How to recognize the individuality of a
client while simultaneously acknowledging and honoring the deep cultural values
held by the client?
My contention, and the one espoused by Sue and
Sue (1990), is that the counselor or therapist must be extremely sensitive to
cross-cultural issues: to the individual, to the culture of the client, and to
his or her own prejudices and racism. Belief and attitude, they contend,
might rank as high on the building-trust scale as cultural awareness, which
would augur against my being right because I’m Gay; and so I backed off.
But not without reservations about the groups’ understanding of cultural
differences (including the Gay man and the Lesbian!)
In this Paper I will explore those
issues--and discuss counseling considerations from a cultural standpoint--and
look at 4 distinct cultural groups: African Americans, Hispanic Americans,
Asian Americans, and American Indians.
the politics and pitfalls of multicultural counseling
First, racism is a basic and integral part of
U.S. life and permeates all aspects of our culture and
institutions. Second, Whites are socialized into U.S. society and, therefore, inherit the biases,
stereotypes, and racist attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of the society. In
other words, all Whites are racist whether knowingly or unknowingly. Third, how
Whites perceive themselves as racial beings seems to follow an identifiable
sequence that can be called stages. Fourth, the stage of White racial identity
development in a cross-cultural encounter (counseling minorities, counselor
training, etc.) affects the process and outcome of an interracial relationship.
Last, the most desirable stage is the one where the White person not only
accepts his/her Whiteness, but defines it in a nondefensive and nonracist
manner (Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 113).
Perhaps the most difficult admission I had to
make reading Sue and Sue’s (1990) book was the fact of my own racism
(which was also discussed in a workshop at the May, 1997 Prescott College colloquium). I was raised in a predominantly White
middle-class Jewish home, and went to a school that reflected that upbringing
(except that there weren’t too many other Jews, either, of whom I was
aware). I don’t think I encountered an African American face-to-face
until junior high school, and then didn’t know what to do or say. In
college I briefly dated an African American woman, a Jewish woman from South America, and a White woman from Kansas. In Alaska I was briefly lovers with an African American man and
then with an Inupiaq man (Alaska Native). In nearly all instances I was out of
my element. I was dealing with cultural values I knew nothing about, and
wasn’t conscious enough to know that I had homework to do. In the last
relationship, I took my first awkward steps into multicultural awareness, an
awareness that there was more to a cross-cultural relationship than going to
the museum to see how "they" used to live. I am not free of my
racism; but I am "awake."
Sue and Sue (1990) believe that
[a]s mental health professionals, we have a
personal and professional responsibility to (a) confront, become aware of, and
take actions in dealing with our biases, stereotypes, values, and assumptions
about human behavior, (b) become aware of the culturally different
client’s world view, values, biases, and assumptions about human
behavior, and (c) develop appropriate help-giving practices, intervention
strategies, and structures that take into account the historical, cultural, and
environmental experiences/influences of the culturally different client (Sue
and Sue, 1990, p. 6).
Aside from the obvious implications of such a
statement, I think it’s important to look also at our sometimes
unconscious attachment to the idea that our world view (as individuals) is
better than anyone else’s, regardless of race. It is far too easy to
assume that a client will "get better" after seeing the world though
"my" ideological eyes. The hard part is to work with a client,
helping him or her find his or her own best way (within the laws of the
country). Moral values are much harder to assess in a multicultural
environment, since there are so many different ones. The work a therapist must
do (for him- or herself), I believe, is around feeling threatened by the
client’s values or, worse yet, ignorant of what exactly a client is
expressing by espousing certain values. An example of this is my own belief
about monogamy. I prefer it and feel it’s a better way to conduct a
relationship. In Gay culture, however, and to a similar but lesser degree in
Lesbian culture, open relationships are considered acceptable. When a Gay man
or Lesbian comes to me with personal problems and mentions the fact that they
are in an open relationship, I have to take a step back and wonder if this is
really a part of the problem, and further, if my values around monogamy are
going to interfere with my treatment planning.
Sue and Sue (1990) state that much of the
reason minority populations generally tend to avoid counseling is the
counselor’s (general) lack of cultural sensitivity and mistrust of a
practice that essentially is geared toward White middle-class America. Their contention is that
we need to expand our perception of what
constitutes mental health practices. Equally legitimate methods of treatment
are nonformal or natural support systems (Brammer, 1995; J. C. Pearson, 1985)
so powerful in many minority groups (family, friends, community self-help
programs, and occupational networks), folk-healing methods (Padilla and
DeSnyder, 1985), and indigenous formal systems of therapy (Draguns, 1981).
Instead of attempting to destroy them, we should be actively trying to find out
why they may work better than Western forms of counseling and therapy (Sue and
Sue, 1990, p. 8).
One of the concepts that has fascinated me
ever since I became involved in the counseling process is the idea that not all
therapy works. Not that it has to. I refer to the idea that some clients can
stay in therapy for years and may still not come out of the process with a
relatively satisfying life. I have wondered (in addition to the possibility
that some pathologies are, indeed, incurable) if there isn’t a direct
relationship between the client’s perception of the counselor, the counselor’s
perception of him- or herself, and the counselor’s intention
regarding the client. Could it be that an unconditional and nonjudgmental
acceptance of the client where he or she is in a given psychological moment,
and the counselor’s detachment from the outcome of the session (and,
indeed, his or her own concepts of healing), would go a long way toward the
client’s having his or her own internal permission (under the
counselor’s ægis) to touch and respond to their own healing process? It
seems that the indigenous and Eastern "psychologies" are based on
this assumption, one which many Western counselors and therapists want to
study. (I realize there is a Pollyanna attitude here, but somehow can’t
yet shake the feeling that unconditional love coupled with a strong belief in
the healing abilities of the client and his or her fundamental wholeness and
goodness could go a lot farther in helping a client heal than mere uninvolved
and unattached application of technique. (This sounds naive as I re-read it--I
wonder if I’m completely off track with this idea of "intent.")
There is no question that cross-cultural
counseling needs to be taught to would-be counselors.
The curriculum must also be designed to
stimulate this awareness not solely at a cognitive level. It must enable students
to understand feelings of helplessness and powerlessness, low self-esteem, poor
self-concept, and how they contribute to low motivation, frustration, hate,
ambivalence, and apathy. Each course should contain (a) a consciousness-raising
component, (b) and affective component, (c) a knowledge
component, and (d) a skills component (Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 16).
Would that it could be a part of our national
consciousness! If our desire to explore diverse nations and cultures were as
powerful as our so-called sex-drive (and the myriad gyrations we’ll put
ourselves through to get it), the need for cross-cultural counseling might
lessen significantly. I believe cross-cultural counseling is more than a
subject to be taught in school--it is a way of life; the effective person,
much less counselor or therapist must have a wide-world view to be effective,
in my opinion, even if his or her friends or clients are exclusively
from one culture only!
