People from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds can, and do, need therapy. Counseling has evolved to become a highly individualized experience.
In a culturally diverse world, a multicultural approach to counseling is precious. A competent counselor can work with clients to help them better understand themselves, their lifestyles and relationships, and utilize this information to make better decisions in life.
Cultural competence in counseling is vital in guaranteeing clients’ successful outcomes. As the US population becomes increasingly diverse, a deep understanding of multicultural counseling is crucial in training new counselors.
Multicultural counseling involves counselors understanding their clients’ struggles with racism, cultural issues, and other relevant experiences. Multicultural counseling emphasizes empathy and compassion, enabling therapists to address unique challenges better, considering a client’s experience may differ from theirs.
Today’s mental health professionals must regard each client’s culture or ethnic background and how it may affect the overall process.
What is multicultural counseling?
The impetus behind understanding cultural diversity in counseling is that individuals from minority groups see the world around them through different lenses.
If you enroll in a master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at an accredited university like Walsh University, you will likely learn about identifying the unique experiences and struggles of your clients from a multicultural standpoint. Walsh University’s online Master of Arts in Counseling and Human Development — Clinical Mental Health Counseling program helps compassionate professionals build a fulfilling career with a greater purpose. The program is also fully online, with no campus visits required.
There are various proven techniques counselors may employ with a broad range of patients. A one-size-fits-all method does not work everywhere.
The multicultural approach to counseling has numerous techniques, but it is mainly a method of therapeutic counseling that considers the various factors affecting ethnic, racial, and other minorities, including historical oppression and its impact on society.
Multicultural counselors do not just conduct therapy without any prior education. They must understand that clients’ backgrounds influence how they see the world, and these professionals must be able to accommodate these varying perspectives.
Aside from cultural backgrounds, belief systems and religion may also affect anything from an individual’s values to how they run their household or raise children. There are also various socioeconomic backgrounds to consider, with individuals who were raised surrounded by wealth and those who grew up in poverty.
Multicultural counseling also considers other factors such as health conditions, gender, disabilities, sexual orientation, lifestyle, etc. It is not restricted to one type of therapy — it is a style and mindset all therapists can apply. They might also be social workers working in facilities.
Why understanding social and cultural diversity is important in counseling
Multicultural counseling has become more critical than ever due to increasing globalization. The scope of people seeking therapy is much broader than in previous decades. Counselors must be able to respond to the broad range of individuals seeking therapy and the cultural and political factors that may impact their lifestyles and circumstances.
Therapists and counselors must refrain from reinforcing norms during therapy sessions with clients. Instead, they should shape their strategies based on each client’s unique needs, using multicultural concepts and cultural competence techniques to drive their practice.
For instance, a financially struggling person may seek support from a therapist born into privilege who has never had to feel anxious about paying rent the next month or affording enough food to feed their family. Suppose the counselor tells the client that financial struggles are easy to handle and suggests they borrow cash from their parents or family. In that case, the patient will have few viable tactics to manage the stress and other problems linked with financial constraints. When counselors fail to understand their clients’ circumstances, offering a service that could benefit them is difficult.
Understanding social and cultural diversity is crucial because, without it, counselors and therapists cannot offer therapy to anyone whose background differs from their own. Therapists must know how to form deep connections to help clients struggling with anxiety, depression, family problems, or other social and mental health issues.
The entire therapeutic process would be less effective without an emotional connection built on understanding.
How multicultural therapy works — its techniques
As mentioned, various techniques and methods are used in multicultural counseling. This approach may be applied to multiple models — person-focused or cognitive therapy — since it is more of a style than a type of therapy.
Most therapists and counselors draw on several models and personalize their style depending on the client they are working with. Multicultural counseling techniques usually include:
Communication is integral to a therapeutic relationship between a counselor and client. Therefore, non-verbal (i.e., facial expressions and body language) and verbal communication are thoroughly encouraged.
The counselor and the client must be aware of their cultural restrictions, and the counselor must display emotional flexibility in the therapy approach for the client to feel heard.
A sensitive approach
Regardless of their approach, multicultural counselors must always consider their clients’ biases, attitudes, values, and beliefs during therapy.
Self-awareness is crucial for both the patient and the counselor in multicultural therapy. Both individuals — especially the counselor — must understand their cultural experience and how it contributes to bias, privilege, or prejudice.
The RESPECTFUL model in multicultural counseling
Around 1997, counselors Judy Daniels and Michael D’Andrea developed the RESPECTFUL model with one goal: to identify the multidimensionality of all patients in an integrative and comprehensive way. The model involves 10 factors that impact an individual’s psychological development and sense of personal wellbeing. The 10 multicultural factors of the RESPECTFUL model include the following:
- Religious/spiritual identity
Some patients are impacted by their faith via spiritual experiences extending beyond the ordinary. On the other hand, some may not identify with any religion.
- Economic class background
Social class and roles impact a client’s mental development. It affects how they identify their power and style of expressing problems throughout counseling or therapy.
- Sexual identity
A person’s sexual identity controls their personal development significantly, especially for individuals who have been bullied or oppressed because of their sexual identity, which affects their sense of worth.
- Psychological maturity
Psychological maturity involves a person’s ability to respond appropriately to a particular situation or environment based on their psychological needs and strengths.
- Ethnic/racial identity
Some individuals face differences within their ethnic, racial, or cultural groups, which could impact their psychological development.
- Chronological/developmental challenges
Cognitive, psychological, and physical skill development controls how a person experiences and perceives challenges at varying points in their life.
- Various forms of trauma and threats to wellbeing
Troubling situations can put specific individuals at risk of psychological issues when their coping ability is rendered ineffective.
- Family background and history
An individual’s family usually plays a significant role in their ambition, self-esteem and prejudices. That said, today’s families are less rigid and more diverse, with broadened horizons.
- Unique physical characteristics
Individuals with unique physical characteristics with different biases may experience severe stress. Counselors must identify the internalized negative perception of stereotypes.
- Location of residence and language differences
Individuals have different strengths and interests based on their geographical locations. Awareness of biases and stereotypes linked with individuals who speak different dialects may diverge from erroneous assumptions.
The benefits of multicultural counseling
Various benefits are linked to culturally sensitive counseling, for both counselors and their clients. Such benefits include the following:
With various techniques available, multicultural counselors can provide better, more effective therapy for their clients. Aside from educating them about standard therapeutic techniques and practices, counselors can use their clients’ backgrounds to better understand what they need. This allows them to personalize their therapy to reflect their personal beliefs and cultural values.
Destigmatizing mental health
Despite recent developments, discussing mental health is still considered taboo, and those seeking therapy may be regarded negatively or judged. This stigma is also more severe in certain cultures.
Through multicultural counseling, counselors can work towards overcoming that stigma in their patients and present therapy in a way they can easily resonate with. In turn, they can articulate their mental healthcare in a way that helps their peers and loved ones understand its importance and benefits.
Providing multicultural counseling is necessary for counselors to grow their services and practices in the modern age. As the population continues to grow, aspiring counselors must be able to provide services to an increasingly varied pool of clients.
Without cultural competency, counselors may be unable to help people from different cultural backgrounds effectively. As a result, they may struggle to keep their business running as other practices and therapists adapt to this shift.
As aspiring counselors opt for a culturally sensitive approach in their practice, they will have the tools and knowledge they need to help a broader diversity of clients.
Such professionals may attract more clients from different cultures to seek and vouch for their services. With more potential clients lining up, culturally competent counselors can work to build their clientele and their practice as a whole.