Since the competency of counselors depends on the nature of training that they have received, this study hypothesizes that multicultural training increases professional competence of counselors. Thus, the study investigates the impact of multicultural training on professional competence of counselors. Multicultural training enables counselors to work in diverse populations with different needs.
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In the study, researchers administered questionnaires to the counselors to determine their multicultural competence, multicultural awareness, and personal attitudes and perceptions. The results support the hypothesis that multicultural training increases professional competence of new counselors and enable them to work with clients from diverse cultural backgrounds.
The contemporary United States society is becoming more culturally diverse than it was in the previous decades and thus, counselors experience new challenges in dealing with clients who have diverse cultural backgrounds. In this view, the study seeks to examine the importance of multicultural training in enhancing competence of new counselors and enable them to work effectively with diverse populations.
According to Ahmed, Wilson, Henriksen, and Jones (2010), “changing demographics of the United States population demand that a counseling education programs provide training experiences that facilitate the development of multicultural competent counselors who can provide for the diverse needs of clients” (p.18).
Therefore, to cater for the needs of diverse populations, multicultural training is essential in preparing future counselors. Since current counselors experience new challenges related to cultural diversity, psychological experts recommend that counselors need relevant multicultural training that equips them with multicultural skills and knowledge.
Knowledge of diverse cultural backgrounds is critical because counselors deal with clients who have various needs attributable to diverse cultural backgrounds. Patterson (1996) asserts that counselors have realized that counseling is multicultural and generic in nature; hence, “multiculturalism has joined the movement toward a universal system of counseling” (p.228).
Therefore, multicultural training provides a means of standardizing counseling process to accommodate the demands of various races and ethnicities across the world. Incorporation of cultural diversity in counseling increases the competence of counselors and promotes customization of counseling services to an individual client.
As the psychological needs of the people vary according to demographic factors such as age, gender, education level, religion, geographical location, race, ethnicity, and culture, they require different approaches of counseling to meet their unique needs.
Cultural diversity is a demographical factor that encapsulates racial and ethical beliefs, values, attitudes, and traditions that govern a given population. In the code of ethics, the American Counseling Association (2005) “recognizes diversity and embraces a cross-cultural approach in support of the worth, dignity, potential, and uniqueness of people within their social and cultural context” (p.3).
Hence, when counselors are providing their services to the clients, they should consider cultural needs and demands of clients. The study seeks to establish how multicultural training of counselors increases professional competence of new counselors.
The modern population of the United States is becoming more diverse than it was in the previous decades due to increased immigrants with diverse racial and ethnical diversities, and growth of minority ethnicities. Therefore, the United States has provided a good environment for people from diverse racial and ethnical backgrounds to interact, work, and live together.
Owing to increased diversity of population, counselors experience the challenge of providing their services to meet varied needs of clients who have diverse cultural backgrounds. Psychologists have suggested that multicultural training increases multicultural competence (Sciarra, 1999, p.45).
Multicultural training for counselors is an emerging field in the realm of counseling, but it has extensive literature that explains its essence in counseling. One of the reasons is that the existence of differences in cultural backgrounds of clients and counselors.
According to Patterson (1996), “lack of therapists who can communicate and understand the values, lifestyles, and backgrounds of the clients hinders effective delivery of counseling services that are sensitive to cultural demands” (p.227). In instances where a counselor and a client share a common cultural background, the outcome of counseling is normally satisfactory.
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As cultural challenges affect the provision of counseling services, the American Counseling Association recommends that counselors must have multicultural competence for them to comply with ethical requirements of their profession. In this context, multicultural competence involves approaching counseling process from a cultural point of view of a client.
Ahmed, Wilson, Henriksen, and Jones (2010) clarify, “professional ethics compel counselors to ensure that their cultural values and biases do not override those of the client” (p.18). Counselors have their cultural backgrounds, which generally influence how they provide their services because their cultural biases can override the cultural needs of the client who have a different cultural background.
The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) has provided training manual that incorporates multicultural aspects of counseling so that students can gain knowledge and skills that are essential in counseling clients using multicultural approach.
Currently, researchers are attempting to determine the impact of multicultural training on professional competence of counselors. According to Sue (2001), multicultural training is a broad field, which requires an integrated approach for counselors to enhance outcomes of the counseling process (p. 816). Multicultural training enhances knowledge and skills of counselors, thus promoting outcomes of the counseling process.
