Counseling Today, From the President

Multicultural counseling: The next frontier

By Cirecie West-Olatunji February 27, 2014


Cirecie West-Olatunji, ACA president

As we celebrate the accomplishments of the many multicultural counseling scholars who have given birth to and advanced the multicultural competences, it is our responsibility to continually contribute to this body of knowledge. In reviewing what we know, there are six areas representing the next frontier for multicultural counselors:

1) transnationalism, 2) moving from knowing that cultural differences exist to accessing culture-centered interventions, 3) the impact of oppression and marginalization on cultural identity, 4) understanding multiple identities (or the intersectionality of identity), 5) diverse White identities and 6) exploring the silenced voices of faculty of color as insider researchers.

Given ACA’s commitment to extending our reach globally, it becomes imperative that we engage in a dialogue about transnationalism. This includes a discussion of military clients, immigrant families, youths in American K-12 schools abroad, the training of international counseling students, outreach to vulnerable populations and disaster-affected communities. To truly participate, ACA members need to attend counseling conferences outside of the United States and participate in projects designed to initiate dialogue with counselor educators and practitioners globally. Such transnational engagement would promote a deeper understanding of multicultural competence.

We can be proud of our stance on multicultural counseling competence and demonstrate advances in our students’ awareness and knowledge of working with diverse clients. However, research outcomes continue to suggest that a large number of our students resist multicultural counseling training. And even among those who are receptive to increasing their awareness and knowledge of how their privilege serves as a barrier to clinical efficacy with diverse clients, not enough students report gaining these new skills during their counselor training. We need to target research that demonstrates effective culture-centered interventions. This is of particular interest when considering clients who are members of cultural groups that have historically experienced systemic oppression.

Additionally, counselors need to conduct more multicultural research that explores the impact of social marginalization on racial/cultural identity development at varying stages of human development for diverse populations. Pervasive oppression and bias have been shown to affect individuals’ physical, psychological and emotional well-being. It would be of interest to determine how oppression affects individuals’ cultural identity as well. Outcomes of such research could assist clinicians in their case conceptualizations, assessments, interventions and evaluations.

Moreover, we need to develop a more complex understanding of identity development to explore how individuals access multiple aspects of their identity, such as gender, class and sexual orientation. Scholars investigating issues relating to women of color (or womanists) have introduced the concept of intersectionality to explain simultaneous identity development issues for non-White women. We need a more sophisticated conceptualization of identity development to better meet the needs of diverse clients.

Unfortunately, little attention has been given to White identities. Although often viewed as a monolithic cultural group with a focus on Western values and middle-class, heterosexual, male privilege, the reality is that a significant portion of Whites live in impoverished communities and suffer from many of the economic, social and health disparities that are evident in other low-income areas. A lack of discourse about Whites’ lived experiences is a barrier to our clinical effectiveness.

Finally, advancing multicultural counseling necessitates a critical view of the experiences of faculty members of color. Upon entering academia, these faculty members often bring with them an interest in exploring the experiences of culturally diverse clients, frequently investigating clinical issues from an insider perspective. However, researchers have documented how White peers often serve as gatekeepers to culturally informed constructs, data analysis and interpretations of findings. In effect, we may be silencing the voices of researchers of color in counseling.

These six issues constitute the next frontier in multicultural counseling. I am proud to belong to ACA, an organization that has played a pivotal role in promoting multicultural counseling competencies, and I look forward to the development of equally groundbreaking multicultural counseling research that will offer a new vision for transformative counseling.



Follow Cirecie on Twitter: @Dr_CWO

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