8 Aug 2022


Multiculturalism in Counseling: Definition, Theory & Practice

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Academic level: High School

Paper type: Research Paper

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The future is anyone’s guess and change is inevitable more so to the counseling practice. Contemporary issues that counselors have to face include that of dealing with multicultural clients from diverse backgrounds. However, unlike dealing with clients drawn from a similar culture, counselors cannot be expected to handle multicultural clients in the same way. They are required to remain competent when it comes to multiculturalism (Sue, Ivey & Pedersen, 2009). Counselors have to strive to build a trusting relationship as well as a safe place for their clients. When a person decides to seek out professional help, they are looking to find answers and direction for whatever emotional or even physical problems they are going through. Clients will be drawn from all sorts of upbringing and it becomes vital for counselors to understand the various cultures regarding their clients and how this might affect the relationship they are seeking to build. Lack of sensitivity on the part of the counselor can result in incidences of miscommunication, closing up on the part of the client and ultimately the counseling will be a failure (Pedersen, 1990). 

Multicultural awareness is an understanding, sensitivity, and having an appreciation for the history, values, and experiences of minority groups (.Pedersen, 1991). The differences in the groups range from their race, religion, gender, even sexual orientation. Multicultural counseling suggests even in the counseling setting, the differences between the counselor and their clients need to be recognized and accepted. Each party should understand that they are from different settings; but an astute counselor is one who recognizes the differences between him and his client without changing the dynamics of the relationship being fostered or having the urge to change their clients into something else or even be more like them (Sue, 1998). 

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Previously, cultural competencies were not much of a requirement for counselors, but with the changing societal expectations, it is now vital to understand the skills associated with multiculturalism and the American counseling association has set guidelines that are required to be adopted by counselors who provide services to diverse populations (Sue, 1998). One of the greatest challenges that face multicultural counseling is that of the language barrier. The whole concept of counseling is communication between the counselor and their client. The client is more than their cultural background and there needs to be an understanding between these two parties. Where there communication breakdown counselors and clients can accuse the other of abuse, neglect or incompetence all of which will result in the failure of the sessions. It is advised for counselors to document each session and make adjustment where the clients’ cultural background is not the same as their own. It is advisable to make assumptions regarding the client and so gathering as much information beforehand would be best for the relationship going forward (.Pedersen, 1991). 

Present times are calling for members of society to be culturally sensitive to ensure that the society we live in is more tolerant and accepting of other persons who are not of the majority population. The importance of striving towards a multicultural society and instilling the same in the counseling profession cannot be overstated. Counselors have been asked to view the concept of multiculturalism with the same respect they do obtain their professional credentials. Once they obtain the understanding of other cultures and the skills necessary to help those from these diverse backgrounds, then they must maintain this understanding and strive towards building better relations with their clients (.Pedersen, 1991). 

The modern world is making us more aware and appreciative of the differences of those we interact with and we have to be careful not to stereotype these people. We should address them as individuals first before we can judge them based on their cultures. The essence of counseling is to have the client getting help from a professional and the counselor should respect this fact. There are several tips given for counselors who find themselves involved with multicultural clients. The first thing is to study as much as they can about multiculturalism so as to understand the professional aspect of different cultures. This should be coupled with attending as many cultural activities in the community they are based. Being involved in these activities will open up the way in which different groups interact with one another, and resolve their difficult times. Learning cultural competent counseling practices, current theoretical approaches, and practicing self-reflection techniques that will enable the counselors to be better prepared in engaging a diverse clientele (Lee, 2001). 

Each culture deals with emotional and mental conditions in its own way. Some cultures will deal with these conditions differently (Sue et. al., 1996). Where one may embrace the idea of therapy and other kinds of professional help, others will seek to deal with the matters in their own way using family bonds or even religion. A new immigrant to the United States will be faced with feelings of homesickness, depression, and cultural shock from the different ideas and behavior they are faced with while navigating the new life they will now lead. When they seek out the services of a therapist, they should seek out one who has the understanding of multiculturalism and the issues that come with this situation. They therapist is able to distinguish whether the situation the immigrant is facing is as a result of being depressed or whether they are having a hard time adjusting to the new life. The immigrant will be given suggestions on how to acclimatize to their new environment and the culture they will be a part of going forward (Lee, 2001). 

