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The psychologists need to know how to address multicultural issues and eliminate potential prejudices and personal biases that may interfere with the provision of high-quality service to ethnically and culturally diverse individuals. Practice within the multicultural context has many ethical implications, and the inability to assess clients with distinct social backgrounds and values objectively and equally may be regarded as the major violation of the ethical standards.
Therefore, the psychologists need to develop multicultural competence. For the achievement of sustainable positive results, it is possible to implement many educational techniques. However, cultural self-assessment is the most important instrument for the cultivation of cultural sensitivity because it helps to identify own biases and prejudices.
The concepts of multiculturalism and diversity are often perceived as equal, and both of them are closely associated with the ethnic and racial composition of the population. There is no doubt that national culture, traditions, and customs may significantly influence individuals and shape their self-identity. The cultural upbringing fosters the adoption of values and acceptance of particular norms of social behavior. However, culture and race are not the only factors influencing the development of personality.
Gender, socioeconomic status, religion, and disability are the important aspects of diversity as well. To some extent, individuals’ cultural and social identity substantiates their actions and decisions, defines their social orientations and preferences. However, the perception of own cultural and racial background may significantly vary in every person.
There is a common tendency to associate different cultural, and social groups with the particular qualities, modes of behavior, etc. It is possible to say that the terms of culture, race, or ethnicity can be applied to the large populations as a mean of unification with the only purpose of convenience. According to Stuart (2004), when a practitioner in psychology makes assumptions about an individual client based on such unified and generalized concepts of culture and race, he/she demonstrates the subjective attitude. Cultural and social biases interfere with the adequate communication.
They create barriers to understanding and provoke distrust. Ability to stay objective in professional practice and develop valuable relations with the clients is one of the major competencies of a psychologist. Therefore, it is important to learn to accept diversity, develop cultural sensitivity, and, at the same time, eliminate present prejudices and biases to increase the quality of provided services and achieve a higher level of professionalism.
Multiculturalism and Ethics
Multiculturalism is the intrinsic feature of the modern global society, and, the psychologist may encounter diverse individuals in the professional practice on the everyday basis. A psychologist’s responsibility is the provision of services within the boundaries of his/her competence to any person addressed for counseling and treatment in an equal way. According to the American Psychological Association (APA) (2010), the psychologists should not engage in the professional relationships which can impair their objectivity and effectiveness of practice or if there is a chance that the relationship may harm a client. Thus, the cultural prejudices impair the psychologists’ competence and may result in the violation of ethical codes.
According to the American Counseling Association (ACA) (2014), the protection of client welfare and respect to human dignity is “the primary responsibility” of the psychologists (p. 4). It is possible to say that cultural, social, or religious identities are deeply interrelated with the individual psycho-emotional state. Culture and religion, as well as the associations with race or gender, can provide psychological and emotional support, and these factors thus may be considered the elements of individuals’ welfare. Considering the fact that many people perceive their cultural identity as a value, the expressed disrespect or neglect towards one’s cultural background may significantly decrease the quality of communication and provoke conflicts.
The professional performance based on multicultural competence supports the compliance with many ethical standards. As stated in the APA’s standards (2010), “psychologists take reasonable steps to avoid harming their clients/patients” (p. 6). The harm that can be caused on the basis of cultural incompetence ranges from the slight psychological discomfort provoked by the unintentional manifestation of prejudiced attitudes by the psychologist to the cases of severe humiliation caused by harassment, hostility, and disrespect.
Discrimination and different types of harassment may be regarded as intentional and explicit forms of prejudices’ expression based on social, cultural, and racial factors. Discrimination and unequal attitude towards clients violate the basic ethical and legal standards.
Although the severe cases of cultural incompetence take place in the many healthcare settings, it is possible to say, that racism and inequality are primarily expressed unconsciously, and the individuals may be unaware of the fact that they show disrespect and humiliate the dignity of people from other ethnic and social groups. But the development of own awareness about different cultures, and exploration of own identity may help professionals to minimize harming their patients and gradually fill gaps in knowledge which caused subjectivity.
As stated in the ACA’s standards (2014), psychologists should act according to the principle of developmental and cultural sensitivity and “communicate information in ways that are both developmentally and culturally appropriate” (p. 4). It means that a professional should take into account gender, age, disabilities, and language capabilities of every client. Based on this, the psychologists need to select methods of communication, assessment, and treatment according to the individual characteristics of the clients. The developmental and cultural sensitivity is founded on the professionals’ ability to identify the features of diversity and adjust to them.
