Tag Archives: Multiculturalism & Diversity

Multiculturalism & Diversity

Embodying a critical counseling practice and radical wellness

By Javier F. Casado Pérez August 7, 2017

A supervisee committed to a multicultural counseling practice approached me feeling distressed and self-critical. In my capacity as a doctoral candidate in counselor education and supervision, I had worked with this supervisee for several months and had also worked with him the year prior. At this point, he expressed uncertainty about his most recent session, including a fear that he had pushed the client, a young black female, away.

In watching the recording of the session, I observed an authentic and rich conversation. The client expressed appreciation at having the opportunity to speak so freely about her experience as a black college student. I asked my supervisee what he thought he had done to distance the client. He responded, “Talked too much about race.”

Another counselor-in-training disclosed that a client had expressed a desire for a referral because of the counselor’s noticeable accent. The counselor, a brown Latina, was feeling distraught because this was not the first such incident she had experienced. I recommended that she read through the Multicultural and Social Justice Counseling Competencies (MSJCC) and become familiar with the effects that privilege and microaggressions can have on counseling relationships. I also suggested that she broach a conversation with the client about the discrepancy between the client’s concern and the counselor’s apparent mastery of the English language. The counselor was reluctant, however, explaining, “I was told not to bring up the language issue unless the client brings it up first.”

A client, a middle-aged woman of color, shared her frustration and anger about previous counselors and her lack of confidence in the counseling process. According to her chart, she has issues managing her anger and has been diagnosed with an unspecified psychotic disorder. According to the client, her previous counselors and other service providers were faithless and always assumed she was angry. When I asked how her lack of success with previous counselors might be related to her devout religious beliefs and strong identity as a Latina, she responded, “I’ve thought about that a lot, but no one’s ever asked.”    

Broaching privilege in professional counseling

These illustrations are composites, each drawn from a multitude of individual stories that I have participated in or been consulted about. The MSJCC were discussed at different stages of the supervision or consultation in each of these situations. Each time, the counselor-in-training, supervisee or colleague identified the MSJCC as nonessential to their case.

As a queer, cisgender, brown Latino male and critical race feminist counselor, educator and supervisor, I have been involved in critical diversity and anti-oppression work for almost a decade. My undergraduate studies in Hawaii woke me up to Native rights, colonialism and sociopolitical activism, setting me on the path of sociocultural critique and advocacy. I advocated for minoritized clients and resisted colorblind human service practices throughout my graduate training and clinical experience. I have had the privilege of serving on diversity enhancement committees, facilitating anti-microaggressions workshops and participating in activism in the academic and community spheres. Throughout these experiences, my passion and radical love for the practice of professional counseling have only grown and strengthened. 

At the same time, I have been discouraged by continued encounters with narratives that minimize and decentralize the importance of critical multiculturalism and social justice activism in counseling. Narratives, for example, that cast the MSJCC as a supporting character and not in the leading role, holding firmly to exhausted and culturally clumsy theories of human functioning.

The MSJCC call for professional counselors to be ready, willing and able to challenge injustice and oppressive ideologies in the work that we do. The MSJCC framework compels counselors toward action, or an embodied competency that exists in the ways we move through our world and manifests through our behaviors both inside and outside the counseling room. In the Counseling Today article “Social justice counseling: ‘Fifth force’ in the field,” Manivong Ratts, Michael D’Andrea and Patricia Arredondo described the counselor committed to social justice as one who recognizes power, privilege and oppression and their detrimental effects on client mental health and well-being. For counselors, this recognition means taking risks, including choosing conversations that destabilize social injustices despite the potential for discomfort.

The choice not to discuss power, privilege and oppression is in itself a privileged one. Derald Wing Sue defines social privilege as the ability to freely and successfully avoid interactions with those social identities that differ from our own. For whites, this means avoiding people of color and being able to comfortably choose to interact almost exclusively with lighter shades of skin. For men, this means passively dismissing women while paying special attention to the contributions and authority of men.

But privilege expands far beyond this definition. Privilege is the ability to disregard or be apathetic toward not only social identities but also indigenous concerns, cultural differences and issues of inequality when they don’t affect us (at least on the surface). Counselors also carry social privilege and the ability to choose between perpetuating or uprooting oppressive ideologies.

As counselors, we are trained to be aware of the power and privilege inherent in our roles and our responsibility in advocating for cultural and social justice. In their groundbreaking piece for the Journal of Counseling & Development (JCD), “Broaching the Subjects of Race, Ethnicity and Culture During the Counseling Process,” Norma Day-Vines and colleagues called for us to broach difficult subjects and discuss the sociocultural underpinnings inherent in clients’ counseling concerns, even when doing so generates discomfort. On the other hand, nonintersectional and colorblind counseling — counseling that disregards the importance of social identities in a politicized, racialized and sexualized world in order to appear unbiased — function not only to avoid broaching but also to reproduce and reinforce inlaid ideologies and perceptions that have come to be known as implicit biases.

Through multicultural training, counselors may become aware of the privilege they carry. But as avid blogger and radical queer black feminist Mia McKenzie says, “It is not enough to acknowledge your privilege. Acknowledging it will never make it better, will never, ever change anything. At some point, you must act against it. This is that point.”

Decision-making in a critical counseling practice

In a time of great social unrest and political uncertainty, doing more than acknowledging privilege becomes essential. For counselors, our privileged position is revealed when we choose to disregard ideologies of oppression or domination that manifest within counseling spaces. Instead, we focus on individuals’ presenting problems — the areas of clinical concern that our clients disclose at the beginning of our work. The debate over a counselor’s responsibility to honor the presenting problem or address implicit issues of justice and equity is long-standing. The MSJCC make evident that the way forward is both/and, not either/or.

