ERIC Identifier: ED279995
Publication Date: 1987-00-00
Author: Bolton-Brownlee, Ann
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Personnel Services Ann Arbor MI.
Issues in Multicultural Counseling. Highlights: An ERIC/CAPS
Traditionally, the United States has been defined as a melting pot in which
various cultures are assimilated and blended as immigrants mold their beliefs
and behavior to the dominant white culture. The melting pot image has given way
to a more pluralistic ideal in which immigrants maintain their cultural identity
while learning to function in the society. Not only are immigrants still
flocking to America from Cuba, Haiti, Vietnam, Guatemala, El Salvador, and other
countries (LaFromboise, 1985), but minorities already living in the United
States have asserted their right to have equal access to counseling (Arcinega
and Newlou, 1981). This diversity creates three major difficulties for
multicultural counseling: the counselor's own culture, attitudes, and
theoretical perspective; the client's culture; and the multiplicity of variables
comprising an individual's identity (Pedersen, 1986).
THE COUNSELOR'S CULTURE
A major assumption for culturally effective counseling and psychotherapy is
that we can acknowledge our own basic tendencies, the ways we comprehend other
cultures, and the limits our culture places on our comprehension. It is
essential to understand our own cultural heritage and world view before we set
about understanding and assisting other people (Ibrahim, 1985; Lauver, 1986).
This understanding includes an awareness of one's own philosophies of life and
capabilities, a recognition of different structures of reasoning, and an
understanding of their effects on one's communication and helping style
(Ibrahim, 1985). Lack of such understanding may hinder effective intervention
Part of this self-awareness is the acknowledgement that the "counselor
culture" has at its core a set of white cultural values and norms by which
clients are judged (Katz, 1985; Lauver, 1986). This acculturation is
simultaneously general, professional, and personal (Lauver, 1986). Underlying
assumptions about a cultural group, personal stereotypes or racism, and
traditional counseling approaches may all signal acquiescence to white culture.
Identification of specific white cultural values and their influence on
counseling will help to counter the effects of this framework (Katz, 1985).
Adherence to a specific counseling theory or method may also limit the
success of counseling. Many cultural groups do not share the values implied by
the methods and thus do not share the counselor's expectations for the conduct
or outcome of the counseling session. To counter these differences, effective
counselors must investigate their clients' cultural background and be open to
flexible definitions of "appropriate" or "correct" behavior (LaFromboise, 1985).
Another counseling barrier is language. Language differences may be perhaps
the most important stumbling block to effective multicultural counseling and
assessment (Romero, 1985). Language barriers impede the counseling process when
clients cannot express the complexity of their thoughts and feelings or resist
discussing affectively charged issues. Counselors, too, may become frustrated by
their lack of bilingual ability. At the worst, language barriers may lead to
misdiagnosis and inappropriate placement (Romero, 1985).
THE CLIENT'S CULTURE
As counselors incorporate a greater awareness of their clients' culture into
their theory and practice, they must realize that, historically, cultural
differences have been viewed as deficits (Romero, 1985). Adherence to white
cultural values has brought about a naive imposition of narrowly defined
criteria for normality on culturally diverse people (Pedersen, 1986).
Multicultural counseling, however, seeks to rectify this imbalance by
acknowledging cultural diversity, appreciating the value of the culture and
using it to aid the client. Although the variety of cultures is vast, the
following examples indicate the types of cultural issues and their effects on
the counseling situation.
In the cultural value system of Chinese Americans, passivity rather than
assertiveness is revered, quiescence rather than verbal articulation is a sign
of wisdom, and self-effacement rather than confrontation is a model of
refinement (Ching and Prosen, 1980). Since humility and modesty are so valued,
it is difficult for counselors to draw out a response from a Chinese American in
a group setting. The reticence which reinforces silence and withdrawal as
appropriate ways of dealing with conflict may be interpreted as resistance by
the uneducated counselor. Democratic counselors may also be uneasy with the role
of the "all-knowing father" that the Chinese respect for authority bestows on
them (Ching and Prosen, 1980).
Africans place great value on the family, especially their children, who are
seen as a gift from God, and on social relationships, with a great emphasis on
the community and their place in it. In this context social conflict resolution
becomes important, so that peace and equilibrium may be restored to the
community, while personal conduct becomes secondary (McFadden and Gbekobov,
Many African values also influence contemporary American Black behavior,
including the notion of unity, the survival of the group, oral tradition,
extended kinship networks, self-concept, concept of time, and control of the
In his discussion of counseling the Northern Natives of Canada, Darou (1987)
notes that counseling is seen as cultural racism when it does not fit native
values. These values are: cooperation, concreteness, lack of interference,
respect for elders, the tendency to organize by space rather than time, and
dealing with the land as an animate, not an inanimate, object.
Bernal and Flores-Ortiz (1982) point out that Latin cultures view the family
as the primary source of support for its members. Any suggestion that the family
is not fulfilling that obligation can bring shame, added stress, and an
increased reluctance to seek professional services. Involving the family in
treatment will most likely insure successful counseling outcomes with Latinos.
