The Importance of Culture in Counseling

People of all backgrounds can and do receive therapy. Counseling is a highly individualized experience, so mental health professionals need to consider each client’s culture and the ways in which it might affect the process.

In a world that is so culturally diverse, the multicultural approach to counseling is incredibly valuable. Whether you’re currently receiving therapy, considering meeting with a counselor, or are a practicing clinician yourself, you should understand the importance of multicultural counseling.

What Is Multicultural Counseling?

The multicultural framework is an approach to counseling that considers the client’s identity and background. Although there are some tried-and-true therapeutic techniques that counselors may use with a wide range of clients, a “one-size-fits-all” approach doesn’t work.

Our cultural background shapes our sense of identity, our life experiences, and our beliefs. Some people may feel more connected to particular cultures than others, but everyone has certain cultural facets that affect their lives. Multicultural counselors strive to recognize and respect these culturally diverse factors when they work with clients.

Why Multicultural Counseling Is Important

For counseling to be successful, it has to align with our beliefs and values. If a therapist does or says something that the client deems inappropriate or disrespectful, it can damage the therapeutic relationship. No one should have to disregard or abandon their culture during a counseling session.

Cultural understanding and sensitivity helps clients feel more comfortable. When you feel heard and validated by your therapist, it’s much easier to open up without fear of judgment.

The multicultural approach considers more than just your home country or religion. Culture involves so many different elements. In 1997, counselors Michael D’Andrea and Judy Daniels established the RESPECTFUL model, which highlights 10 multicultural factors that therapists should consider in their work.

To understand the importance of multicultural counseling, consider how each of these elements may affect both the client and the therapist:

Religious/Spiritual Identity

Your religion may have a big impact on the way you interpret your life experiences. It can also shape your values and choices. Multicultural counselors consider both their own and their client’s religious backgrounds to make sure that their approach is appropriate for the person receiving counseling.

Economic Class Background

Your socioeconomic background can influence your beliefs and attitude about a number of experiences. It may affect the resources you currently have or don’t have access to, so it’s important for multicultural counselors to keep this in mind.

Sexual Identity

This includes your sexual orientation and gender identity. If you’ve been shamed, oppressed, or criticized for your sexual identity, it may have a lasting impact on your personal development. A multicultural counselor won’t make assumptions about your experience, but they’ll consider how your identity plays a role in your life.

Psychological Maturity

Psychological development is a long-term, gradual transition from more simple to more complex ways of thinking. Everyone has different strengths and needs, so multicultural therapists assess the psychological maturity of their clients to determine the best approach.

Ethnic/Racial Identity

Race and ethnicity can have a profound impact on your life, especially if you belong to a minority group. Multicultural therapists recognize that there can be many differences between people in one racial or ethnic group, though.

Chronological/Developmental Challenges

We experience different milestones and challenges at different points in our lifespan. With multicultural counseling, the therapist recognizes where the client is developmentally and what challenges they may be experiencing based on their current stage of life.

Trauma and Other Threats to One’s Well-being

Trauma may not be a part of your cultural background in the traditional sense, but it certainly is something that can influence your thoughts, beliefs, and actions. Highly stressful situations can take a toll on your mental health, so a multicultural counselor may want to explore the ways trauma has affected you.

Family Background and History

Your family dynamics can influence your sense of belonging and sense of purpose. We may have an idea of the “traditional” family unit, but many people grew up in or currently belong to other types of family structures. You and your therapist may seek to understand your role within your family to explore how that affects your identity.

Unique Physical Characteristics

All cultures have standards of outer beauty, and having characteristics that fall outside of those standards can lead to severe stress. Multicultural counselors also try to consider their own biases about physical appearance and how that may impact the way they interact with their clients.

Location of Residence and Language Differences

Your geographical location can affect your interests, values, career, and personality traits. Not everyone from a particular area is exactly the same, but a multicultural therapist may use your location as a frame of reference while getting to know you. Also, multicultural counselors should stay alert for any unconscious biases they may have about different languages, dialects, or accents.

Is Multicultural Counseling Right for You?

Anyone can benefit from working with a counselor who uses a multicultural approach. We live in a culturally diverse world, and everyone’s life is affected by at least one cultural factor.

Multicultural counseling is especially helpful for people who belong to a cultural minority. You may feel isolated or misunderstood if others in your community don’t understand your beliefs or values. When you work with a multicultural therapist, they’ll acknowledge and accept your cultural background.

Multicultural therapy can be a good opportunity to explore your background and the ways in which it has influenced your life. If your cultural differences are a source of stress or hardship, you and your therapist can work on developing coping skills.

A multicultural counseling session doesn’t just have to revolve around your culture, though. People work with multicultural therapists to address all types of mental health concerns. Even if cultural factors aren’t at the forefront of your mind during counseling sessions, it helps when your therapist is respectful and understanding of your cultural background.

The multicultural framework benefits both the therapist and the client during a counseling session. It empowers the counselor to be aware of how their own background affects their therapeutic style, and it helps them better understand the client’s needs. Cultural acceptance is critical for therapists. If you’re thinking about starting counseling, consider looking for a therapist who uses a multicultural approach.

The Beverly Hills Therapy Group offers counseling to clients throughout the Los Angeles area. Our counselors are experienced with treating a wide variety of mental health concerns among a culturally diverse population. If you’re looking for a therapist in Los Angeles, contact us today.

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