After earning your degree in counseling and landing a gig with a social service agency or even after starting your own practice, chances are you’re going to run into clients and their family members that hail from different cultures than you’re accustomed to treating. Sure, many of your skills are going to be transferable to all human beings, but it helps to keep pace with the current politically correct jargon and to take time to actually learn about the subtleties that make people different.
Understand your own strengths and weaknesses first. For example, if you’ve never had a client from the Middle East and know very little about the customs, etiquette and culture of Middle Eastern countries, then you know you have some homework to do when your first Iranian client appears.
Talk to your clients about your inexperience and ask for some feedback and collaboration to prepare you for the counseling sessions ahead. Ask to be educated about the culture of your clients and remain open to learning and adapting to their requests when they’re reasonable and sound.
Respect the beliefs of your clients and offer to consult with other helping professionals that might be working with your client. For example, if your Middle Eastern client pays close attention to the guidance of an imam, or spiritual leader, you may develop a deeper understanding of your client’s concerns and issues by consulting or talking with the spiritual guide.
Interact with various cultures by volunteering in your community, learning a second language or visiting various churches and places of worship. Take every opportunity to interact with friends and associates from backgrounds that differ from yours.
Attend classes, workshops and conferences that focus on cultural diversity, especially those geared toward you and your profession. You can talk more openly with your peers when you’re all trying to get to the same place in your ongoing development as a culturally competent counselor.
- Your continuing training and investigation of cultural differences should include more than just different ethnicities. Consider age, sexual orientation, disabilities, demographics and gender when expanding your horizons.
- The typical level of counselor education in the United States assumes that all human feelings and states of emotional growth are universal, according to the Journal for Social Action in Counseling and Psychology. In fact, people from other cultures often have very different emotional growth markers and ways of viewing their own and their family relationships. To believe that familial relationships are basically all the same, for example, just puts everyone in a stereotype that can really hamper your ability to help someone with a different cultural upbringing.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."