueness.
In response to the counselor who feels all clients should be treated as
"individuals," I say clients must be treated as both individuals and members of
their particular cultural group.
Total belief in individualism fails to take into account the "collective
family-community" relationship which exists in many cultural groups. A real
danger lies in the possibility that counselors may unwittingly discount cultural
influences and subconsciously believe they understand the culturally different
when, in fact, they view others from their own culture's point of view. In
practice, what is put forth as a belief in individualism can become a disregard
for any culturally specific behaviors that influence client behaviors. In sum,
counselors must be aware of individual differences and come to believe in the
uniqueness of the individual before moving to the level of awareness of other
of other cultures. The four previously discussed levels of the continuum provide
the background and foundation necessary for counselors to explore the varied
dynamics of other cultural groups. Most cross-cultural emphasis is currently
placed upon African Americans, Native Americans, Mexican Americans or Hispanics,
and Asian Americans. Language is of great significance and uniqueness to each of
these cultural groups, rendering standard English less than complete in
communication of ideas. It is necessary for counselors to be sensitive to words
which are unique to a particular culture as well as body language and other
nonverbal behaviors to which cultural significance is attached.
of diversity. The culture of the United States has often been referred to as a
"melting pot." This characterization suggests that people came to the United
States from many different countries and blended into one new culture. Thus, old
world practices were altered, discarded, or maintained within the context of the
new culture. For the most part, many cultural groups did not fully participate
in the melting pot process. Thus, many African American, Native American,
Mexican American, and Asian American cultural practices were not welcomed as the
new culture formed.
Of more recent vintage is the term "salad bowl" which implies that the
culture of the United States is capable of retaining aspects from all cultures
(the various ingredients). Viewed in this manner, we are seen as capable of
living, working, and growing together while maintaining a unique cultural
identity. "Rainbow coalition" is another term used in a recent political
campaign to represent the same idea. Such concepts reflect what many have come
to refer to as a multicultural or pluralistic society, where certain features of
each culture are encouraged and appreciated by other cultural groups.
The final level on the continuum is to implement what has been learned about
working with culturally different groups and add specific techniques to the
repertoire of counseling skills. Before a counselor can effectively work with
clients of diverse cultural heritage, he or she must have developed general
competence as a counselor. Passage through the awareness continuum constitutes
professional growth and will contribute to an increase in overall counseling
effectiveness, but goes much further than that. Counselors must be aware of
learning theory and how theory relates to the development of
psychological-cultural factors. Counselors must understand the relationship
between theory and counselors' strategies or practices. Most importantly,
counselors must have developed a sense of worth in their own cultures before
attaining competence in counseling the culturally different.
Hofstede, G. (1984) "Cultures consequences:
International differences in work-related values." Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
Locke, D. C. (1986a). Cross-cultural counseling issues. In A. J. Palmo &
W. J. Weikel (Eds.), "Foundations of mental health counseling" (pp. 119-137).
Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.
Locke, D. C. (1990). A not so provincial view of multicultural counseling.
"Counselor Education and Supervision," 30, 18-25.
Pedersen, P. B. (1991). Introduction to the special issue on multiculturalism
as a fourth force in counseling. "Journal of Counseling and Development," 70, 4.