For example, my client presented with social anxiety and severe panic at the start of our work together. A brown South American woman with a distinct accent, she was also the sole woman of color in an otherwise all-white and predominantly male workplace. The question was, should I focus on her symptoms of social anxiety or her experience of being a racial, ethnic and gender minority? Could I do both?

In another memorable session, a client — a white North American cisgender man — exclaimed that most women and people of color were just too sensitive. He said that their complaints of mistreatment and discrimination were just subjective interpretations and not based in objective fact. I have heard this line many times in my life. I was not surprised, but it still made my blood boil.

As a queer counselor of color, I had a choice that I needed to make:

1) I could say nothing, maintaining mutual comfort by reflecting the client’s frustration and moving on (broach avoidance).

2) I could challenge only the obvious generalizations in this belief, perhaps asking how helpful this belief was in helping the client connect to others (colorblind counseling).

3) I could call into question the ideology of oppression (as critical pedagogue Paulo Freire termed it) couched in such a statement (i.e., the world is just and equal; women and people of color just cannot handle the real world). This choice would express not only the effects of the client’s statement on me but also challenge the oppression the client might enact on others by embodying this ideology.

Behind closed doors with only the MSJCC to hold me accountable, the choice was mine. All my own.

Herein lies the paradox. The most comfortable choice brings about the least therapeutic change and potentially the most social damage. The most uncomfortable choice carries as much risk as it does potential for therapeutic change, while possibly preventing the most social damage. This is one of the reasons that these are called difficult but crucial conversations.

I do not disclose how I chose to respond to these scenarios because it is not my goal to teach “do as I do.” My goal here is to point out the implicit contradictions in the three choices and the consequent effects of perpetuating social injustices in two of the three choices — regardless of intention.

Moving toward radical wellness

Multiculturalism is a deeply contested term. Nancy Fraser, critical theorist and feminist, points out that traditional multiculturalism has too often functioned to essentialize differences while failing to recognize the interplay between social politics and identity. This is to say that simply recognizing that differences exist between individuals or groups is not enough to make visible the structures that make those differences the basis for injustice and inequity.

Whereas traditional multiculturalism calls for us to be aware and appreciative of cultural differences, critical multiculturalism demands that we respond to issues of injustice and oppression that affect individuals on the basis of those differences. This reorientation ties together critical multiculturalism with social justice, producing a practice that affects the wide-reaching work that counselors perform.

In Towards Psychologies of Liberation, Mary Watkins and Helene Shulman point out that “critical consciousness involves decoding the social lies that naturalize the status quo, while searching for alternative interpretations of one’s situation.” As counselors, when we embody a critical practice through ways of being in our work, we are attentive to both dismantling dominant ideologies and providing a reinterpretation (or reframing) of social dynamics among the individual, their clinical concerns and the world around them.

Through these reinterpretations, we begin to model a radical wellness that is characterized by an emotional and mental health simultaneous to critical social consciousness. In the JCD article “The Wheel of Wellness Counseling for Wellness: A Holistic Model for Treatment Planning,” Jane E. Myers and colleagues defined wellness as “a way of life oriented toward optimal health and well-being in which body, mind and spirit are integrated by the individual to live more fully within the human and natural community.”

I define radical wellness as a way of life that is oriented toward optimal collective health and well-being, which consequently feeds individual health and well-being. The individual integrates critical consciousness into the body, mind and spirit for the purpose of working against inequality and social injustice that is deeply rooted in societal communities. As counselors, we are uniquely positioned to embody and model this radical wellness by broaching conversations that illuminate the inextricable relationship between Watkins and Shulman’s “social lies,” societal problems and individual issues.

The MSJCC do not require that counselors be wholly comfortable in having these conversations but rather that they internalize the importance of taking the risk. Conversations about sociocultural and intersectional issues help to bridge the roles of counselor, advocate and activist. Creating an environment that helps clients trust us enough to express fear, share doubt, reveal uncertainty and risk exposing biases is critical to this endeavor.

Yes, these conversations can be hard, and they may fall short of their aim at times, but they are conversations that spark deeper individual and social change. When clients and counselors situate themselves as inextricably linked to the greater social fabric, they can experience their lives in shared space with those whom they may have previously judged as “other.”

 

 

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Javier F. Casado Pérez is an assistant professor of counselor education at Portland State University and a national certified counselor. He is seeking colleagues to form a group blog on subjects such as critical theories, multiculturalism and social justice in counseling practice and epistemologies. For more information, contact him at j.casadoperez@pdx.edu.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

Counseling Today reviews unsolicited articles written by American Counseling Association members. To access writing guidelines and tips for having an article accepted for publication, go to ct.counseling.org/feedback.

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

Advancing multicultural and social justice competence in counseling research

By Cirecie West-Olatunji and Jeff D. Wolfgang

Despite several decades of counseling research focusing on culturally diverse populations, limited knowledge still exists about such issues as parenting, achievement, resilience, the intersectionality of identity and the psychological impact of systemic oppression on clients who are members of culturally marginalized groups. Most of the efforts within the counseling profession have focused on developing multicultural and social justice clinical competence (awareness, knowledge, skills and action) that targets students, practitioners and supervisors.

However, very little attention has been paid to cultural competence in counseling research. Multicultural counseling scholars have asserted that the persistence of problems disproportionately affecting certain client populations may be partly due to how we conceptualize, design, conduct and interpret counseling research. Our use of a marginalizing lens in research may stand as an obstacle to unveiling the truths we need to identify to improve the lives of those most in need.

Cracks in our research foundation

At the heart of criticisms about clinical research are historical issues of item bias, validity and reliability. For example, in 1916, a psychological study at Stanford University on IQ testing concluded that Spanish-Indians, Mexicans and blacks were of lower than average intelligence despite the fact that all 1,000 of the participants in the study were white. Another study concluded that a significant positive correlation existed between degree of whiteness and IQ scores. Today we realize that studies such as these promoted white supremacy.