Significance of Multicultural Competence
In the field of prenatal and childhood psychology, the specialists may encounter many multicultural issues in counseling, assessment, and research. The compliance with the APA and the ACA’s ethical principles and standards can help to enhance communication with diverse clients and increase the quality of service. Moreover, the psychologists should be constantly engaged in the process of education and professional development to maintain an adequate level of competence (APA, 2010). And since the practice of psychology implies the establishment of relations with people with different cultural and social backgrounds, the psychologists need to cultivate and refine their cultural and developmental sensitivity.
The consideration of multicultural characteristics is also important when addressing diversity in clinical or research assessment. Each assessment instrument has its limitations which are identified through the standardization procedures. The standardized assessment tools are often developed for the particular population and can be inappropriate for the assessment of diverse individuals.
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In this way, the failure to consider different demographic, ethnic, and cultural characteristics of an individual patient may result in test and diagnosis bias which “is said to arise when deficiencies in a test itself or the manner in which it is used result in different meanings for scores earned by members of different identifiable subgroups” (American Educational Research Association [AERA], APA, & National Council on Measurement in Education [NCME], 1999, p. 74).
Assessment bias can be provoked by the wrong correlation of test items with the multicultural features of individuals, and misinterpretation of assessment results and scores. Thus, many tools for assessment and diagnosis should be adjusted to the particular ethnic and demographic characteristics, and the scores should be compared and estimated within the group to which the patient belongs.
According to the APA’s guidelines (2003), the psychologists need to be aware of all aspects of test validity and should consider them during the conduction of assessment. The given guideline interrelates with another APA’s standard (2010) which states that the psychologists should perform only within the boundaries of their competence and expertise. The comprehension of assessment tools’ functions, technology, and validity are also important for the provision of the necessary information to the clients.
The inability to provide a comprehensive explanation to the diverse and multicultural patients interferes with the development of trust. When a significant part of the information is not revealed, a client may feel that the therapist is not reliable and may not accept his suggestions. Therefore, the psychologists’ competence in various assessment issues, such as validity, fairness, bias, etc., constitutes a part of multicultural competence.
Plan to Address Diversity and Develop Multicultural Competence
To approach diversity, a psychologist may implement many techniques. According to APA’s guidelines (2003), like all multicultural beings, psychologists are influenced by cultural and social backgrounds, as well as other factors, which form their attitudes, values, and worldview. And it is possible to say that the initial step for addressing diversity is the recognition of one’s cultural biases. When a person acknowledges own prejudices, he/she becomes able to control them and then to develop sensitivity towards others.
The inattentiveness towards the cultural identity of clients is only one side of multicultural incompetence while another one is stereotyping on the basis of ethnicity, race, and other demographic indicators. The task of a psychologist thus is the identification of the extent and intensity of clients’ identity. Stuart (2004) suggests developing cultural and developmental sensitivity without putting too much emphasis on them.
The ethnic and cultural groups share some common features, beliefs, values, and norms of behavior, but, at the same time, these common cultural ideas may be accepted by the members of communities in varying degrees. The psychologist needs to identify the salient areas in the client’s identity (gender, race, or social status, etc.) and address them in the therapy. As Stuart (2004) states, “good therapy involves both acceptance and change” (p. 6). And in this way, through the acceptance of individual characteristics in patients, a psychologist may create the favorable environment for the fostering change and maintenance of positive results.
As it was already mentioned, investigation and evaluation of one’s own cultural heritage and social backgrounds, experiences, values, and influences help to develop multicultural competence. Other methods of multicultural education may include the analysis of data about distinct cultures and social groups, and the application of the accumulated knowledge through practice and live communication within multicultural contexts.
The informational resources should be reliable, and it thus is preferable to select scientifically-based materials. It is useful to communicate with culturally and linguistically diverse colleagues and discuss related issues in the multicultural professional and academic settings. Actual experience is one of the best ways to learn, and the relations with the diverse individuals may provide the verification of cultural knowledge that a psychologist possess, or it can help to change personal perspective and adopt new values.
When interacting with patients and clients, it is important to be aware of own biases and prejudices that potentially may interfere with objectivity and understanding. A psychologist should be culturally sensitive both to other people and to him/herself. The continuous learning process and development of attentiveness will inevitably lead to building profound multicultural competence that will help to maintain valuable relations with customers and increase the efficiency of practice in psychology.
American Counseling Association. (2014). ACA code of ethics. Web.
American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, & National Council on Measurement in Education. (1999). Standards for educational and psychological testing. Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.
American Psychological Association. (2010). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. Web.
American Psychological Association. (2003). Guidelines on multicultural education, training, research, practice, and organizational change for psychologists. American Psychologist, 58(5), 377-402. Web.
Stuart, R. B. (2004). Twelve practical suggestions for achieving multicultural competence. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 35(1), 3-9. Web.