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This paper focuses on exploring the issue of multicultural counseling and the challenges it may cause. Multicultural counseling is concentrated not only on the understanding of racial and ethnic groups and minorities such as Asian Americans, Native Americans, numerous white ethnic groups, etc., but on people of different gender, people with disabilities, the elderly, and others.
It is considered that multicultural counseling promotes a conceptual awareness of the complexity and diversity of modern society. Based on the literature review, this paper provides insights on the ethical and legal consequences the violation of multicultural counseling may lead to, including the risk of losing licensure, inappropriate relationships with clients, etc. Furthermore, a researcher assumes personal views regarding the problem supported by arguments and recommendations on how to resolve the issue and provide the most beneficial counseling services possible.
The ethical issue of multicultural counseling refers to the problem of cross-cultural interactions in the framework of clinical, counseling, and psychotherapy services that are rather important. The study of the aspects of multicultural counseling helps the counselors to be more precise at different stages of their work with clients. In particular, the relationships with a client and understanding of his or her problems that have caused difficulties are aimed at minimizing the cultural errors caused by a client’s problematic situations.
In this context, multiculturalism is defined as a series of social incentives that are products of other people’s behavior. Multiculturalism attaches importance both to those aspects in which the groups differ from each other and to those aspects, in which they are at the same time similar. The lack of understanding of diversity and knowledge to accept and promote it leads to negative consequences. In this regard, this paper will investigate the ethical dilemmas related to culture as well as potential ways to resolve and prevent them most effectively. The research question may be posed as follows: what are the key cultural and religious challenges of counseling?
Review of Literature
Culture as integrity affects a person and the very process of helping him or her, and consideration of cultural factors means taking into account age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, race, and other possible peculiarities which exclude various forms of harassment, including racism, sexism, ageism, etc. The creation of a culturally accepting environment is proposed as the top priority for counseling services. According to Pedersen, Lonner, Draguns, Trimble, and Scharron-del Rio (2016), multicultural counseling deals with two or more people who perceive the social environment differently but try to work in collaboration. The authors propose to consider multicultural counseling as consisting of the following variables:
- Ethnographic (ethnicity, nationality, religion, and language);
- Demographic (age, sex, residence);
- Status (social, economic, educational);
- Affiliations (formal membership of a family or organization and informal affiliation to certain ideas or ways of life).
In their turn, Lee and Richardson point out the pitfalls of a broad perspective of multiculturalism, claiming that this term can be defined so widely and vaguely that it loses all meaning (Pedersen et al., 2016). The stereotyping of each minority group can lead to ignoring intragroup differences and the similarities between cultures, thus leading to a new form of racism.
There is a danger of not accepting any traditional counseling as biased against a particular culture. It is possible that counseling will never be recognized as trustworthy by minorities due to the mass of injustices committed in the past. For example, Gilliam, and Armstrong (2012) consider programs of affirmative action programs as generally unjust, ineffective, and inappropriate that is opposed to multiculturalism in counseling and other areas as unfairly reinforcing acceptable behavior.
The critics of multiculturalism, however, declare that the unacceptable behavior led to the destruction of traditional values. Patterson opposes attempts to modify counseling in the direction of its adaptation to different cultures and defends the universalist position, according to which all cultures are evaluated according to how well they promote the self-actualization of their members (Chan & Thomas, 2015). The author denies the need to use different skills, accents, and insights in each culture.
Responding to this criticism, Sue and Sue (2012) state that cross-cultural consultants do not try to change cultures, rather they allow a client to change their perceptions. The objectives of counseling are not limited to self-actualization in any culture, and, therefore, one does not need to abandon the existing theory and practice to adequately respond to the demands of different cultures. Sue and Sue (2012) claim that it is essential to draw one’s attention to the continuing unintentional racism in counseling.
Some consultants argue that they do not notice the color of the skin and treat everyone equally. This implies that such a consultant is uncomfortable in connection with a differentiated approach to different groups. Some consultants believe that all of the clients’ problems have origins in their cultural background. When clients or therapists transfer positive or negative feelings from the experience of previous relationships to a specific therapist or client, erroneous interpretations may occur.
The identified counseling approaches provide a vision of the uniqueness of each individual and an understanding of how a person can find a common language with those who are different from him or her. Thus, in multicultural counseling, a simple understanding of the existence of different cultural groups is not sufficient, since it is important to understand the diversity within the groups.
Every person involved in multicultural counseling should be considered in opposition to the background of his or her cultural group and accordance with his or her individuality as well. A counselor, as noted by Pedersen et al. (2016), should identify the degree to which a client is cultivated by different groups. In practicing psychological, social, and other forms of counseling, the multicultural approach takes one of the leading places and is expressed in multicultural counseling, multicultural social work, multicultural education, etc.