The problem with white supremacy: Although many people focus on the impact of oppression on the marginalized, there are also psychological implications for mainstream individuals who benefit from social and cultural privilege. According to the late Asa Hilliard (1986), dominant group members can fall prey to:

  • Perceptual distortion
  • Denial of reality
  • Delusions of grandeur
  • Blaming the dominated group fortheir problems
  • Phobic reactions

Additionally, Derald Wing Sue suggested in 2011 that there are cognitive, affective, behavioral and spiritual costs for perpetrators (or microaggressors) of oppression. Thus, the impact of our social positioning significantly affects our ability to design, implement, interpret and apply research about socially and culturally marginalized client populations.

Impact on practice and policy: Although practitioners may feel exempt from considerations about research design, analysis and interpretation, we are consumers of research. Therefore, we can:

a) Fail to critically examine existing research

b) Inappropriately apply evidence-based interventions

c) Poorly conceptualize the needs of our clients and overlook available resources

Furthermore, policymakers have been known to create a trajectory of deficit-oriented policies and programs that have enduring effects on our clients. For example, in the 1960s, the Moynihan and Coleman reports were released to advise the federal government on compensatory education programs. Scholars criticized these reports for stereotyping African American families as pathological because the reports blamed families, communities and African American ethno culture for deficits in educational achievement. This stance was taken without recognizing structural biases in the curriculum, instructional delivery, material resources and overall schooling experiences for this population.

In response to hegemony in research, scholars across several disciplines have offered alternative methodologies to advocate for more validity in research on diverse populations.

Multicultural counseling competence in research

To better articulate the specific competencies in counseling research, it would be beneficial for scholars from several divisions within the American Counseling Association, such as the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development, the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision, and the Association for Assessment and Research in Counseling, to collaboratively expand the existing Multicultural and Social Justice Counseling Competencies to focus on research. These guidelines could be vetted through the participating divisions and then approved by the ACA Governing Council. As such, these competencies could provide both beginning and seasoned researchers with a framework for more effective investigations of diverse individuals, families and communities.

Awareness: Another recommendation is for scholars to raise awareness of our biases as researchers, reflecting on the implicit historical Eurocentrism in research that continues to impact the design, application and interpretation of results. This can be accomplished through professional development trainings that are delivered online, in person and in print media. Similar to our acceptance of the need to reduce counselor bias in the counseling process, we must also minimize our biases in the research process.

Knowledge: We also need to educate researchers, clinicians and students about culture-centered and emancipatory research methodologies. This content can be taught across the curriculum but should be shared particularly in the diversity, research and assessment courses at the master’s level and in the core statistics courses for doctoral students. Graduate counseling students can become knowledgeable of alternative tools for engaging in research, particularly when investigating diverse cultural populations.

Skills: ACA and other professional counseling organizations can intentionally integrate trainings into their conference programs to create a cadre of multiculturally competent counseling researchers. In doing so, counseling leaders can move toward eliminating bias in counseling research to better meet the needs of diverse individuals in society. Despite intent, counseling researchers of all ethnic, cultural and national backgrounds need to immerse themselves in the ethnophilosophies to determine what phenomena can be held constant across cultures. In training practitioners to become multiculturally competent, we hold them accountable for increasing awareness of their biases to better conceptualize and intervene. Researchers need to embrace this same level of accountability.

Action: Ruth Fassinger and Susan L. Morrow (2013) proposed several ways in which counseling researchers can reflect social action competence in their scholarship. First, when designing research, investigators can create a collaborative team that includes scholars, practitioners and laypeople who have both insider and outsider knowledge. This allows for authentic and critical dialogue to challenge any inculcated myths about marginalized groups and to enhance the truthfulness of the study.

Second, researchers can consider that the very topic chosen for investigation is culturally biased. Thus, culturally responsible researchers ground their research in the values and realities of the cultures under investigation. Furthermore, the topic of concern should have practical considerations and outcomes for the community under investigation.

One of the ways I (the first author) have demonstrated social justice competence in my research is in the realm of dissemination. In addition to publishing community-based research in professional journals, I have used a readers theater format to bring the findings to life in performance-based presentations before community members. This promotes dialogue among community stakeholders about the research findings and their implications and what actions they would like to take to resolve the concern. Cultural competence in counseling research requires that we all consider alternatives to business as usual to seek different outcomes for members of marginalized client populations.

Better choices in counseling research

Collaborating with clients: Client empowerment is one of the hallmarks of our discipline. We rely on a belief in the client as the driving force of therapy. This stems from a philosophical thrust away from the behavioral patterns and intrapsychic forces that dominated mental health literature until the 1950s. Although we have done an outstanding job over the past six decades of infusing this core assumption into counselor training for therapeutic application, we need to turn our attention toward counseling research competencies that embody respect for marginalized client populations.

One methodological approach that promotes empowerment and respect focuses on collaborating with participants to enhance credibility and rigor to the research design and interpretation. Such an approach allows participants to give voice to the nuances of their situation to inform research design and to provide clarification during the data interpretation process.

Using problem-based inquiry: Expediency is a core assumption in counseling. Yet persistent problems plague some members of society even as researchers continue to profit from exploration without intervention. Advocating for our clients through research is an imperative. Culturally specific research should not impose majority values onto marginalized client populations. Instead, emphasis should be placed on community ownership and collaboration in defining clinical problems and devising associated interventions. After all, the community is the best source of knowledge about itself.

Furthermore, community members can be the most active agents in addressing the most pressing issues in their neighborhoods and families. Involving community members in solution development empowers the community instead of relegating its members to the role of passive recipients of assistance.