There is always the danger of stereotyping clients and of confusing other
influences, especially race and socioeconomic status, with cultural influences.
The most obvious danger in counseling is to oversimplify the client's social
system by emphasizing the most obvious aspects of their background (Pedersen,
1986). While universal categories are necessary to understand human experience,
losing sight of specific individual factors would lead to ethical violations
(Ibrahim, 1985). Individual clients are influenced by race, ethnicity, national
origin, life stage, educational level, social class, and sex roles (Ibrahim,
1985). Counselors must view the identity and development of culturally diverse
people in terms of multiple, interactive factors, rather than a strictly
cultural framework (Romero, 1985). A pluralistic counselor considers all facets
of the client's personal history, family history, and social and cultural
orientation (Arcinega and Newlou, 1981).
One of the most important differences for multicultural counseling is the
difference between race and culture. Differences exist among racial groups as
well as within each group. Various ethnic identifications exist within each of
the five racial groups. Some examples include: Asian/Island Pacific (Japanese,
Korean, and Vietnamese); Black (Cajun, Haitian, and Tanzanian); Hispanic (Cuban,
Mexican and Puerto Rican); Native American (Kiowa, Hopi, and Zuni); and White
(British, Dutch, and German). Even though these ethnic groups may share the
physical characteristics of race, they may not necessarily share the value and
belief structures of a common culture (Katz, 1985). Counselors must be cautious
in assuming, for instance, that all Blacks or all Asians have similar cultural
backgrounds. McKenzie (1986) notes that West Indian American clients do not have
the same cultural experience of Afro-American Blacks and are culturally
different from other Black subculture groups. Counselors who can understand West
Indian dialects and the accompanying nonverbal language are more likely to
achieve positive outcomes with these clients.
Although it is impossible to change backgrounds, pluralistic counselors can
avoid the problems of stereotyping and false expectations by examining their own
values and norms, researching their clients' backgrounds, and finding counseling
methods to suit the clients' needs. Counselors cannot adopt their clients'
ethnicity or cultural heritage, but they can become more sensitive to these
things and to their own and their clients' biases. Clinical sensitivity toward
client expectation, attributions, values, roles, beliefs, and themes of coping
and vulnerability is always necessary for effective outcomes (LaFromboise,
1985). Three questions which counselors might use in assessing their approach
are as follows (Jereb, 1982): (1) Within what framework or context can I
understand this client (assessment)? (2) Within what context do client and
counselor determine what change in functioning is desirable (goal)? (3) What
techniques can be used to effect the desired change (intervention)? Examination
of their own assumptions, acceptance of the multiplicity of variables that
constitute an individual's identity, and development of a client centered,
balanced counseling method will aid the multicultural counselor in providing
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Arcinega, M., and B.J. Newlou. "A Theoretical Rationale for Cross-Cultural
Family Counseling." THE SCHOOL COUNSELOR 28 (1981): 89-96.
Bernal, G., and Y. Flores-Ortiz. "Latino Families in Therapy: Engagement and
Evaluation." JOURNAL OF MARITAL AND FAMILY THERAPY 8 (1982): 337-365.
Ching, W., and S.S. Prosen. "Asian-Americans in Group Counseling: A Case of
Cultural Dissonance." JOURNAL FOR SPECIALISTS IN GROUP WORK 5 (1980): 228-232.
Darou, W. G. "Counseling and the Northern Native." CANADIAN JOURNAL OF
COUNSELING 21 (1987): 33-41.
Ibrahim, F. A. "Effective Cross-Cultural Counseling and Psychotherapy." THE
COUNSELING PSYCHOLOGIST 13 (1985): 625-638.
Jereb, R. "Assessing the Adequacy of Counseling Theories for Use with Black
Clients." COUNSELING AND VALUES 27 (1982): 17-26.
Katz, J. H. "The Sociopolitical Nature of Counseling." THE COUSELING
PSYCHOLOGIST" 13 (1985): 615-623.
LaFromboise, T. D. "The Role of Cultural Diversity in Counseling Psychology."
THE COUNSELING PSYCHOLOGIST 13 (1985): 649-655.
Lauver, P. J. "Extending Counseling Cross-Cculturally: Invisible Barriers."
Paper presented at the annual meeting of the California Association for
Counseling and Development, San Francisco, CA. ED 274 937.
McFadden, J., and K.N. Gbekobov. "Counseling African Children in the United
States." ELEMENTARY SCHOOL GUIDANCE AND COUNSELING 18 (1984): 225-230.
McKenzie, V. M. "Ethnographic Findings on West Indian-American Clients."
JOURNAL OF COUNSELING AND DEVELOPMENT 65 (1986): 40-44.
Pederson, P. "The Cultural Role of Conceptual and Contextual Support Systems
in Counseling." AMERICAN MENTAL HEALTH COUNSELORS ASSOCIATION JOURNAL 8 (1986):
Romero, D. "Cross-Cultural Counseling: Brief Reactions for the Practitioner."
THE COUNSELING PSYCHOLOGIST 13 (1985): 665-671.