The method of the literature review is used to collect necessary information, focusing on a range of credible sources such as peer-reviewed articles, official websites, and other related primary and secondary data. In particular, concepts, approaches of different authors, the current state of the problem, as well as a range of unresolved problems in the given field of knowledge are collected and analyzed. The review of the literature is conducted to identify the narrow question chosen for the study and answer the research question. The selected method of research is a rather beneficial one in terms of critical analysis of opinions regarding the topic, their comparison, and the subsequent conclusions.
Dilemmas and Challenges
In the activity of a counselor and in the process of providing psychological assistance, there are some principles and requirements, the implementation of which is mandatory. The existence of various ethical codes of activity of a professional counselor is caused by the fact that there are no unequivocal and simple answers to ethical and moral problems arising in counseling practice. According to Baruth and Manning (2016), these principles are necessary to ensure that the provision of psychological assistance would be not just a more effective and meaningful occupation, but also socially acceptable.
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Various difficult situations may occur during clinical and counseling services. For example, how should a consultant behave, if during the reception he or she learns that a client is plotting or committed an antisocial act? How should a consultant react and build his or her communication, if he or she notes some signs of beatings or other violence on the body of the child? What to answer, if parents want to learn something about their secretive teenage child who promotes women’s discrimination? The mentioned situations are quite difficult to respond according to ethics.
As a result of the lack of detailed appeals to the problem of multicultural specificity of the consultative contact within the academic courses and practical seminars studied during the training, many consultants in real practice continue to be in a state of intolerance and the so-called cultural encapsulation (Baruth & Manning, 2016). In a situation of multicultural contact, they try to follow their own, often common, criteria for assessing what is happening with a client belonging to another ethnocultural group, to behave as prescribed by the norms of their own culture.
A counselor encapsulation within the dominant culture leads to the fixation of everyday norms of behavior, values, patterns of communication, and ways of understanding what is happening, along with insensitivity to intercultural differences (in the field of values, ways of understanding oneself and the world, and communication models). More to the point, it creates the desire to protect the professional status quo, and, thus, to the dependence of a consultant on narrow professional definitions, communication models, technologies, values as well as a low tolerance for unusual or incomprehensible situations arising in relations with clients of other ethnocultural groups (Jones, Sander, & Booker, 2013).
On the one hand, counselors may encounter their ethnocentrism. On the other hand, in case cultural differences are overemphasized, the result tends to be stereotyped, intolerant (exclusionary), politicized, and antagonistic about a client. If the cultural similarity is unduly emphasized, one may note neglect of the cultural qualities of one’s identity and the exploitation of cultural minorities similar to the process of uniting and mixing ethnocultural groups. Thus, the identified challenges lead to inadequate counseling and an inability to understand a client’s needs and expectations.
In some countries, for example, in the USA, non-observance of professional principles and requirements may lead to depriving a counselor of a diploma, the right to practice, and the offering of his or her professional services. Speaking of consequences, one should also emphasize the risk of losing licensure. In all states, norms and regulations for counselors include professional codes or rules drawn up by the state, while the draft of ethical norms and rules of professional conduct are usually approved by the highest court of the state until they come into force.
According to Florida Statutes 2016, Chapter 491 called Clinical, counseling, and psychotherapy services provides the legislative basis for the operation of counselors in this state. These are mandatory rules that are the basis of the disciplinary system of the state related to counseling. Compliance with these rules is obligatory, and non-compliance can lead to such punishments as suspension of a license or disqualification of counseling practice. It should be noted that compliance with these rules is based on their voluntary acceptance and understanding as well as on coercion through disciplinary measures.
For example, if a counselor intentionally provides false evidence to a client or tries to offer services he or she is not licensed to provide such as sex therapy, for instance, it is regarded as an ethical violation. The point 491.009 of Clinical, counseling, and psychotherapy services states that the mentioned acts “acts constitute grounds for denial of a license or disciplinary action, as specified in s. 456.072(2)” (“Chapter 491. Clinical, counseling, and psychotherapy services,” 2016, para. 18). In particular, this means that the ability to practice the professional will be lost.
The intentional use of such titles as a “family counselor” or a “mental counselor” by persons that are not qualified specialists is regarded as a violation and is to be institute to appropriate judicial proceedings. In case of sexual misconduct made by a counselor about a client, point number 491.0112 Sexual misconduct by a psychotherapist; penalties identifies a felony of the second or the third degree according to the gravity of the crime (“Chapter 491. Clinical, counseling, and psychotherapy services,” 2016). The latter is, perhaps, the most severe punishment for counselors. Failing to perform any of the points specified in chapter 491 of Florida Statutes leads to one or the other form of punitive measures. The above overview of the existing legislative basis for counseling misconduct shows that Florida takes this issue seriously and tries to leave no place for inappropriate and unethical behavior of counselors.
