Counseling is a professional assistance service offered in a non-judgmental and confidential manner; this is meant to promote an individual’s way of life in a social set-up. When offering counseling assistance, counselors are faced with challenges, and these challenges determine their success in meeting the needs of a person seeking counseling.
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The society is increasing in cultural diversity and so is the population seeking professional counseling assistance, according to McCoy (2004), regions that accept immigrants have a significant increase in minority groups, and the major challenge of counseling individuals from such regions is the differences in their perceptions towards counseling.
These differences in perception are because of individual’s cultural differences, which include religion, language, race and gender among others. This paper will discuss perception as a major challenge to counseling and its interventions.
Factors that create perception, which is a major challenge of counseling
Before offering counseling services to an individual coming from a culturally diverse society, the counselor should be aware of the religion of the individual; this is a challenge because asking can create tensions during counseling. According to Pedersen, people have different relations with the spiritual world, and this has an effect on the way they perceive things.
Sue & Sue (2003) highlight that a culturally diverse population can have religious practices such as Christianity, Catholicism, Buddhism, Islamism, Confucianism, Shamanism and Animism, and those practicing them have different views about counseling.
Those who practice Shamanism exchange information with the spiritual world through a shaman, this practice is part of Animism, and those practicing it believe that spirits can predict, see and cure their predicaments. According to McCoy (2004), practicing Shamanism and Animism do not believe that counseling can help them solve their personal and social problems; they prefer traditional healing to counseling.
It is a challenge to a professional counselor to make individuals with such believes to accept the counseling process as a way of solving personal or social problems; for the counseling process to be successful, the individual with the problem must accept the process as a way to solve his or her problem.
Those practicing Christianity are a bit liberal when it comes to counseling, and they allow individuals to seek guidance from the church or a professional counselor. This is to say that counselors have difficulties in counseling those who believe that seeking advice outside their religion is going against their religion.
Acculturation is another factor influencing the perception of people about counseling, the level of acculturation affects the attitudes and decisions made by those who have problems that require counseling.
Individuals who have had low-acculturation have no trust, they fear and have unclear perceptions about counseling practices by a certain group of people for instance, Asians living in America might not like the way the Native Americans practice counseling.
McCoy (2004) argues that this might be caused by unfamiliarity on how to express their emotions and how to reveal their problems to a person they are not sure of the reaction; in this case, the Asians might not understand the confidential relationship between the client and the counselor.
People with such feeling might have doubts on the capability of the counselor to help them; therefore, they might choose not to disclose their problem to the counselor. On the other hand, people with high acculturation readily seek from professional counselors without any fear.
Therefore, counselors are challenged to recognize the degree acculturations of their clients; this determines whether they accept or reject the counseling process practiced by the majority group in the population.
The counseling process involves communication between the counselor and client, and for effective communication between the two, there must be a common language.
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Clients who have a language barrier feel disadvantaged over others because they experience misinterpretations, miscommunication as well as false assumptions; this might be because of improper pronunciations and word vocabularies used in their speech. Some group choose not to learn the language used by the majority because the fear losing their cultural identity and native language.
Counselors sometimes choose to use interpreters to solve this problem, however, the accuracy of translating the information is not guaranteed. According to Pedersen (2008), interpreter can contribute to inaccuracy during the exchange of information; this might be caused by misinterpretation of thoughts and feelings, as well as messages.
Also, it is difficult to interpret for people from some groups because their language has multiple dialects emanating from intermarriages with people from different cultures. In addition, there are words that are hard to translate, and any inaccurate translation of such words might lead to sharing of information that is inaccurate, leading to misperception.
Apart from verbal communication, nonverbal communication is also used in communication, and this also varies from one culture to another. Any miscommunication between the client and the counselor might lead to confusion during a counseling session; hence it makes it difficult for the counselor and client to reach their objectives.
McCoy (2004) highlights that in some cultures, saying “no” means rudeness and saying “yes” means politeness to older individuals; this means that saying “yes” might not imply that an individual has agreed. Such a gesture can be lead to misunderstandings between counselor older than the client.
Another gesture is that of direct eye contact; some cultures believe that direct eye contact is a show of rudeness to the older people, and this can also create misunderstanding between the counselor and a client from different cultures with different perceptions on direct eye contact.
The superwoman or man syndrome
There are groups where men or women experience superwomen or men syndrome, and this has made them develop diseases related to exhaustion, stress and depression. For instance, in America, African women are believed to have a controlling image; therefore, they are expected to endure and manage stressful situations without complaint.
According to Pedersen (2008), those who believe so do consider that these women are human beings, and sometimes, they cannot withstand constant stress without emotional fatigue. The belief of others and themselves that they are superwomen inhibit them from seeking professional counseling.
Counseling in a culturally diverse population can be made effective by using methods and strategies that define goals that are consistent with the clients’ life experiences, as well as their cultural values. The present counseling programs enhance approaches that are thought to be effective to all groups, while traditional methods are culture bound, and can treat only one condition and do not include the total human experience.
Professional counselors should adopt counseling programs and strategies that are culturally flexible. The self-disclosure during a counseling session might not be compatible with the cultural values of some groups in a culturally diverse population, and this might be against counselor and client collaboration.
According to Sue & Sue (2003), treating clients might be discriminatory, and treating them differently does not mean that it is preferential.
Culturally different groups need to be given equal opportunities, and this dictates that they be given different treatment. Use of programs that are insight oriented will treat the clients equally, but it will not provide relevant help; therefore, counselors should adopt counseling strategies that meet both developmental needs and cultural dimensions.
Sue & Sue (2003) argue that counselors should also consider solving issues that lead to wrong perceptions; for instance, language barrier can be solved by employing different interpreters with different dialect to enhance proper communication with clients.
The counseling profession should also be culturally diverse to give clients a wide variety to choose who they prefer, and at the same time, all counselors should learn to treat clients without being biased.
Pedersen (2008) argues that counselors in a culturally diverse population should not make assumptions knowledge during the counseling session. However, they should study widely on the client’s culture and history of the problem to avoid any misperception, and the training program for a particular client should be based on the findings.
Both the counselor and client should learn to appreciate and respect cultural diversity, additionally, counselors should inform the client of the perception hindering them from getting help, and help them overcome the perceptions for the effectiveness of the counseling process.
Cultural diversity should be understood positively to avoid misperceptions, and the level of awareness on issues causing misperception about counseling should be raised for counselors and clients.
According to Brown & Williams (2003), clients should be made aware of the way gender, care and class intersections affect their perceptions about their mental health, and counseling process should be the beginning of understanding personal, social and cultural complexities that affect the counseling process.
For effective counseling, counselors working with culturally diverse population should also consider examining their assumptions, values and biases concerning their clients, and develop strategies that will attract clients to counseling.
Brown, S. & Williams, C. (2003). Ethics in a multicultural context. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
McCoy, C. (2004). Assessing the multicultural competence of school counselors: A checklist. Multiculturalism and diversity, 5(2), pp. 239-253.
Pedersen, P. (2008). Ethics, competence, and professional issues in cross-cultural counseling. Counseling across cultures. 4(9), pp. 5-20.
Sue, D. & Sue, D. (2003). Counseling the culturally diverse. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.