One vital aspect involved in multicultural counseling is recognizing the role of the individual or the self. The counselor needs to look into their own world view and the beliefs they have regarding those who are different from them. Participating in this exercise will help in uncovering any prejudices one might harbor knowingly or unknowingly. Being a counselor means leaving behind any bias towards a certain group of people and instead of having an open mind that is willing to educate oneself one the differences in cultural upbringing of their clients. Becoming self-aware is not a one-time deal, it is an ongoing practice which allows the counselor to gather new information that is important in shaping the professional identity of the counselor (Sue et. al., 1996). 

Contemporary multiculturalism in counseling sets certain characteristics that are identified when dealing with clients. It understands the value of cultural pluralism thus encouraging and valuing diversity. It understands matters of social justice and equity among all members of the society regardless of their status. Being a multiculturalist will aid counselors to acquire attitudes and knowledge that are necessary for functioning in a democratic and pluralist society. It understands that differences are more than race, gender, and ethnicity, but it encompasses religion, national origin, sexual orientation, skills and even handicaps that cause these diversities. It welcomes the contributions made by other members of the different culture and works towards bringing changing to an individual and the society as a whole. 

Counselors who are competent and culturally receptive invite their clients to have an open and honest dialogue with regard to the race and ethnic composition and iron out any difficulties that might come up during the sessions. Each client has a different need and no client should be treated the same, creating a treatment that respects the cultural identity of the client will fulfill the immediate needs of the therapy sessions (Pedersen, 1990). 

Counselors are receiving training on how to deal with multicultural issues presented to them by their clients (Lee, 2001). This training helps the counselors to be more sensitive to the needs of different people who seek out their help. among the teachings offered are ways of handling therapy within different cultures as well as the part played y the culture to which one belongs with regard to magnify the situation faced by the client. They are taught the place of mental illness in different societies including the religious beliefs associated with the situation. Therapists need to understand and respect the beliefs of their clients as this is what has shaped them to be the person they have become. Lessons in racism and ethnocentrism are also covered with the objective of creating a counselor who is sensitive and open minded as well as being aware of any bias thoughts they may harbor. It also covers the cultural composition of different societies and how the family bonds, core beliefs, and styles of communication influence their growth or development, and treatment of mental illness (Pedersen, 1990). 

Lee (2001), argues that the future with regard to multicultural counseling is looking better each day as more organizations are advocating for the inclusion of a diversified curriculum when it comes to the counseling profession. However, even as each counselor is aware and in full support of multicultural competencies and skills, it is proving difficult to embody the same into practice. There is not much research dedicated to understanding and furthering knowledge of these skills. Understanding of the curriculum and the importance of building tolerance in the society is not lost on the profession, but much remains to be done. Sue, Ivey & Pedersen further reiterates that there have to be certain elements of honesty and integrity when it comes to matters of cultural differentiation. There needs to be actual discussions and not just brushing over the subject or feigning ignorance (2009). 

According to Pedersen, the training needs to start earlier on and not waiting for the counselor to achieve their practicing licenses to introduce such sensitive topics. Multicultural counseling should be a requirement when one is taking a counseling course, and the exposure should be directed beyond the classroom. Topics like racial identity, white privilege, racism, and discrimination and the same followed by practical approaches to further strengthen the situation as it is on the ground. Modern counseling is taking the bull by the horns and addressing issues head on as opposed to the times gone by where kid gloves were used to protect the interest of the clients and in doing so did not properly address the underlying issues. Multiculturalism is an important aspect of the current contemporary counseling practice and its importance in dealing with modern challenges faced by diverse cultures is only just being realized (1990). 


Lee, C. C. (2001). Culturally Responsive School Counselors and Programs: Addressing the Needs of all Students. Professional School Counseling , 4 (4), 257- 261. 

Pedersen, P. (1990). The Multicultural Perspective as the Fourth Force in Counseling. Journal of Mental Health Counseling , 12 (1), 93-95. 

Sue, D.W. (1998). Multicultural Counseling Competencies: Individual and Organizational Development . SAGE Publications. 

Sue, D.W., Ivey, A.E. & Pedersen, P.B. (2009). A theory of multicultural counseling and therapy (1 st ed.). Cengage Learning. 

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