Using a strength-based perspective: Prior to designing a study, confirm your understanding of the issues to determine if the construct holds across cultural frameworks. Check with community representatives to see if your conceptualization of the problem is accurate. Once you have completed data collection and analysis, double back to community members to secure their feedback on the findings of the study for catalytic validity.

Reveal who you are in the study. Are you an insider witness or an outsider witness? Is your vantage point valuable because you are new and bring a fresh perspective, or is it valuable because you have intimate knowledge of the community dynamics and stakeholders? In making recommendations, can you build upon the existing strengths of the participants? Answering these questions will assist in developing research that:

  • Is more grounded in the discipline
  • Increases the truth-telling in the study
  • Aids in the authenticity of the findings
  • Moves toward solutions to problems in the real world

In sum, we have come a long way in advancing multicultural counseling competencies over the past few decades. The inclusion of social justice competencies was significant because they served to integrate social action into our counselor identity. Now it is time to focus on cultural competence and social justice in counseling research to better serve our clients.

The first wave of multicultural counseling informed us that there were critical differences among our clients and between clients and counselors. This required self-awareness of bias, knowledge of diverse groups and specialized clinical skills. In the next wave, we were able to further distill differences within cultural groups and expand our understanding of diverse client populations to focus on sexual orientation, gender and issues beyond U.S. borders.

This current wave of multicultural counseling encourages us to take action. Advancing multicultural counseling competence in research is a giant step toward minimizing bias and promoting wellness for the underserved. So, we ask, whether you are a counselor educator, professional counselor or counselor trainee, what can you do to advance your multicultural competence in research?

 

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Cirecie West-Olatunji is an associate professor at Xavier University of Louisiana and a past president of the American Counseling Association. Her research projects focus on the relationship between traumatic stress and systemic oppression. Contact her at colatunj@xula.edu.

Jeff D. Wolfgang is a researcher and practitioner in Jacksonville, Florida. His research interests include international adoption, culture-centered counseling interventions, pediatric counseling and traumatic stress among young children. Contact him at conference.wolfgang@gmail.com.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

An eight-step process for implementing social justice and advocacy interventions

By Jonnie Seay Lane June 29, 2017

Viewing the landscape of today’s society, it is clear that multicultural and social justice issues have never been more visible. Although prejudice, racism and inequality have always plagued our nation, society is no longer keeping secret or turning its cheek to the omnipresent consequences of privilege and marginalization. Everyone is affected and everyone has a duty to respond, but nobody more so than those “working the fields.”

Gone are the days of counseling in a silo. Our clients live in the real world. And in the real world, our clients suffer privilege and marginalization. Counseling and counselors would be well-advised to prepare for the spectrum of cultural issues that we may encounter in session. In other words, we need to enhance our multicultural competence. Not only is it written into the ACA Code of Ethics, but it also just makes common sense. If we want to continue to work with, for and on behalf of our clients, we need to ebb and flow with the tide, and this is the tide.

If you are a counselor, you might think that you already possess a good deal of cultural competence, but let me unveil three common statements that can lead to a false sense of cultural competence.

1) “I took a class in my master’s program, and it covered a lot of material. I know the multicultural theories and models. I must be culturally competent.”

2) “I have three black friends, and my neighbor is from India. I know how to talk to people of color, and I know their cultural norms. I must be culturally competent.”

3) “I don’t stereotype. I don’t judge others. I must be culturally competent.”

I must confess that, as a white counselor, I’ve found those words bouncing around in my own head from time to time. I used them to strengthen my belief that I was a culturally competent counselor. That belief made me feel good about myself — even if it wasn’t true. Those statements assuaged the guilt I felt knowing that I actually wasn’t as competent as I should be. I used those statements as excuses to avoid growing and sharpening my counseling skills because it was an area that challenged me and even scared me a bit.

Admitting that those three statements, even if factual, did not make me a culturally competent counselor was scary. It meant admitting that I wasn’t as great as I thought I was and that I might not be serving my clients to the best of my abilities. It also meant that I had to do something about it. And change is scary.

But change can be motivating and liberating too. Becoming a better counselor is exciting. Learning new things is exciting. Instead of leaning away from multicultural counseling, I leaned in.

 

A plan of action

I’m currently a doctoral candidate at North Carolina State University, where I have the honor of being under the tutelage of some of the foremost experts in the field. My adviser, Sylvia Nassar, was one of the co-authors of the Multicultural and Social Justice Counseling Competencies (MSJCC), which were endorsed by the American Counseling Association and the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development in 2015 and released in 2016. She put together a task force of students to continue work on dissemination of the MSJCC. The door opened, and I walked through. I made it my mission to become an expert in multicultural counseling, starting with the MSJCC. Yes, me, the white girl.

As a member of the task force, I facilitated and co-facilitated presentations on the MSJCC at local, state and regional conferences following a variety of formats (e.g., roundtable discussion, PechaKucha presentation, information session and workshop). What became clear to me was that attendees were thirsty to take what they were given and implement it into practice. But something was missing.

As great as our presentations might have been at providing information and inspiring motivation, they lacked a practical approach to next steps. Attendees left excited and motivated. However, without an action plan, excitement and motivation eventually dissipate. With that in mind, I created an eight-step process to implementing the MSJCC.

The eight steps are a basic foundation for enhancing multicultural competence. Implementing them requires understanding of the model and its specific parts. The steps reference sections of the model and particular competencies that are prescribed within. All this to say, the steps are meant to be used after training on multicultural counseling, and the MSJCC model in particular, has been completed. A link to the MSJCC can be found here.