Sue and Sue (1990) talk about the politics of
counseling, and in that regard call to the profession to
demonstrate, in no uncertain terms, its good
faith and ability to contribute to the betterment of a group’s quality of
life. This demonstration can take several directions.
First, the counseling profession must take
initiative in confronting the potential political nature of counseling (Katz,
Second, the counseling profession must move
quickly to challenge certain assumptions that permeate our training
Third, research can be a powerful means of
combating stereotypes and of correcting biased studies....
Fourth, there is a strong need for counseling
to attract more ethnic minorities to the profession, complex as this issue
Fifth, counselors must realize that many
so-called pathological socio-emotional characteristics of ethnic minorities can
be directly attributed to unfair practices in society....
Last, making research with minorities a
community endeavor can do much to lower hostility and develop trust between
researcher and subject (pp. 24-26).
In working at Southcentral Foundation as part
of my Practicum, I have discovered that some clients enjoy the one-on-one
office atmosphere, and talking about their problems. Some, however,
particularly enjoy being out of the office, walking and talking, having a soda
and talking, or sitting in the park and talking. With one Aleut youngster (in
addition to the age factor) being indirect has been more of a conversation
starter than being direct. (This is part of the culture but may also be related
to the age difference.) Once he discovered that I had family, however, and
after he got to talking about my earrings (and how he wanted some, too), and
after we went to get a soda together, his attitude changed. Some of this is
cultural and some relational, but his cultural and spiritual upbringing is a
major consideration for me in the counseling process. I agree with Sue and Sue
(1990) that there need to be different approaches based on cultural needs, yet
I have found mostly resistance to this idea (except at Southcentral Foundation
where alternative therapies are actively used) when I raise the subject of
alternative counseling practices, regardless of cultural considerations.
Rather than demanding that the client adapt
to the counselor’s culture, it may be better for the counselor to adjust
to and work within the client’s culture. In other words, alternative
roles involve the counselor more actively in the client’s life
experiences than what we have traditionally been trained to do. Outreach roles,
consultant roles, change-agent roles, or the use of the client’s
indigenous support systems may be more appropriate., Many minority group
individuals find the one-to-one/in-office type of counseling very formal,
removed, and alien. When counselors move out of their offices into the
environments of their clients, it again indicates commitment and interest in
the individual (p. 28).
While I have not yet made any particular
commitments to any methodology, I do tend toward Rogers’ thinking--though I differ in that I
don’t generally remain in the non-directive arena: I will push, cajole,
coax, coach, teach, laugh with, provoke, and show my caring for a client, just
as might happen in real life. My philosophy is that we must be able to
accomplish comfortably in the office what they client expects to do in the real
world. Introspection is a part of that--including how to be quiet and sad and
reflective and alone and even to find the solace there (and not panic), as much
as finding the humor and intimacy and assertiveness. I will do anything that
works to jog the client out of whatever space they’re in, even if for a
few moments, so they can see even just one more option than they’d seen
before; felt even just one feeling they hadn’t been aware of before; move
even just one step closer to the person they feel inside they can be.
In a cross-cultural situation, techniques
have to be carefully tailored. Some two-culture clients are marginalized and
that is a whole area of consideration in itself. In many of my previous papers
(Freedman, 1996, 1997a, 1997b, 1997c, 1997d) I have discussed stages of
identity and development that many Gay men and Lesbians process through before
reaching a positive sense of self living in two distinct but intertwined
worlds. The racial acculturation process is similar, so much so, that when I
gave a speech recently referring to this issue, people asked me afterwards
where I dreamed up this marvelous theory: apparently they hadn’t seen Gay
and Lesbian development as clearly as when they understood that it is
tantamount to growing up in a foreign culture and having to learn two
languages, new social customs, mores, values, and habits.
not all cultures view individualism as a
positive orientation; rather, it may be perceived in some cultures as a
handicap to attaining enlightenment, one that may divert us from important
spiritual goals. In many non-Western cultures, identity is not seen apart form
the group orientation. The personal pronoun I in the Japanese language
does not seem to exist. The notion of atman in India defines itself as participating in unity with all
things and not limited by the temporal world.
Many societies do not define the psychosocial
unit of operation as the individual. In many cultures and subgroups, the
psychosocial unit of operation tends to be the family, group, or collective
society (Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 35).
Sue and Sue (1990) also point out that many
cultures don’t value verbalizations the same way U. S. Americans do. In fact many Japanese clients respond
with silence to a counselor who is older, "wiser," and who occupies a
position of higher status (p. 37). At issue is how to work with clients from
different cultural backgrounds, respect their customs and culture, not allow
racism and judgments to color the sessions, and still be of help.
Too, insight isn’t necessarily prized
for many clients from different cultures:
After all, insight assumes that one has time
to sit back, to reflect and to contemplate about motivations and behavior. For
the individual who is concerned about making it through each day, this
orientation proves counterproductive.
Likewise, many cultural groups do not value
insight. In traditional Chinese society, psychology is not well understood. It
must be noted, however, that a client who does not seem to work well in an
insight approach may not be lacking in insight or lacking in
psychological-mindedness. A person who does not value insight is not
necessarily one who is incapable of insight (Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 38).
This is my Achilles’ heel. I have
"processed" so much over the past 7 years, and psychologically gone
through so much in the years before that, that insight is where I naturally
tend. Even to the extent of somewhat pooh-poohing behavioral methodologies.
This is not good. What I need, and what a good counselor needs, in my opinion,
is to develop an intake procedure that helps determine what the client wants
and what the counselor can offer. I realize I can’t be effective for all
clients, and referrals may be in order if I’m being called on to offer,
for example, and existentialist approach, or even a formal behavioral approach.
I can use those techniques, if I study up, but they are not my forte, as of
yet. It seems that there’s a need for counselors to understand their
strong and weak spots so as to be better able to serve his or her clients.
A very interesting footnote to the Western
value of insight is the belief in some cultures that symbolic logic is very
much not the way to healing:
For example, American-Indian world views
emphasize the harmonious aspects of the world, intuitive functioning, and a
holistic approach--a world view characterized by right-brain activities
(Ornstein, 1972), minimizing analytical, reductionistic inquiries. Thus, when
American Indians undergo counseling, the analytic approach may violate their
basic philosophy of life (Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 41).
How, then, does a counselor work in right
brain therapy? The answer to that question is probably the subject of several
books and dissertations; however, my momentary answer, is to work in right
brain activities and not much analysis; to work in stories, music,
drawing, and so forth, activities that can call the body, mind, spirit, and
feelings into the process without necessarily sitting in a chair pointing
specifically, but abstractly to matters pertaining to those areas.
