We live in a diverse society, so multicultural counseling is a growing field. If you are pursuing a college degree that will involve multicultural counseling, this article will prepare you for the 5 main issues you will encounter.
1. Knowing What "Culture" Really Means
The common misconception is that "culture" refers solely to race (which refers to what you can observe about people on the outside). Culture also includes ethnicity (which refers to genetic ancestry), nationality (which country or countries a person feels patriotic towards) religion, language, gender identity, sexual identity, sexual orientation, and the socioeconomic status related to these various identities. People express their cultural identities through food, clothing, values, traditions, celebrations, and music, just to name a few! The more you know about a person, the more you will be able to help them meet their needs!
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2. Understanding English as a Second Language
Many of the people you work with will be new to speaking English. Part of your job will be to work as a team with them to make sure you understand each other. One helpful tip is to begin learning another language yourself, especially if it is a commonly spoken primary language in your area. Going through the process will help you understand what it is like, which will make you a better communicator when overcoming language barriers.
3. Making the Effort to Educate Yourself
The more you know about different cultures, the easier it is for you to relate to the different types of people you will look with. Seek training on multicultural awareness and sensitivity. Focus on the cultures that you really struggle to understand. Get to know a lot of different people so that you can challenge some of the stereotypes you may have heard. For a good place to start, The American Counseling Association has published a series of articles on developing multicultural competencies in several areas: https://www.counseling.org/knowledge-center/competencies
4. Acknowledging Individual Differences
Working with people from a variety of cultures is a great way to learn more about the world! It also requires that you show an interest in each person's cultural identities. Ask them about their cultures. This will help you avoid putting them in situations that are culturally uncomfortable for them, it will help you provide them with the most appropriate services, and it will show them that you truly care about them.
5. Setting Your Biases Aside
Sometimes, you will work with people who hold beliefs that contradict your own. In non-professional settings, we sometimes respond to this but defending our views or distancing ourselves from others. When counseling, we have to check our own beliefs at the door, and let the people we work with be themselves. This does not mean you have to change your own beliefs, it just means that they are not part of the conversation. Your role is to help people meet their needs, and you can do that even when you disagree with them.
Pursuing an education and career in multicultural counseling will provide you with opportunities to help a wide variety of people. You will have rewarding experiences and make new discoveries about the world. To prepare for this role, seek education about many cultures, learn a new language, and confront your biases.