The model is composed of 117 specific competencies that serve as markers of cultural competence. The counseling competencies are embedded in four distinct domains: counselor self-awareness, client worldview, counseling relationship, and counseling and advocacy interventions. The last domain, counseling and advocacy interventions, is composed of six layers and aligns with Urie Bronfenbrenner’s theory of socioecological layers. Those layers are intrapersonal, interpersonal, community, institutional, public policy and global.

The suggested steps were created to be used when considering multicultural enhancement in terms of the socioecological layers. It is in these layers where the action component of the MSJCC is more heavily emphasized. And that is the goal of the steps — to promote action.

I believe the eight steps below provide a starting point for becoming more culturally competent. Use of this eight-step process will result in a singular action. Thus, it serves to make the abstract concrete and to propel movement. Although it is only a starting point, every great ending has to start somewhere.

 

Steps for implementing social justice and advocacy interventions

Step One: Identify the need(s) of your client or population.

Step Two: Decide in which layer(s) your client’s or population’s needs are represented (e.g., a client seeking assistance for solving communicating issues with a co-worker has needs in the interpersonal layer).

Step Three: Review the interventions from the appropriate layer in the model and ask yourself the following questions:

  • In what ways are my client’s or population’s needs being (or not being) met?
  • Which interventions in this layer relate to my client’s or population’s current problem areas?
  • How am I doing as a counselor with each intervention?

Step Four: Communicate your thoughts with others (co-workers, supervisors, collateral sources and, most importantly, your client). Gain insight and perspective from their understanding of the nature, intensity, diagnosis and prognosis of the problem.

Step Five: Decide where effort devoted to a specific intervention will adequately address the need(s) identified in Step One.

Step Six: Develop a strategy for implementing the intervention. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who takes ownership of the intervention?
  • What is my role in this intervention?
  • Who else is involved in this intervention?
  • Who or where do I need to elicit assistance from?
  • What are the potential outcomes (pros/cons) of implementing this intervention?
  • What will I need to do to prepare for the outcome of implementing this intervention?
  • What is the timeline for implementing this strategy?

Step Seven: Evaluate the outcome.

  • Did you achieve what you hoped you would?
  • Talk with your client(s). What is his or her perspective in terms of advocacy and social justice?
  • If you have a formal multicultural counseling assessment or questionnaire, employ that before and after implementation.

Step Eight: Make adjustments where necessary or create a “maintenance plan” for this intervention. Ask the following questions:

  • How will I ensure that this competency remains as is?
  • How often will I go back and evaluate the state of this intervention?

Applying a practical approach to enhance multicultural competence reaps benefits for all counselors, regardless of current expertise in the area. This eight-step approach can be helpful for newer counselors who struggle with identifying first steps. It can also be helpful for seasoned clinicians who have a strong foundational skillset but are not familiar with the particular nuances provided by the MSJCC.

Initially, employing these steps will require caution, intentionality and pragmatism. However, as with learning any new counseling skill, frequent and successful use will shape the counselor’s confidence and ease of application. As use of the steps increase, the need to refer to them will decrease, ability will be attained and multicultural competence will be elevated.

 

 

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Jonnie Seay Lane is a licensed substance abuse counselor and licensed professional counselor. She works as the qualified professional substance abuse liaison to the Wake County Department of Social Services in Raleigh, North Carolina. Currently, she is pursuing her doctoral degree at North Carolina State University, where she is studying multicultural counseling competence in her dissertation research. Contact her at jcseay@ncsu.edu.

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

 

 

Working with Latina/os in counseling

By Jacqueline Michelle Barthelemy June 20, 2017

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of July 1, 2015, Latina/os made up approximately 56.5 million of the total U.S. population, making them the largest ethnic or racial minority in the country. The Latina/o population is projected to grow to 120 million by the year 2060.

The question on many counselors’ minds is, how can we work better with our Latina/o clients? With the growing number of Latina/os in the U.S., it is likely we will work with these clients at some point as counselors, and it is our professional obligation to be prepared.

Working with clients in general can be a new learning experience, especially if their cultural background is different from our own. Many master’s programs require counseling students to take a multicultural course to prepare to work with clients of different backgrounds. But textbooks can provide only so much general knowledge. How are counselors supposed to learn how to work with different cultures if they are reduced to a mere chapter in a textbook for a one-semester course?

As someone whose background is Latina, my upbringing has prepared me to better serve people who share my cultural background. Nevertheless, my experiences have made me aware of further areas of growth in serving my clients (for instance, my lack of Spanish fluency is a hindrance).

In my current position, I work with clients and their families to get them more comfortable with the idea of counseling. It is sometimes difficult when working with Latina/o clients because there are so many challenges that bring them to counseling, or there is the stigma of counseling that turns them off to it altogether. If it is their first time going to counseling, their first impression of you, as the counselor, may color all future experiences with the counselors they may see. It is our duty to make clients feel comfortable and let them know that their concerns and goals are a part of the counseling process. Ultimately, clients set the tone for counseling.

 

Traditional Latina/o upbringings

In the Latina/o culture, family comes first (after God); the first relationship you have is the one with your family. Traditional Latina/o families are brought up being very close to their immediate and even extended family members, where everyone cares about everyone. Elders are highly regarded, and children, regardless of age, respect their parents.

Most families live in multigenerational households that include parents, siblings and grandparents. Sometimes extended family members may also reside in the home at one point or another. So when working with these clients, it is best to remember that family plays a vital role in their everyday lives.

When working with the whole family, it may appear that the family is unresponsive to the counseling process. Counselors should be as patient as possible, however, because family members may be waiting for their head of household (typically the male) to start and lead the conversation. The key is to treat and work with the family as a unit because that is how they might live their life traditionally. Family support is everything to Latina/os.