Another important cultural distinction is
what is expected from a counselor by a culturally different client. For many Third World clients, anything not physical is taken to the priest, minister, or
physician (Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 41). Many times, a culturally different client
will expect a counselor to effect change just as a physician might, and at the
least, give directions that will help cure the problem. Disclosure in
counseling might bring shame on the family, and the counselor is not seen as
someone in whom to confide, but rather as someone to mend the hurt. It is
significant to note that for some people, "avoidance of morbid thoughts is
the way to deal with psychological problems, not sitting down and talking about
them" (Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 42).
Another area to be aware of is class
distinctions. Psychotherapy has tended to be a middle-class phenomenon, and
counselors can easily fail to recognize "attitudes that result from
physical and environmental adversity" (Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 43). The
irony is that counselors historically attribute mental conditions to lower
class clients. In one sad incident, counselors, when given a lower-class
boy’s chart disguised as an upper-class boy, "expressed a
willingness to become ego-involved with the student," yet unwilling
when they were told the boy was lower-class (Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 44). What is
apparent, and important, is the counselors’ values and judgments. While
clients may come with preconceived notions of what is to happen in therapy
(which may or may not serve them effectively), it is equally necessary for
therapists to not enter into a therapeutic relationship with preconceived notions
of what they are "going to do" with the client. The very process of
negotiation around what might work and what might not is a valuable part of the
mutual adaptation process. It is, to me, a travesty for a counselor to treat a
client from a different class, culture, sexual orientation, race, creed, or sex
with anything but the utmost respect and caring. After all, this hour is an
intimate sharing of souls, regardless of what is spoken or left unsaid: two
people sitting in a room, knowing there are issues, knowing that one needs to
unburden in some manner or another, wanting the solace that counseling
supposedly offers--how else can one come to be an agent of change without
honoring the fundamental goodness, integrity, and health of the client?
regardless of presenting problems, affect, behavior, feelings, class, or
The caution, always, is that people are
unique. Stereotypes are not acceptable, and counseling must not be based on
Individuals within a group, however, also
differ. The background offers a contrast for us to see individual differences
more clearly. It should not submerge but rather increase the visibility of the
figure. This is the figure-ground relationship that should aid us in
recognizing the uniqueness of people more readily (Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 48).
For the greater part of the (straight) White,
male dominated U. S., communication styles tend toward a "low-keyed,
dispassionate, impersonal, and issue-oriented approach" (Sue and Sue,
1990, p. 50). And yet, many communication styles exist, and many, if not most,
of them contain great power in their ability to convey a message. Nor is it
true that the "low-keyed, dispassionate, impersonal, and issue oriented
approach" is the best way to get an idea or feeling across.
For effective counseling to occur, both the
counselor and client must be able to send and receive both verbal
and nonverbal messages accurately and appropriately. In
other words, counseling is a form of communication. It requires that the
counselor not only send messages (make himself or herself understood),
but also receive messages (attend to what is going on with the client).
The definition for effective counseling also includes verbal (content of
what is said) and nonverbal (how something is said) elements.
Furthermore, most counselors seem more concerned with the accuracy of
communications (let’s get to the heart of the matter) rather than with
whether the communication is appropriate. In traditional Asian culture,
for example, subtlety is a highly prized art. The direct and confrontive
techniques in counseling may be perceived by traditional Asian clients as
"lacking in respect for the client," a "crude and rude form of
communication," and a "reflection of insensitivity." In most
cases, counselors have been trained to tune in to the content of what is said,
rather than how something is said (Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 51).
In later sections of this Paper, I’ll
address counseling considerations for a number of distinct cultural groups, but
I wanted to introduce here the idea that corroborates the prior material, which
is that understanding a client’s communication method is crucial to the
counseling process. Not only understanding it, but being able to converse in
it, at the very least, to let the client know you’re tuned in in some
way. How can a client be comfortable in an already uncomfortable situation (two
cultures) if the counselor gives little or no acknowledgment of the differences
in communication methods? For example, "[s]ome Eskimos may actually prefer
to sit side by side rather than across from one another when talking about
intimate aspects of their lives" (Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 54). When some
Japanese "smile and laugh, it does not necessarily mean happiness but may
convey other meanings (embarrassment, discomfort, shyness, etc.). Many Asians
believe that smiling may suggest weakness" (Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 54).
"An educated Englishman may consider the lifting of the chin when
conversing as a poised and polite gesture, but to U. S. Americans it may connote
snobbery and arrogance (‘turning up his nose’)" (Sue and Sue,
1990, p. 54). "In many cases, it is not necessary for Blacks to look at
one another in the eye at all times to communicate (Smith, 1981). A Black
individual may be actively involved in doing other things when engaged in a
conversation" (Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 55). A personal note: at lunch some
time ago with an ex-lover and his sister (Inupiaq Eskimo) I was much more
silent and nonverbally attentive than I usually am (talkative and actively
engaged). Later, I was told I showed respect for their communication style and
custom. Upon reflection, I realized I was tuning into their way of dealing with
each other’s energy and blending my own ways with theirs--though I
couldn’t have said, at lunch, that I was conscious of the choice.
A very interesting concept is what’s
called high-context and low-context communication. In the former the message is
anchored in the physical context, or internalized in the person, and there is
less reliance on the explicit message. This form of communication relies
heavily on "nonverbals and the group identification/understanding shared
by those communicating. For example, a normal-stressed ‘no’ by a U.
S. American may be interpreted by an Arab as a ‘yes’" (Sue and
Sue, 1990, p. 58). The latter (low-context) places greater reliance on the
It appears that the United States is a LC culture (although it is still higher than the
Swiss, Germans, and Scandinavians in the amount of contexting required), China, perhaps, represents the other end of the continuum
where its complex culture relies heavily on context. Asian Americans, Blacks,
Hispanics, American Indians, and other minority groups in the United States also emphasize HC cues (Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 58).
This is a very important point for counselors
to get. Even regardless of culture, how does the client communicate? And if the
client is from a different cultural background, this knowledge is key to the
success or failure of therapy. Black culture has been characterized as
"nonverbal, inarticulate, unintelligent, and so forth" (Sue and Sue,
1990, p. 59), and well-founded charges of racism and paternalism aside for the
moment (leading to reticence to disclose in therapy), Blacks tend to be a high-context
culture and therefore needing fewer words than their White counterparts to get
an idea across. A counselor could make a crucial mistake and remain ignorant of
the high-context meanings if he or she believed that the Black client was
resisting because he or she was using "shorthand" to describe a
situation or feeling.