Research has come up with different theories and models to elucidate the impact of multicultural training and multicultural competence in counseling. According to the American Psychological Association (2001), guidelines are necessary to provide “rationale and needs for addressing multiculturalism and diversity in education, training, research, practice, and organizational change” (p.1).
Education and training guidelines help in equipping students with theoretical knowledge to understand the essence of multicultural competence in counseling.
Ultimately, organizational guidelines empower counselors to provide essential leadership in the formulation of policies and programs for multicultural training of counselors. Hence, counselors need to comply with a number of guidelines for them to gain multicultural competence in counseling and enhance outcomes of the counseling process.
Extensive body of literature review supports the notion that multicultural training is critical in increasing professional competence of counselors so that they can deal with clients from diverse cultural backgrounds effectively. Sue and Sue (2007) argue, “In recognition of the changing composition, there has recently been a movement towards diversity training; the infusion of multicultural concepts into school curricula” (p.62).
In this view, researchers have shown that counselors who underwent through graduate programs, which have integrated multicultural training, are more multicultural competent than those who did not receive multicultural training. Thus, there is a need to find out if multicultural training has any significant impact in enhancing professional competence of counselors.
The study targeted 100 participants, who are graduate students from APA-approved universities across the nation. The participants graduated as counselors and agreed to participate voluntarily in the study. Most participants were women, forming 67 percent while the rest were men. The ages of the participants ranged from 29 to 55 years.
Racial composition of the participants was 54 percent White/European Americans, 21 percent Asian Americans, and 25 percent African Americans. Half of the participants said that they had taken several multicultural courses during their training courses, while the remaining half of participants indicated that they had neither taken any multicultural courses during their training nor participated in any type of workshops.
In this case, multicultural training consists of courses, research, and workshops that a participant had done or attended.
To measure the impact of multicultural training, the study classified participants into two groups. The first group consisted of participants who had taken multicultural course, attended seminars, or carried out research. The second group consisted of participants who have never done anything related with multicultural training. Hence, the two groups formed the independent variables of the study.
Moreover, since the study sought to establish if multicultural training increases competence of the counselors, various attributes of multicultural training formed the dependent variables of the study. Therefore, the dependent variables were the nature of education that participants received, perceptions on multicultural training, competence in multicultural counseling, and personal attitudes towards other cultures.
These dependent variables provided enough information on the competence level of participants in the two groups. Trusty (2002) asserts that multicultural competencies should entail cultural awareness of one’s culture, unbiased view of client’s culture, and having appropriate knowledge to handle clients from diverse cultural backgrounds (p.56).
Therefore, the selected dependent variables are applicable in the assessment of multicultural competence of participants.
The study utilized closed questionnaires as an instrument of collecting information from clients. The study structured the questionnaire using a four-level Likert scale. Each question in the questionnaire was structured in a manner to indicate the degree of an independent variable asked.
For example, a participant indicated personal attitudes towards multicultural training in a scale of 1 to 4 (not necessary, important, somewhat important, and extremely important). The scaling of responses from the participants has significance because it enables accurate measurements of all dependent variables that influence multicultural competence of counselors.
Likert scale helps in standardization of responses in a structured questionnaire (Babbie, 2008, p.518). Thus, standardization of responses eases analysis of qualitative data as it transforms it into quantitative data.
Additionally, the study applied multicultural models in the research process to cover elements of race, ethnicity, culture, and diversity. These models are useful in aiding trained and untrained counselors in cultivating their own multicultural skills, which results into good outcomes for themselves and their clients.
The study asked the counselors to indicate their gender, age, ethnicity, current degree, and academic credits to obtain background information of participants. The researchers also asked the counselors how their graduate program integrated multicultural information into the curriculum and if they their friends were culturally different from them.
Trusty (2002) argues that the relationship between the counselor and the client is subject to cultural differences, which influence the outcome of the counseling process (p.69). In this light, the study applied models that explain interpersonal relationships in a multicultural context.
The study applied means of interpersonal functioning (MIF) as a model to elucidate the impacts of relationships between the counselor and client. According to Liu, Toporek, Coleman, and Pope-Davis (2003), “MIF relates to the thoughts and feelings that individuals have about themselves, in addition to the behaviors they display as a result of their identification with a specific cultural group” (p.388).