Potential Ways to Resolve Issues
Knowing the dynamics of the multicultural zone, a counselor should be empowering to clients. The American Psychological Association (APA) developed a set of competence in the field of counseling and psychiatry, identifying three types of competence that attach importance to consciousness, knowledge, and skills. The competence that involves consciousness requires a consultant to be conscious of one’s cultural heritage, appreciating and respecting cultural differences between people and understand how their cultural values can influence customers from other cultures (“Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct,” 2016).
I believe that a good counselor should have a clear understanding of the socio-political forces affecting the relations between minority and majority cultures as well as specific knowledge about a client’s culture. At the same time, full and clear knowledge of the general theory and traditional practice of counseling and awareness of economic and legal barriers preventing members of minorities from using services provided in the field of counseling is likely to help a consultant to provide his or her services appropriately. I can also suggest that a qualified counselor should have a wide or at least an appropriate level of mastery of verbal and non-verbal responses relevant to a particular cultural context. Also, I consider that a consultant should act as an advocate for clients’ needs, protect them, if necessary, seeking to change the system or institution, acting on behalf of clients belonging to a different culture.
In my point of view, the first step a counselor should initiate to prevent or address ethical challenges is to build mutual understanding and find the way out of the cultural encapsulation. In other words, this means that a consultant should move through ethnocentrism to tolerance and universalism. It is important to understand that when one tries to understand an experience different from his or her own, a person finds himself or herself in a lifelong learning process. It seems that no approach and intervention strategy can be effective and constructive about all people and life situations.
Indeed, I believe that assistance is effective when an expert uses such techniques and strategies and sets goals that are consistent with the life experience and cultural values of a client. It is critical to keep attention on a person as an individual and as a member of a culturally specific group. Such an approach requires a counselor to verify his or her own beliefs and attitudes regarding specific groups and their representatives, readiness to discuss inter-ethnic and racial issues, and problems of oppression that go far beyond the framework of the consultation. Thus, multicultural counseling is a process that takes place in the process of mutual understanding.
It should be stressed that ethnic and cultural conflicts that gave rise to the violation. Therefore, the role of a counselor is to focus on the reintegration of the social system by resolving intrapersonal and interpersonal difficulties. At this point, the basic foundations of human life and the basic differences of people are important features of irrespective of culture. Since the excessive emphasis on ethnic differences can lead to the formation of prejudices or stereotypes, it is important to understand that in the experience of people of different cultures there are similarities and differences, and it is necessary to take into account the intracultural differences within various groups.
Ultimately, I would like to clarify that multicultural consultants should not try to change the culture, yet allow a client to understand himself or herself and the environment. While the objectives of counseling are not limited to self-realization in a particular culture, the existing theories and techniques should be used to respond adequately and effectively to the requests of representatives of different cultures. The readiness of a client and a consultant is important to openly discuss the problems that correspond to specific races and ethnicities and their interaction. The responsibility of a counselor is the key to awareness of one’s values and goals.
To conclude, it should be emphasized that multicultural counseling is not only a value setting or a method of organizing interaction between a counselor and a client, but also a special system of ways of understanding what is happening in a consultative dialogue. This is a holistic direction, which combines the ideas and techniques of behavioral and humanistic psychology, relying on multicultural and universal values. Summarizing this paper on multicultural counseling, one may note that it is rather important for a counselor to explore his or her cultural views and attitudes, learning how they relate to the existing cultural differences between individuals and groups so that to be aware of different cultural aspects and be ready to apply knowledge in practice.
Baruth, L. G., & Manning, M. L. (2016). Multicultural counseling and psychotherapy: A lifespan approach (6th ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
Chan, F., & Thomas, K. R. (2015). Counseling theories and techniques for rehabilitation and mental health professionals (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Springer.
Chapter 491. Clinical, counseling, and psychotherapy services. (2016).
Gilliam, T. H., & Armstrong, S. A. (2012). Spirituality and counseling supervision: Current practices of board-approved supervisors. The Clinical Supervisor, 31(1), 25-41.
Jones, J. M., Sander, J. B., & Booker, K. W. (2013). Multicultural competency building: Practical solutions for training and evaluating student progress. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 7(1), 12-21.
Pedersen, P. B., Lonner, W. J., Draguns, J. G., Trimble, J. E., & Scharron-del Rio, M. R. (2016). Counseling across cultures (7th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Sue, D. W., & Sue, D. (2012). Counseling the culturally diverse: Theory and practice. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.