The flip side of the coin is the
"color-blind" approach to race relations. For counseling it could
spell disaster. Sue and Sue (1990) see race as an integral part of one’s
identity, and that "those who advocate a ‘color-blind’
approach seem to operate under the assumption that ‘Black is bad’
and that to be different is to be deviant" (p. 77). My Inupiaq friend is
very attuned to the racist overtones in a conversation, and when he raises the
issue he is generally met with hostility. I suppose one reason for this might
be his presentation. He is generally gentle but can be abrasive. On the other
hand, the strength of people’s reaction seems to overshoot the intent of
the confrontation. My opinion is that the people he confronts generally
don’t like looking in a mirror and seeing racism. Ironically, they try to
be "color-blind" missing all the while the beauty of being able to
see and appreciate human colors--meaning diversity. A person may or may not identify
with their racial heritage, but to deny that it exists (for a person who is
culturally different or for a counselor) is burying one’s head in
The effects of racism can be handed down from
generation to generation in the form of stories, behaviors, and feelings. It
cuts both ways--from the person who is culturally different to the person in
the dominant culture:
During slavery, in order to rear children who
would fit into a segregated system and who could physically survive, Black
mothers were forced to teach them (a) to express aggression indirectly, (b) to
read the thoughts of others while hiding their own, and (c) to engage in
ritualized accommodating-subordinating behaviors designed to create as few
waves as possible (Willie, et. al, 1973, in Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 78).
Strange as it may sound, this phenomenon is
similar in Gay and Lesbian culture. American Sign Language (ASL) has a
communication technique called code-switching (where the signer
"switches" from "real" ASL (used among the profoundly deaf)
to the sort of sign that a hearing person can read when involved in the
conversation). Gays and Lesbians, too, have a sort of shorthand and
"code" they use when together, but "switch" when non-Gays
are around. It is subtle, to be sure, but there nonetheless. It is the
difference between high-context and low-context communication (which also
speaks to my position mentioned in the introduction of this Paper.
The mandate, then, is for minorities to
monitor their behavior carefully and not expose themselves to the point that
their survival or psychological well-being might be threatened (Sue and Sue,
1990, p. 79). And so, for a counselor, the trust and rapport must be built
carefully and on a foundation that, often, is laid stone by painful stone. For
a minority culture member to open up completely, as is necessary for most
Western therapies to succeed, would represent tremendous risk, both personally
and in the context of a race consciousness. Open acknowledgment of racism and
prejudice is a good place to start.
For myself, I find that as a counselor who is
Gay and very out, building rapport is very much a two-way street. So far, I
have not had to deal with homophobic or even homo-ignorant clients; but I will.
And that process will be as important as it is for a culturally different
client to deal with me in my racism and ignorance of their culture. We will
have to establish ground rules, work through our mutual feelings of wariness
and protection, build a history and way of communicating, be alert to our
cultural differences in communication style and need, and slowly ease into a
therapeutic relationship. This very process is a tremendously fertile ground
for therapy in itself, and the astute and open counselor (and the willing
client) will grow immeasurably as a result.
Another consideration (discussed in previous
papers: Freedman, 1996, 1997a, 1997b, 1997c, 1997d) is that of racial
similarity. Studies have frequently shown that when the counselor and client
share cultural identity, there is better rapport. However,
[t]he studies on this are quite mixed as
there is considerable evidence that membership group similarity may not be as
effective as belief or attitude similarity. Furthermore, a number of studies
(Parham, 1989; Parham and Helms, 1981; 1985) suggest that the stage of cultural
or racial identity affects which dimensions of similarities will be preferred
by the minority client (Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 85).
Sue and Sue (1990) devote a chapter to racial
identity development. I wish to discuss it briefly but acknowledge that I
cannot do justice to the model or psychology of it in this short Paper. I do
wish to state, however, that a serious cross-cultural counselor will peruse the
literature and immerse him- or herself in the culture or cultures.
Incidentally, this model is very similar to Gay and Lesbian identity and
development, which have also been discussed in my previous papers (see previous
The Cross model (1971; Hall, et. al., 1972)
delineates a four-stage process (originally five) in which Blacks in the United
States move from a White frame of reference to a positive Black frame of
reference: preencounter, encounter, immersion-emersion, and internalization.
The preencounter stage is characterized by individuals (Blacks) who
consciously or unconsciously devalue their own Blackness and concurrently value
White values and ways. There is a strong desire to assimilate and acculturate
into White society. In the encounter stage, a two-step process begins to
occur. First, the individual encounters a profound crisis or event that
challenges his/her previous mode of thinking and behaving; second, the Black
person begins to reinterpret the world and a shift in world views results.
Cross points out how the slaying of Martin Luther King was such a significant
experience for many Blacks. The person experiences both guilt and anger over being
"brainwashed" by White society. In the third stage, immersion-emersion,
the person withdraws for the dominant culture and immerses himself or herself
in Black culture. Black pride begins to develop, but internalization of
positive attitudes toward one’s own blackness is minimal. In the emersion
phase, feelings of guilt and anger begin to dissipate with an increasing sense
of pride. The final stage, internalization, is characterized by inner
security as conflicts between the old and new identities are resolved. Global
antiwhite feelings subside as the person becomes more flexible, more tolerant,
and more bicultural/multicultural....
Although [this] identity development [model]
pertain[s] specifically to the Black experience, we have already pointed out
how various other groups have proposed similar processes (Sue and Sue, 1990,
The note for the counselor is to be aware of
the stage the culturally different client may be processing, if at all. It is
important to know, for example, if a client comes in disparaging his or her
culture, he or she might be in stage 1 development and not merely a rebellion
stage or even, perhaps, narcissistic wounding. The point is that it takes
tremendous energy to hate oneself and put down the dominant culture; and the
real focus--who a person really is and what to they want to do with their
lives--is lost. Without some insight into one’s own racism (assuming the
counselor is of the dominant culture), it would be easy to misread the
presenting problem and the deeper hereditary legacy, and completely bungle a
Sue and Sue (1990) proselytize for a broader
role for the counselor when dealing with culturally different clients, to the
point of advocacy and community involvement. While I know there is some worry
about dual relationships, I, personally, find myself moving away from the
strict admonition that the client and the counselor can’t be involved in
any relationship except for the one hour once a week and only in the office. I
do not espouse a socially intimate relationship, but rather one in which the
counselor can play several roles on behalf of the client (assuming there has
been discussion and agreement well in advance of such interaction).
Sue and Sue (1990) also go into some detail
on the subject of White identity development. Strange as it may sound, there
are models for this process as there are for minorities (picture a White child
growing up in Hong Kong, or in Egypt--even in the U. S.). For White counselors,
however, and to be successful cross-cultural helpers, honesty about cultural
differences becomes vital. "White people do benefit from the
dominant-subordinate relationship evident in our society. It is this factor
that Whites need to confront in an open and honest manner" (p. 114).
Sue and Sue (1990) wonder about social
movements vis á vis identity development:
...identity transformations are seen as being
triggered by social movements that have powerful effects on the culturally
different individual’s identity. Does this mean that if social situations
change, many of the cultural identity development models would also change? (P.