Fundamentally, MIF has four phases namely, adaptation, incongruence, exploration, and integration. Adaptation is the first phase that entails learning and recognizing how complacency, apathy, and conformity play a role in a social environment. The second phase is incongruence, which expounds on differences of beliefs among people. The third phase is the exploration, which explains how changes in behavior occur.
Usually, individuals actively pursue interaction with people from other groups to understand their cultural beliefs and experiences. The fourth phase, viz. integration, is the final phase that deals with how an individual comprehends other people with different cultural backgrounds by connecting, recognizing oppression, and working towards transforming others and their social environments.
Moving through all the four phases successfully results into four different types of relationships that counselors develop. The relationship type helped the study in the formulating of questionnaires that cover all pertinent aspects of multicultural training and competence among counselors.
The study applied a posttest-only design in selecting 100 counselors randomly from the APA-approved universities. The researchers sent an introductory letter to each of the potential participants describing the purpose of the study, requirements for participation in the study, and the ability to attend a workshop to complete questionnaires.
The posttest-only research design provides for the selection of two groups of participants, whereby, in this case, each group consisted of 50 participants. The first group was a control group, which consisted of counselors without any multicultural training, while the second group was an experimental group, which consisted counselors who have undergone multicultural training.
During selection, research assistants were available to identify individual participants and select them according to their respective groups when they arrived for the workshop to participate in the study.
Transcripts were collected and a Likert scale closed-ended questionnaires were used for both groups to have them identify their multicultural training curriculum, involvement with research, and their assessment of their own cultural biases.
The study used a statistical procedure based on an ordinal scale. An analysis of the data reveals that 100 counselors agreed to participate in the study by attending a one-day workshop where they answered the questionnaires. During the workshop, the counselors completed the questionnaires after receiving instructions from the research team.
The 50 counselors who identified multicultural training as part of their curriculum had significant gains in cultural self-awareness, knowledge, and skills. The other half of counselors had difficulties with cultural self-awareness, knowledge, and abilities.
Hence, equal number of participants in each group complied with the posttest-only research design. Moreover, the four-level Likert scale provided a good scale for classifying responses in a uniform manner.
From the questionnaires, it was evident that multicultural training, which the counselors underwent during their graduate program, prepared them to work with diverse populations. The analysis of the data shows that 40 percent of counselors had completed four or more three-credit courses that covered diversity.
For example, courses that covered culture, race, ethnicity, minority populations, sexual orientation, religious minorities, and people with disabilities, amongst other related courses. Moreover, 10 percent of the counselors had two three-credit courses, while the remaining 50 percent had not undergone any form of multicultural training course.
Counselors further reported that 50 percent of them attended workshops in which multicultural diversity content was covered across the curriculum, whereas 50 percent reported that their graduate programs did not provide for multicultural workshops.
In the questionnaire, the counselors indicated the number of multicultural training that they attended after graduating. Out of the 100 counselors, 65 percent confirmed that they had attended 30 or more training, 15 percent reported to have attended 6 to 10 trainings, and 15 percent said that they had attended one to four trainings.
However, the remaining 5 percent of the counselors reported that they had not attended any multicultural training since they graduated, yet they worked as mental health counselors.
When asked how helpful their multicultural training had helped them in counseling diverse populations, 50 percent indicated that the training is extremely helpful, 30 percent reported that the training was somewhat helpful, while the remaining 20 percent indicated that the training was not helpful.
The questionnaires indicated that counselors have different perceptions on other cultures due to their cultural backgrounds. The findings pointed to a significant difference in the way counselors choose friends or interact with clients. The differences mainly emanate from cultural attitudes and beliefs, which affect perceptions of clients.
From the questionnaire, it was evident that most counselors preferred interacting with people having similar cultural. The questionnaires indicated that about 70 percent of the counselors reported that ethnical or racial background of their friends or clients was important.
Additionally, while 20 percent reported ethnical or racial background of their friends or clients is somewhat important, 10 percent showed that it is extremely important. None of the counselors viewed diverse interaction as not having any significance in their relationships or counseling.
This study had hypothesized that multicultural training of counselors would increase their professional competence in the aspect of multicultural competence. The findings confirmed that counselors who have undergone graduate programs with integrated multicultural training in their curriculum have multicultural competence when working with a diverse population.