The Latina/o culture has many rich traditions that are passed down generationally. An example is the Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead, celebrated Nov. 1-2), during which families gather to pay respect for their loved ones. Often they build altars in their homes or at graves, where they place flowers, pan de muerto (bread of the dead, which is sweetened bread eaten the day of or the week leading up to the holiday as a sign of respect to the departed), pictures and the favorite food of their loved ones. Some say small prayers or retell stories of their dearly departed.

Knowing about this while counseling a family can be very beneficial, especially for those who are grieving. Understanding some of their traditions can help to build trust, connect with these clients and strengthen the counseling relationships. If you are counseling a Latina/o family or client who is grieving, talking about or suggesting the altar can help with the process. However, be sure to remember the origins of the family or client you are working with because different cultures in the Latina/o diaspora maintain different traditions.

Most Latina/os’ identities are strongly rooted in being members of specific groups. For example, if the client you are working with is from Guanajuato, Mexico, she or he will most likely take pride in being from that particular state in Mexico. As counselors, we should always ask clients where they are from to get a better understanding of who they are as individuals. Counselors should also be aware that having this sense of pride can cause conflicts in characterization of identity with other members of Latina/o groups.

Faith in one’s religion also plays a very important role in the lives of Latina/o clients. Religion can set the tone for the family as a whole — the tone being that God comes first, the family trusts in Him, they live their lives according to the Scriptures, and they are good and honest people. Many Latina/o clients have makeshift altars with religious artifacts in their homes where they pray the rosary daily (a rosary is a string of beads; some say a prayer per bead as a way to be closer to God or a saint). When counseling these clients, it is best to remember how important their faith is and how much of an impact it has on their lives and the decisions they make daily.

 

Stigmas of counseling in the Latina/o community

I grew up with the best of both worlds — a mixture of traditions blended with new possibilities. Sometimes those ideas conflicted with one another, however.

My grandparents stressed that if I had issues or problems, that I should share them only with my family and no one else. Our reputation and how the world perceived us was important. To share something too personal with strangers or people outside of the family could change people’s views of me, potentially leading to getting overlooked and judged. On the other hand, my mother told me that people would judge me regardless of what I shared, so I might as well be my most authentic self.

I had an amazing support system in my mother and grandparents. They listened to me and allowed me to feel what I felt, regardless of the situation. My family kept me grounded and later led me to my career path as a counselor. I realized that not everyone was as fortunate as I was to have this incredible family support team to believe in them unconditionally.

When I told my mother about my decision to become a counselor, she was supportive and understood what a counselor was. However, my grandparents had a hard time understanding my decision to go back for more schooling. The first thing they asked was, “¿Qué es un consejera?” (What’s a counselor?). I spent an hour trying to explain, but all they understood was that I was going back to school, so I was probably doing something with teaching (because my bachelor’s was in education).

My grandparents believed in getting an education, but they were confused about why I would want to go back to school again. Had I not done enough the first time around? Why was I delaying working full time? My grandparents, like many traditional Latina/os, did not fully understand what counseling was or why someone would utilize the service. They wondered why you would need to tell your problems to someone else when you have family or could pray about your problems.

I knew that as a counselor, I could be a part of a support system for others and help them reach their goals. When working with Latina/o clients, it is helpful to explain that our job as counselors is to be that support system for them, much like their own families. It is best to emphasize that you want to be able to assist them, offer resources and be another source for them to use in achieving their goals.

In the Latina/o culture, counseling is stigmatized. Many families are brought up not to “gossip” or talk about personal or family problems with strangers. Aside from that, most families do not have a clear understanding of what counseling is. Families stress not talking to others about their issues because they know that people can gossip. For some of these families and clients, their reputations are all that they have, and if they are talked about badly, they take it to heart.

It is our job as counselors to educate others about what counseling is and how the counseling process works. It is best to emphasize confidentiality and the rules that are in place to protect clients, as well as the only times when confidentiality needs to be broken. Having Latina/o clients understand the counseling process and what it entails can make all the difference in building good rapport.

The risk is high for any individual who is an undocumented immigrant. The resources available to these individuals are limited, and they have fewer opportunities to vocalize their needs for fear of being reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Clients and potential clients who are Latina/o may be tight-lipped because they do not fully understand where information shared during counseling could end up. Again, I recommend carefully explaining what counseling and confidentiality are.

If the client or family members are working, their work environments may be less than ideal. They may be underpaid or get paid under the table (paid in cash only), and their superiors may subject them to harsh work conditions (for instance, overworking them). Latina/os who are undocumented immigrants live with the uncertainty of not knowing whether today is the day they are going to be deported. Because of this uncertainty, they sometimes do not feel comfortable sharing any personal information with people who are not family. These clients need to know that they can trust the counselor. Counselors need to reassure clients that their offices are safe spaces and what they share will remain confidential.

Some Latina/os choose not to share with family that they are seeking mental health counseling for fear of being judged negatively. When encountering clients who have no family support, it is best to address those concerns and explore other people (both outside and inside the family) they can count on for support.

As a school counselor, I have worked with Latina/o students, and to do so, one of the parents must give consent. The majority of the permission slips come back from the mothers, not the fathers. Typically, it is the mother who is more open to her child receiving counseling services, often on the condition that the father remains in the dark about the services the child receives. One time, I had to stop seeing a student when the father found out the student was receiving counseling services. The father came to the school livid. He gave his verbal and written consent to stop counseling services, and I had to oblige. It was a difficult situation because the student benefited from counseling, and I tried to get the father to see that. Ultimately, however, I had to honor the wishes of the parents and stop counseling services.

Another stigma of counseling with Latina/os is labeling in the educational setting. Many families worry about labels and how they can potentially negatively affect their child. Sometimes these labels can even lead parents to believe something is wrong with the child.