My view of this is that were everyone in the
world, for example, to suddenly discover that cultural differences (or even
sexual orientation) wasn’t an issue any longer, there would indeed be a
cessation of the Civil Rights movement. No one would need to advocate for their
cultural group because a dominant culture was oppressing them. Cultural
identity models would change radically, where there could be open celebration
of different cultures, their values, their customs, their beliefs. There might
be much more cross-breeding, perhaps even a greater dilution of some racial
purity, if such a thing exists. What is important, I believe (and there
isn’t enough space to discuss this subject even if it were the topic of a
lengthy dissertation), is that the trauma around identity development would
disappear and the celebration of life would take on a whole new meaning.
Certainly other psychological problems would still exist and want healing; but
the self-esteem issues around being culturally different would be eliminated,
thus sweeping away the "damaged goods" feeling that so many
culturally different people live with 24/7.
How do you see the world? How do you think
about it? In terms of time? Space? Now? The future? The past? Who is
responsible for you? God? Yourself? Buddha? Mother Earth? A person’s
world view is important insofar as it contrasts with the counselor’s.
Many minority cultures live in present time where Whites tend toward a future
orientation. Other cultures see being as more important than doing
(another predominantly White orientation). Then there is the concept of
relationships. Some minorities see relationships as lineal, authoritarian, and
hierarchical (traditional Asian), where American relationships tend to be more
individual, and yet others are more collateral and horizontal (Sue and Sue,
1990, pp. 138-139).
To be aware of these orientations aids
greatly in therapy. Without a conscious awareness, the counselor’s values
may be imposed on the client, which leads to a client believing that their
world orientation isn’t good enough, which is a mistake. To proceed with
therapy on that basis can lead to harm being done to the client and the
counselor wielding power inappropriately.
Some cultures emphasize external control as
the locus of their lives, and some see the control as internal. Interestingly,
research shows that ethnic group members, lower class people, and women score
higher than others on the external end of the control continuum (Sue and Sue,
1990, p. 141). There is not always a judgment that one is better than the other,
although that is sometimes true. It’s useful, however, to know that when
an American Indian talks about not being able to control his or her problematic
family life, it isn’t necessarily a call to be assertive and independent.
Flip the coin. Being assertive is more highly
prized in White America than in some minority cultures. For a counselor to
impose the value that assertiveness is the desired goal of therapy (or a part
of it) might be a mistake.
[I must stop and note here that this field is
vast and I am not trying to cover the myriad stories and theories that abound
in this area. I acknowledge that these notes and my thoughts represent the tip
of the iceberg in this huge area of multicultural counseling. Please refer to
the References at the end of this Paper for deeper and more in-depth studies.]
Before launching into the four cultural
groups mentioned in the introduction to this Paper, I’d like to mention a
few summarized points which define, for Sue and Sue (1990) a culturally skilled
First, a culturally skilled counselor is one
who is actively in the process of becoming aware of his/her own assumptions
about human behavior, values, biases, preconceived notions, personal
limitations, and so forth. Second, a culturally skilled counselor is one who
actively attempts to understand the world view of his/her culturally different
client. In other words, what are the client’s values and assumptions
about human behavior biases, and so on? Third, a culturally skilled counselor
is one who is in the process of actively developing and practicing appropriate,
relevant, and sensitive intervention strategies/skills in working with his or
her culturally different client (p. 166).
In addition to the counselor working on his
or her own internal processes around cultures different from his or her own,
Sue and Sue (1990) believe strongly that counselors working with culturally
different people must be prepared to "exercise institutional
intervention...when appropriate" (p. 171). This goes against the grain of
a good deal of traditional practice as it exists in the U. S. My view is that
the counselor, whether working with culturally different people or his or her
own culture must be able to see and step beyond the traditional roles and
barriers and boundaries where appropriate. That this action must be done from
an ethical and moral standpoint can almost go without saying. I see my practice
as involved with the client (though not sexually) in order that they may see
and know unconditional love and realize that they can find acceptance from
themselves, for themselves, and in themselves, and that they can take learned
skills from the crucible of the counseling session to the wide world. And find
happiness and fulfillment into the bargain. For me, that doesn’t connote
non-involvement, though it does connote detachment.
My brief disclaimer to the following section
is, again, an acknowledgment of the brevity of the explanations and
information. I want to touch on salient issues, discuss some of them in a bit
of depth, and cover as much ground as the scope of this Paper allows. The issue
of counseling with the populations mentioned here (as well as all others) is
far more vast and complex than these few words can convey.
Many American Indians see themselves as
extensions of their tribe (or Nation, as I’ve been told is preferred).
"This identity provides them with a sense of belonging and security, with
which they form and interdependent system.... Indians who leave the reservation
to seek greater opportunities often lose their sense of personal identity since
they lose their tribal identity" (Anderson and Ellis, 1988. in Sue and
Sue, 1990, p. 177).
One of the initial questions I might ask an
American Indian client is not only the degree of their biculturality, but their
beliefs around tribal (or Nation) identity and belonging. It is not that I
would automatically consider them abnormal if they didn’t hold all the
views Sue and Sue (1990) outline, but rather I’d want to be sensitive enough
to ask and learn. I don’t want to make an assumption that problems which
are framed as adjustment disorders are necessarily a function of acculturation;
but I don’t want to miss the reference either.
There is the additional factor of traditional
Indian values and emerging bi-cultural values:
Indian children and adolescents not only face
the developmental problems faced by all young people, they are also in a state
of conflict over exposure to two very different cultures. They are caught
between expectations of their parents to maintain traditional values and the
necessity to adapt to the majority culture. These and other stressors may
account for the fact that among Indian youth rates of truancy, school failure,
drug use, and suicide are high (Red Horse, 1982; Shore, 1988, in Sue and Sue,
1990, p. 178).
The dilemma for a counselor might play out as
the desire to see the client adjusted to being bi-cultural but seeing the
client reject American Indian ways. Not that it is crucial to totally embrace
one’s birth culture, but that it is a rich source of identity. My job as
a counselor is to find out where the client is with his or her cultural
identification, help determine if there are conflicts, and work from there.
Without acknowledging the culture, I would feel at a loss, right from the
Some broad generalizations about American
Indians include the following:
- Sharing. Among Indians,
honor and respect is gained by sharing and giving while in the dominant
culture status is gained by the accumulation of material goods....
- Cooperation. Indians
believe that the family and group take precedence over the individual.
Indian children may be seen as unmotivated in schools because of a
reluctance to compete with peers in the classroom....
- Noninterference. Indians
are taught not to interfere with others and to observe rather than react
impulsively. Rights of others are respected.
- Time orientation.
Indians are very much involved in the present rather than the future.
Ideas of punctuality or planning for the future may be unimportant....
Things get done according to a rational order and not according to
- Harmony with nature.
Rather than seeking to control the environment, Indians accept things as
they are (Sue and Sue, 1990, pp. 178-179).
Even with the broad generalizations the
preceding points represent, it would be in the best interests of a culturally
aware counselor to at least ask about cultural values whether a client presents
with cultural issues or not. To delve into problems without understanding the
basic belief system of the culturally different client would be irresponsible.