Comparatively, counselors who underwent graduate programs with multicultural training were more competent than counselors who attended graduate programs without multicultural training. Moreover, the study indicated that 50 percent of counselors from graduate programs underwent multicultural training by doing multicultural courses, carrying out research, or attending workshops.
This group showed a high level of multicultural knowledge and thus perceived as competent. The questionnaire indicated that counselors, who had minimal multicultural training in aspects of research and seminars, were better than those who lacked any form of exposure in multicultural training.
Therefore, the research findings confirmed that multicultural training is an integral aspect of counseling because it increases multicultural competence of counselors and enables them to deal with diverse clients.
In the aspect of personal attitude towards other cultures, most counselors preferred interacting with people of different cultures. According to the questionnaires, 70 percent of the counselors reported that ethnical or racial background of their friends or clients is important to them.
Moreover, as 20 percent of the counselors reported ethnical or racial background of their friends or clients as somewhat important, 10 percent showed that it is extremely important. Therefore, a significant number of counselors regard their cultural background as a factor in making friends as well as providing counseling services.
Importantly, none of the counselors managed to view diverse interaction as not important according to the scale used. Hence, the findings have shown that multicultural competence of counselors and positive counseling outcomes correlate.
The American Counseling Association (2005) defines multicultural competence as “a capacity whereby counselors possess cultural and diversity awareness and knowledge about self and others and how this awareness and knowledge is applied effectively in practice with clients and client groups” (p.20).
Hence, most students have an average competence in multicultural competence, which means that they experience some challenges in handling clients who have different cultural backgrounds from their own cultures.
The findings also showed that multicultural training that counselors receive after graduating has a significant impact in increasing multicultural competence. In the study, significant number of counselors indicated that they have attended numerous multicultural training to improve their competence in counseling. The study indicated that 65 percent of counselors reported to have attended above 30 multicultural trainings.
The findings indicate that most counselors are ready to enhance their multicultural competence because 50 percent of them had not undergone any form of training during their graduation. Thus, 15 percent of the counselors gained multicultural knowledge after graduating.
Only 5 percent of the counselors confirmed that they had not attended any multicultural training after graduating, which is quite low when compared to 50 percent who did not undergo any form of multicultural training during their graduate programs.
Sue (2001) asserts that the assumption of universality that “everyone regardless of race, culture, ethnicity, or gender, shares the nature of reality and truth” (p.809) hinders integration of multicultural training in counseling curriculum. However, the acceptance of counselors to undergo multicultural training after graduating shows that multicultural competence determines their performance and client outcomes.
Given the findings, future research needs to determine the extent of multicultural training coupled with when it is applicable in training students to gain the necessary knowledge and skills in multicultural counseling.
Hence, future research should focus on developing a more comprehensive approach to multicultural training for counselors to achieve essential multicultural competence to address multicultural challenges that counselors face.
Several studies have attempted to do address this issue by integrating multicultural components into current educational curriculum, so that counselors can acquire multicultural competence.
According to the American Psychological Association (2001), “practices such as mentoring, promoting cross-racial dialogues, reducing in-group and out-group behavior, recruitment and selection processes, and the infusion of multicultural and diversity concepts in traditional psychology education, have been demonstrated to be effective mechanisms for systems change” (p.58).
Integration of multicultural training into conventional counseling curriculum will form a basis of transforming the field of counseling to provide varied services, which meet the needs of diverse clients. Acquisition of multicultural competence does not only enable counselors to provide customized services but also enhances provision of counseling services ethically.
The study has indicated that multicultural counseling increases professional competence of counselors. Since the contemporary American society is becoming more diverse than in previous decades, counselors experience new challenges in providing counseling services that meet unique needs of clients.
Therefore, for counselors to overcome challenges associated with cultural diversity, counseling curriculum should have multicultural training as an essential component of counseling so that students can gain multicultural competence and develop the capacity to work with clients from diverse cultural backgrounds.
Integration of multicultural training into counseling curriculum enables counselors to acquire essential knowledge and skills, thus improving outcomes of the counseling process and adherence to counseling ethics. Therefore, multicultural competence is an indispensable qualification that a counselor needs in modern society, which has diverse cultures.
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