As counselors, it is our job to destigmatize labels and show that labeling is not always negative. When students are struggling academically in school, teachers, school counselors and other staff work together to figure out what is preventing them from succeeding academically. All the necessary avenues are taken (e.g., teacher works on modifying classwork and contacts parents for extra support) before determining a student needs an evaluation to determine if he or she has a learning disability.

When students need Individual Education Programs (IEPs), families are sometimes hesitant to support such plans. They worry what it might potentially mean for their child regarding being labeled. But in these cases, labels can help students receive the necessary services to achieve their academic goals. Remind parents that they are encouraged to be as involved as possible in the IEP process, the process can take a long time to complete (sometimes as long as six months) and that counselors can serve as advocates to assist them with the process.

 

Multigenerational conflicts

Even with what is taught in multicultural classes, not every family adheres to what you assume about Latina/os. As the years progress, younger generational Latina/os are abandoning some traditional norms. They are coming to be their own person and wanting to incorporate new traditions with the ones already established within the family.

An example of this is young Latinas not conforming to the expected gender norms of their culture. Most young Latinas who are raised in traditional families grow up learning that a wife’s place is in the home and taking care of the family, whereas a husband’s role is to provide for that family. Some Latinas are shattering these gender norms and wanting more for their life, such as going to college and putting off marriage and children. This can cause tension within the family unit.

For example, my mother broke barriers in her own family. When she was growing up, it was basically expected that she would be a good person and a future wife. My mother put off marriage and having a child and dedicated her time to figuring out her future. Her parents were not as supportive as she would have liked, and she left home (something that was not expected of young single Latinas).

My mother decided she wanted to go into the medical field, but she did not have her father’s support. Her mother would check on her and take her to night classes without her father knowing. The sneaking around her mother did went on for the duration of the time my mother was in school. It was because of the barriers my mother broke that I have been afforded the life I have now.

As a counselor, you might work with these clients and their families to try to get them to see eye to eye on what traditions they want to continue to uphold. The goals for counseling would be to hopefully reach a healthy and happy balance where everyone in the family is understanding of the others’ opinions.

 

Language barriers

Many Latina/os want and need counseling services, but the language barrier sometimes prevents them from receiving these services. Bilingual counselors are in high demand to reach these families. If counselors can speak Spanish, the family or client may feel more comfortable speaking with them, helping to build good rapport. If you are not fluent in Spanish, there are steps you can take to bridge this language gap, including using digital apps or going to someone who can help you learn the language.

I am not fluent in Spanish, but I have some conversational ability, and this has been a tremendous asset in reaching out and talking with Latina/o clients. If Spanish is your clients’ first language, they may feel more comfortable speaking in their native tongue and may talk more freely about their concerns or what brought them to counseling.

On another note, just because someone speaks a language doesn’t mean they read it well, so be sensitive to literacy levels in a language. Also, just because clients look like they Spanish might be their first language, don’t assume that it is. For example, some Latina/os such as Brazilians speak Portuguese.

 

Breaking down the stigmatization of counseling

How do we get Latina/o clients in our doors if they are hesitant to speak with someone outside of their families? The proactive actions counselors can engage in to break down these barriers include getting familiar with and volunteering in the community. Start small and get acquainted with the community you are targeting. What kind of resources and services does the community offer? Talk and research with other individuals to see how you can have a presence.

While working, see what potential clients are seeking help with (child care, employment, etc.) and figure out where the clients can go to receive those services. Often information is available to help people, but they do not know where to look for it. Knowing where and in what direction to point a client can make all the difference.

Normalize counseling and curtail the stigma; counseling does not equate to being “crazy.” People utilize counseling services for various reasons. Try and provide real-world examples of people taking care of themselves. For instance, you might say, “If you go to see a doctor for a checkup, why wouldn’t you see a counselor for a mental health checkup?” Let potential clients know it is normal to feel overwhelmed. After all, they are only human.

Educate potential clients about the counseling profession. Tell them that your job is not to judge but to listen and work with them to alleviate their stress. Explain that you are there to help them; they decide the counseling process and the direction of counseling. Self-disclose (within reason) about some of your own related experiences with the Latina/o client. Let them know they are not alone in their struggle. Inform them that it is normal to feel stressed and that talking about those stressors can be therapeutic.

Seek others in the community who are working with the Latina/o population, such as doctors, priests and schools. Explain who you are and what you are trying to achieve. Contact local public and private schools to ask about volunteering and working with the school’s counselors to help develop a counseling curriculum. Again, after being seen, you will become a trusted face in the eyes of potential clients. Underfunded schools in particular may not even have a school counselor on staff and would likely welcome the extra support for their students.

Finally, when trying to reach potential clients, think about the community you are working in. Is it in a low socioeconomic area? Is there an issue with trying to afford mental health services? Lack of financial income and insurance are among the reasons that some Latina/os do not seek mental health services. Think about offering pro bono counseling to make quality counseling available to all, regardless of insurance or income.

These clients may be working multiple jobs and face time constraints with raising a family. If they are without a vehicle, transportation to see a counselor may pose an obstacle as well. Counselors might think about being able to point these clients toward quality child care or offering bus passes to help with transportation to and from sessions.

 

Conclusion

Whatever brings Latina/os to counseling, it is important that we do our best to help in whatever way we can. Their first interaction with a counselor may lead them to form an assumption about all counselors moving forward. With the increase in population of Latina/os in the U.S., counselors have to be prepared to better serve these clients and break the stigma of counseling. Counselors must remember to be nonjudgmental and take an active interest in what their clients tell them about their backgrounds. Figure out how to work with others, and see how you can be a positive force in the community you are servicing.