I have a 12 year-old Aleut boy in counseling,
who, so far, has not described much involvement with his culture. At his age, I
wouldn’t expect much, unless his parents were more involved, which they
aren’t. This saddens me in that he could be learning about his roots in a
safe and story-filled environment, which would serve to enhance and enrich his
life, whether or not he closely identifies with Aleut culture later in life. I
am sad, personally, that we didn’t have more family stories about being
Jewish or where our ancestors came from. I realize that when I was young I
wasn’t much interested in sitting around and hearing about such
"grown-up stuff," but I find it hard to believe that I couldn’t
have listened to the stories. Some of my fondest memories of childhood were the
stories that were filled with adventure: stories my Mother made up when we were
driving long distances in the car. Would that some of those stories might have
been filled with the real-life adventure that I am now hearing about as I ask
my parents for information about our family tree.
"Substance abuse is one of the greatest
problems faced by the American Indian. Cases of terminal liver cirrhosis are 14
times greater among Indians than non-Indians between the ages of 25 and
34" (Indian Health Service, 1978, in Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 182).
"Suicide rates for American Indians are twice that of the national
average, with adolescence to adulthood as the time of greatest risk"
(Shore, 1988, in Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 182). Dealing with substance abuse is
more than the scope of this Paper can encompass, but suffice it to say, it
needs to be dealt with openly and honestly. I personally am not qualified to
handle such cases and would want co-counseling or to make a referral should a
person with substance abuse present in my office.
In counseling American Indians, Sue and Sue
(1990) feel there needs to be open discussion, from the beginning, especially
with Native adolescents, about the Indian/White relationship (assuming the
counselor to be White). Both client and counselor get to consider their
feelings about "values, self-identity, and relationship with the majority
society" (p. 185).
They also point out that American Indians
often have difficulty expressing strong emotions (except when drunk when not
being responsible for one’s behavior makes such expressions acceptable).
If this were the case with a client of mine, I would initiate discussions aimed
at learning how one could express one’s feelings acceptably, especially
if it were apparent that the client felt the need to do so. White U. S. Culture
values anger workshops where American Indians might not. As with Asian
Americans, the manner in which feelings and thoughts are expressed is
frequently as important as the expression.
Before working with American Indians, it is
important to be aware of our own cultural biases. Much of what we do is based
on Western values and influences. We expect clients to establish good eye
contact, to discuss inner feeling, and to verbalize concerns. American Indians
often will not display these behaviors. In working with adolescents, we often
work toward having them develop increasing independence from their parents. We
also see the nuclear family as the basic unit. For American Indians,
interdependence with the extended family might be the goal (Sue and Sue, 1990,
More important than learning these
generalizations about American Indians would be the attitude a counselor brings
to the session. Openness may be as important as any knowledge about a given
culture. Each client is unique, and while they may respond to certain cultural
values and beliefs, it’s best to ask, to observe, to discuss. At present
I have a middle aged Aleut man whose wife left him to go to school, got
involved with another man, had a child, and now wants to get back together, and
him to adopt the child. My client is considering the matter, getting to know
the little boy, and trying to determine if he wants the responsibility that
might be his should the ex-wife run off again. All this in the first session,
and barely a word about how he feels about having been abandoned. My question
for our next session, is how important does he think it is to work through
the feelings? Is it more important, perhaps, to consider the implications of
getting back together, meaning, preservation of the interdependence?
American Indians often will not open up with
feelings right away. Trust must be developed. And American Indians sometimes
expect the counselor to "offer alternatives and solutions to the problem.
The appropriate combination of client-centered with behavioral approaches might
be very effective" (Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 187).
As with all minority populations, there is
sometimes a need to explain what counseling actually is. In addition to the
mistrust about White folks and the "talking cure," there is the
question of what the counselor will "do" to the client, what the
client is supposed to "do," and how, exactly, the "cure"
will take place. It is important to discuss questions of process and procedure
up front if there is any question at all about how the process works, and what
the expected roles are (and are not).
There are at least 29 distinct subgroups in
the Asian American population that differ in language, religion, and values
(Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 189). As with other cultures, there are many
within-group differences, and different degrees of assimilation and
acculturation, etc. etc. Generalizations will be difficult, as they are with
all cultures, but the first one is somewhat of a sacred cow, at least in the U.
S. That is that all Asian Americans are successful economically, educationally,
and socially. It seems that the success story is mitigated by reports of an
"equal prevalence of poverty despite the higher median income...and...
lower poverty assistance and welfare than the general population, and...a
discrepancy between education and income" (Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 191). There
seems to be a high education level for some, with a large population that is
undereducated; and there is a lack of English mastery even among Asians who
have lived in the U. S. for several generations. There are other caveats to the
Asian "success story," but the point is well taken: there is a wide
variance between the stereotypes we hold of various cultural groups and the
reality, with some of the stereotypes being visible some of the time and none
of them some of the time, too. Which means a counselor has to look at the
cultural values in general when the Asian American client comes in the door,
while simultaneously respecting this individual’s particular personality
The history of Asian immigrants to the U. S.
is littered with discrimination and murder, concentration camps and legal
sanctions against them as a (composite) race. Like their African American
counterparts, Asians (as well as Hispanic Americans, American Indians, and Gays
and Lesbians) have a rich history from their countries of origin and a
sometimes tortured sometimes happy one in the U. S. The difference between
cultural minorities and U. S. "Whites" is one of historical
"ownership," meaning they are the ones who (let us not forget, came
from a foreign port) invaded, pillaged, conquered, and settled the land
("America") in spite of American Indians being here and
"owning" the land for, perhaps, centuries before. Whites (or shall I
say straight White men?) live here and have inherited all that America has to
offer without having to consider discrimination. When covert or overt
oppression is present, the counseling ethos changes dramatically. Now there are
layers upon layers of psychological detritus through which to sift, and the
going can be arduous. So, it is more complex when an Asian male comes for
counseling, because of (among many other factors) that lack of ownership (an
assured and automatic place at the table) to deal with, for example,
relationship issues or job problems.
Remember, also, that "psychotherapy is a
foreign concept to the east-Asian countries" (Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 197).
Physical complaints are a common and
culturally accepted means of expressing psychological and emotional stress. It
is believed that physical problems cause emotional disturbances, and that these
will disappear as soon as there is appropriate treatment of the physical
illness. Instead of talking about anxiety and depression, the mental health
professional will often hear complaints involving headaches, fatigue,
restlessness, and disturbances in sleep and appetite. Even psychotic patients
typically made somatic complaints and sought treatment for those physical
ailments (Nguyen, 1985, in Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 199).
In any instance where a client presents with
physical problems, I’d want him or her to get a physical exam before
deciding on a diagnosis. In the case of culturally different people, and in
this instance of Asian Americans, it is a red flag that must be noticed. After
that, there is still the matter of discussing issues in such a manner that
shame will not be brought down on the individual or the family. Sue and Sue
(1990) list some treatment strategies that might be of use to know:
restraint when gathering information. Because of the stigma against mental
illness, the norm against sharing private matters with outsiders, the lack
of client knowledge of the mental health field, the therapist should
refrain from asking too many questions.
the clients for counseling by engaging in role preparation. Lambert and
Lambert (1984) found that Asian immigrants who were told about (a) what
happens in therapy, (b) the need for verbal disclosure, (c) problems
typically encountered by clients in therapy, (d) the role of the therapist
and client, (e) misconceptions of therapy, and (f) the need for attendance
adjusted better to counseling than a control group who did not receive
on the specific problem brought in by the client, and help the client
develop his or her goals for therapy.
an active and directive role. Because of cultural expectations and a lack
of experience with mental health therapy, the clients will rely on the
counselor to furnish direction.
a thorough analysis of current environmental concerns, such as the need
for food and shelter.
working with families, consider intergenerational conflicts especially due
to changes in role, culture conflict, and differences in acculturation
therapy should be time limited, focus on concrete resolution of problems,
and deal with the present or immediate future (pp. 199-200).
While these generalizations must be tailored
to each client, they are useful information, if for nothing more than starting
a dialogue between the counselor and client about cultural considerations,
pitfalls, and values.
U. S.-born Asians have a different (or
additional) problem from their immigrant relatives: they have two cultures in
which to live, and their process is often about how to respect the ancestral
and familial values but also fit into their new culture and feel accepted. I
have partly discussed the process of discovering one’s culture and
"coming out" as a bi-cultural person, embracing the values of both
the dominant and the hereditary cultures. The Yellow Power Movement (not unlike
the Black Power Movement) is a phenomenon that needs study. Rebellion alone may
be suspect, but in the process of forging a new identity, this kind of
rebellion can be quiet healthy:
Like the marginal person, the Asian American
is rebelling against parental authority, as he or she attempts to develop a new
identity that will enable him or her to reconcile viable aspects of his/her
heritage with the present situation (Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 202).
The first, and perhaps most important, issue
for a counselor to know is that when a traditional Asian American seeks
counseling, he or she will probably be feeling "intense shame and guilt at
admitting that problems exist" (Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 204). These problems
might be presented indirectly, meaning complaints of bad grades or difficult vocational
decisions. Sue and Sue (1990) suggest that a counselor deal with the presenting
problems first, as a way to build rapport and trust before trying to delve
behind the sometimes superficial issues. Asian Americans, in some studies, seem
prefer a logical, rational, structured,
counseling approach over an affective, reflective, ambiguous one. Since Asians
respond more to structured situations and direct suggestions, the counselor
must make modifications to his or her counseling style to incorporate these in
order to be therapeutically effective (Mau and Jepsen, 1988; Yuen and Tinsley,
1981, in Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 204).
The need for flexibility is key. In
counseling with one culture only, it is possible to ignore some of these
considerations, though I feel a knowledge of other cultures and ways of living
and coping and finding love and happiness are priceless tools for an enriched
life. Nonetheless, I believe it is vital, for a counselor to be effective, to
be able to change his or her methodology in order to develop trust with the
client in order to help from a place where the client can recognize,
appreciate, utilize, and assimilate the help.
Sue and Sue (1990) also believe that a
counselor has an obligation to help the client sort out his or her identity
conflicts by some form of education:
Specifically, the marginal person must be
helped to distinguish between positive attempts to acculturate and a negative
rejection of his or her own cultural values. Also, many Asians who desire
independence from parental control are confusing independence for rejection of
parental control (p. 206).
Any cultural conflict deserves attention, and
particularly attention that is borne of insight and awareness on the part of
the counselor. In addition to all the considerations that I haven’t had a
chance to delve into here, one vital area is to help Asian Americans, when
there are identity problems, to forge a new identity that neither adheres
slavishly to the old traditions that may not work in the dominant culture nor denies
its existence utterly.
The emphasis on the inequities of society and
the feeling that change must be instituted in racist institutions make many
Asian Americans suspicious of counseling services. Many feel that counseling
services are agents of the Establishment and that their primary goal is to
adjust clients to society. This can cause difficulties for both the client,
whose political beliefs may mask his/her problems, and for the counselor, who
must deal appropriately with certain challenges before counseling can proceed
effectively (Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 207).
It is easy to look at the pathology of
minority cultures while ignoring the strengths inherent in every person, group,
culture, and society. In African American families (which have been maligned
for their dysfunction and absent fathers),
there exists an extended family network that
provides emotional and economic support. Among families headed by females, the
rearing of children is often undertaken by a large number of relatives, older
children, and close friends. Within the Black family there exists an
adaptability of family roles, strong kinship bonds, a strong work and
achievement ethic, and strong religious orientation (Bass, et. al, 1982; Boyd,
1982, in Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 211).
In spite of the problems with racism and
prejudice, Black families have been able to instill positive self-esteem in
their children (Norton, 1983, in Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 211).
Not all families are nuclear in concept. I
note the Gay and Lesbian families that are cropping up in greater numbers. Some
families have two mothers and a father (the donor), and some have just two
mothers, or just two fathers, and some have two fathers with a mother (the one
who carried the baby). A counselor would do well to consider the structure of a
family and its overall strengths before judging that the "problem" is
due to the lack of nuclear structure.
Religious considerations may play an
important role in dealing with Black families. And it might be appropriate to
involve the minister in family therapy, even in individual therapy. If there is
strong church affiliation it might even be useful to suggest church-related
activities that could lend support to the therapy.
I don’t intend to go into family therapy
here (nor in any part of this Paper, as it is a whole area in itself). I do,
however, wish to acknowledge the need for such a discussion.
Given the racism inherent in the U. S.
structure, it could be difficult to build rapport right from the start:
Franklin (1982) cautions that the counselor
be vigilant and not be misled by information that is being provided. A
streetwise youth might deliberately attempt to frighten or shock the counselor
by describing use of drugs and sexual behaviors in graphic detail. Others might
adopt a highly confrontive and aggressive stance or engage in
"rapping" or telling tales as a means of "testing" out the
therapist (Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 214).
Considering the ubiquity of racism in the U.
S., I would be shocked if an African American client came in and didn’t
test me. There is no particular reason to put trust in a system that itself
systematically denies civil rights and denigrates whole cultures out of hand.
Why would a White counselor be any more accommodating and understanding? It
seems to me that the early discussions would have to include the relationship
between the White counselor and African American client: the cultural
differences; the value differences; the communication differences; the
expectations from counseling; the expectations of the client, and of the
counselor; and so on.
Biracial clients will present a different set
of problems, though they might be similar to those previously discussed in the
section on Asian Americans. However, this is more difficult because the client
is not just trying to adjust to the dominant culture, but he or she is
genetically part of it. How to acculturate to a society that oppresses
you of which you are a genetic member?