Doing research about the client’s background can help strengthen the rapport between you and show the client that you are taking an interest in what she or he tells you. To work with this community, it would be best to take Spanish-language classes and read as much as you can about the Latina/o culture. Books and classes can certainly help, but the best way to truly serve these families and clients is through community engagement and becoming familiar with their cultural practices.

 

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Jacqueline Michelle Barthelemy is a fourth-year school counselor. She received her master’s in counseling from Saint Xavier University and is currently a doctoral student in the counselor education and supervision program at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Contact her at jacqueline.m.barthelemy@gmail.com.

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

Planting seeds in Somalia

By Bethany Bray May 1, 2017

A recent mental health conference in Mogadishu broke new ground in many ways. Not only did it draw attention to mental health, a little-discussed or addressed topic in war-torn Somalia, but it is believed to be the first time the American Counseling Association has been represented in Mogadishu.

Yegan Pillay, an ACA member and associate professor in the Department of Counseling and Higher Education at Ohio University, was the keynote speaker for the World Mental Health Day Conference in Mogadishu on Oct. 10.

Pillay, a licensed professional clinical counselor and past chair of ACA’s Human Rights Committee, says the event was a “good starting point.” The one-day event planted seeds to begin addressing mental health issues in a country where many people are “walking wounded” by the trauma of decades of civil war, Pillay says.

The World Mental Health Day Conference was organized by Rowda Olad, a former student of Pillay’s at Ohio University. A Somalian refugee, Olad recently completed a master’s degree in counseling. Pillay said he advised her, upon graduating, to try and influence change – whether at the micro or macro level – in her home country.

“Rowda took the bold step of putting together this conference and inviting stakeholders that make decisions in government,” Pillay says. “It was really groundbreaking.”

Mental health and counseling are “not really on the front burner” in the majority-Muslim country, Pillay says, where the culture also often stigmatizes Western-based interventions.

“I’m not sure where all of this will go, but every journey starts with a single step, as they say. I think it’s movement in the right direction, and I’m optimistic that it will at least raise awareness,” Pillay says. “It’s a tangible concrete step in putting mental health on the agenda in Somalia.”

The conference was co-sponsored by the Somali Ministry of Health and Human Services. Pillay says many of the attendees were government officials, and he tailored his keynote to address the drain that untreated mental illness can cause on an economy, government resources and society.

“I think they will go back to their respective constituents within the ministry and government and — most likely and I hope so — advocate for putting resources into mental health,” he says.

In addition to Pillay, Cherie Bridges Patrick, a licensed independent social worker and clinical supervisor at the Buckeye Ranch, a mental health and social services nonprofit in Ohio, spoke at the Oct. 10 conference.

While in Somalia, Pillay also visited the campus of Benadir University in Mogadishu and met with the school’s dean. “Mental health, counseling and even psychology [are] not well-established or studied in universities [in Somalia],” explains Pillay, who is a native of South Africa.

He hopes that events such as October’s mental health conference will spur Somali students to travel to the U.S. or Europe to be trained in the mental health professions so they can return to Somalia and help those in need.

“Who better to serve the Somali people than Somalis themselves?” he says.

Ohio University is not far from Columbus, Ohio, which is home to one of the largest concentration of Somalian refugees in the U.S. Pillay and his students often work in the Somali community. Pillay is currently working on a translation project for materials about posttraumatic stress disorder that could be distributed in the community.

Pillay says he sees a huge amount of potential for American counselors to train other counselors and advocate for the profession — and mental health in general — internationally, particularly in Africa and other non-Western cultures.

“In many parts of the world, counseling doesn’t exist on its own [as a profession]. ACA is at the forefront of counseling worldwide,” he says.

“We need to really push the boundaries of propagating the benefit of mental health. From a global perspective, there is a great opportunity in the United States because of the number of students who are international” and come to America to study, he says. “There has to be a global focus. Even now, more so, with what’s going on politically. My message would be that we [counselors] transcend the geographical boundaries of the United States and see how we can make a difference for people … regardless of where they’re from. We can certainly lend a hand in terms of human resources [to help] other societies find ways to improve mental health.”

 

Yegan Pillay, an ACA member and associate professor at Ohio University, was the keynote speaker for the World Mental Health Day Conference in Mogadishu, Somalia, on Oct. 10. (Courtesy photo)

 

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Personal safety and international work

While in Mogadishu, Pillay always traveled in an armored vehicle and stayed in the “green zone,” a designated safe area of the war-torn city.

Counselors shouldn’t be discouraged from working in risky areas – either at home or abroad, Pillay says, adding that they should simply be smart and do some research before they go.

“Do your homework and talk to individuals on the ground in the area to give you an accurate sense of what’s happening,” he says. “Be cautious not to put yourself at undue risk, either at home or abroad. Make sure you have somebody [in the area] that can really articulate how safe you’ll be.”

“There’s no guarantee [of safety,] but you can minimize risks,” he says. “I think one has to keep your wits about you and do background checks. Would I advise individuals to go to Somalia to do [counseling] work? I would be hesitant. But short-term work? Yes. I have no second thoughts about having done what I’ve done.

“But if I go back, I would really want to do as much homework as possible to see if things have changed on the ground or not. It’s an individual decision. I’m a person of color and tend to blend into the communities there. I would not necessarily stand out, but if you’re a white female, you would certainly draw attention to yourself. One has to be very cautious.”

 

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ACA members: Interested in getting involved in international counseling work? Consider joining ACA’s International Counseling Interest Network: bit.ly/2o7pWgF

 

Related reading:

Is international certification right for you? Tips on getting a counseling certification outside of the U.S. from Counseling Today columnist Doc Warren Corson: wp.me/p2BxKN-4GF

 

 

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Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at bbray@counseling.org

 

Follow Counseling Today on Twitter @ACA_CTonline and on Facebook at facebook.com/CounselingToday.

 

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.