An interesting note made by Sue and Sue
(1990) is that "overall, it appears that Black Americans view counseling
positively but may encounter difficulties during the counseling process
itself" (p. 218). In this regard we might look at communication style.
Much of African American culture depends on a more aggressive verbal style than
White culture. There is a more confrontative stance and the language is largely
high-context. There is an expectation that others understand that the seeming
aggressiveness is merely normal communication and it is expected to be returned;
mistrust may build up when it isn’t. Anger, too, is expressed
differently, and it’s important for the counselor to know the difference.
Knowing that a client is black fails to
inform adequately about his views of psychotherapy, about his personality and
psychological conflict, and about his aspirations and goals in therapy, let
alone about educational level, social background, or environmental context.
There is enormous within-group variability. The question is not how to treat
the black client, but how to treat this black client (Jones, 1985, p.
175, in Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 226).
Sue and Sue (1990) use the term
"Hispanic" to refer to "individuals living in the United States
who come or are of ancestry from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, El Salvador, the
Dominican Republic, and other Latin American countries" (p. 227).
"Hispanic" as a term isn’t accepted, however, by all groups,
some preferring "Latinos" or "La Raza" or (in the case of
people from Mexico, "Mexicano," "Mexican-American,"
"Chicano," or "Spanish-American" ).
The demographics don’t bode well for
Hispanics as a general rule: they are "overrepresented among the poor,
have high unemployment, and often live in substandard housing. Most are
blue-collar workers and hold semi-skilled or unskilled occupations"
(Carillo, 1982, in Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 228). Students have a high dropout
rate, which rises with age.
Cummins (1986) feels that a variety of
factors, including intergroup power relationships, has much to do with the lack
of educational success of Hispanic Americans. For example, Finnish students
have a relatively poor academic performance in Sweden where they are considered
a low-status group but are successful academically in Australia where they are
a high-status group (Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 229).
I’m fascinated with the syndrome of how
someone is seen by others as directly affecting his or her performance and,
perhaps, self-esteem. There is truth in the legend of the ugly little girl who is
told by her parents she is the most beautiful girl in the world and who grows
up to marry the handsomest boy in town (with gender appropriately changed where
applicable for Gay and Lesbian legend). Could this really apply to other
cultures? In some form, this is one of the founding principles of my
Again, as with the other minority groups
discussed in this Paper, it is important to take a history and evaluate, along
with the client, their social status, educational level, language ability, and
other environmental factors, in order to avoid attributing problems
inappropriately to racism or pathology alone.
Hispanic families, like many other cultural
minorities, are generally close-knit, and family tradition plays an important
part in that closeness. Competition is not as valued as cooperation, and
interpersonal relationships, along with a large family network, are stressed.
The Catholic religion "often has a major influence in Hispanic groups and
is a source of comfort in times of stress" (Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 230).
Because of this strong influence, and the belief that sacrifice is good,
charity is a virtue, and wrongs need to be endured, assertiveness is sometimes
difficult (Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 231). As with Asian Americans, I’d want
to help a client discover how to be appropriately assertive without
jeopardizing the family structure, assuming that to be an important
consideration for the client.
Additionally, being is valued more
than doing. Being with the family is more important than running off and
doing "things." The family structure is generally hierarchical and
special authority is "given to the elderly, the parents, and males"
(Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 232). "Children are expected to be obedient and are
usually not consulted in family decisions" (Sue and Sue, 1990, p. 233).
This latter point could pose big problems for a bicultural person in that the
U. S. attitude is that children are people with distinct personalities and need
to be treated with respect. Growing up in a family that didn’t prize a
child’s feelings and ideas could lead to problems later in life--ones
that might be in direct conflict with the culture.
Sex-role conflicts can arise, especially
considering that men are supposed to be macho and in charge; women
obedient and long-suffering. When this equilibrium is disrupted, for economic
or other reasons, conflict can occur, both within the family as a group (things
are not going the way they’re supposed to go), and for an individual
(I’m not fulfilling the role I was supposed to play).
As with any cultural minority, where value is
placed on being a male or being a female, the counselor must help the client
look at the values versus the necessities and stack it all up against the need
to express oneself as an individual within the family structure. While it is
possible to strike out on one’s own, that might cause others within the
family and the ethnic group to reject or look down on the person who made such
a radical shift, causing even more anxiety. Care must be taken in any culture
where the family is the core of identity before radical change is undertaken.
Because of the importance of the extended
family and the relationships among its members, family therapy is often
recommended in working with Hispanics. This is especially important since
changes in the client in an individual session may have profound effects on the
family (De La Cancela, 1985; Padilla and DeSnyder, 1985, in Sue and Sue, 1990,
As with other cultural minorities, it is
sometimes helpful to start with a respectful, warm introduction. And it’s
certainly important to pronounce the client’s name correctly. Nothing is
as off-putting as a counselor who mispronounces your name!
Knowing the proficiency with English is
equally important. Relative knowledge isn’t the same as mastery,
especially in a counseling situation. There is much writing about clients who
use English, for example, to discuss strategy and day-to-day issues, and
Spanish, for example, to discuss feelings. A culturally skilled counselor would
be showing considerable integrity by acknowledging and working with a client on
how to bridge this gap.
This Paper has surveyed the some of the
political and educational issues for what Sue and Sue (1990) call
culturally-skilled counselors. I have discussed counseling techniques and
recounted personal stories relevant to that process and limned 4 cultural
groups and their relationship to White counselors (keeping in mind that
cultural stereotypes must be avoided and people treated as individuals
regardless of their heritage).
I have pointed out, among other things, that
many non-White cultures don’t prize assertive individuality or instant
self-disclosure, may prefer a more subtle approach to discussing feelings, may
not deal in direct eye contact, and may, in fact, be distrustful of the whole
concept of psychology. African Americans may prefer what seems a more
confrontational style of communicating, and it will probably be more
high-context than White communication, as is true for most non-White
The main point of the Paper is that
counselors, to be effective in what is rapidly becoming a truly multi-cultural
U. S., will have to adapt to the cultural exegencies of their clients in many
ways, and try to accommodate their belief systems more, perhaps, than trying to
fit them into a neat U. S. psychology which is no longer (if it ever was) a
one-size-fits-all movement. Additionally, it will become increasingly important
for the culturally-skilled counselor to have more out-of-office experiences,
sometimes advocating for their clients and sometimes getting involved in social
and political causes.
A final point is that while it is necessary
for the culturally-skilled counselor to have a working knowledge of the
client’s culture, it may be as important that the counselor bring an
attitude and belief system to the session that the client perceives to be
trustworthy. It is in the fundamental areas of communication (with self and
others), trust (in self and in others), and the basic hope and faith that there
can be a reasonably happy future that healing may begin
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