Multicultural Competency: Can We Help everyone?

Through personal experiences and societal considerations, each of us has built knowledge on specific topics, ideology, constructs, and various factors in our world. To some, these areas are profoundly understood, and to others, these areas require a more intentional focus on understanding to build knowledge. Specific to this discussion, the topic of multiculturalism has been inconsistently misunderstood within the field of psychology and counseling. I believe the inconsistency lies within the training protocols and real-life experiences of diversity indicators. The space between these two brackets determines a clinician’s ability to assess when a situation is outside of the means of their multicultural competency.

A helpful criterion to use when determining whether a particular multicultural counseling situation is within or outside the boundaries of their competence is to:

  1. Recognize that there are vast differences between people. There are significant complexities within each person that make up their individual and cultural dynamics. Our clients will inherently bring these facets of themselves to the relationship, just as we would our own.
  2. Building a personal checklist or reflective journal that addresses a variety of diverse factors. As we interact with various people, we can build upon this list. The more we familiarize ourselves with differences, the more natural it is to hold a conversation about what makes us connected.
  3. Having core values that are ignited the moment we interact with others. For instance, core values of respect, unconditional positive regard, and openness to each encounter will make room for acceptance and reduce the need to judge others based on misunderstood expectations.
  4. Include diversity integration within all aspects of teaching, training, supervision, and personal life. Currently, multiculturalism has been discussed as a second level of consideration when conceptualizing or interacting with clients. By allowing differences and cultural aspects to be an active consideration, we place the person, their experience, and their needs ahead of our clinical assumptions and preconceived bias.
  5. Issues that may arise due to cultural and individual differences vary due to the clinician’s perspective or the client’s perspective. It is not appropriate to base judgment on a particular client because of experience. Approach each encounter with an intention to be present with what the client is bringing. Each situation should be thoughtfully and ethically analyzed.
  6. Be mindful of your ability to judge others without realizing it. Be sure to continuously work through potential biases as they arrive and reflect on the experiences you may be having with a supervisor, a peer, or a trusted partner. Try to be aware of how you may “come off” to people who are different than you.
  7. Acknowledge when you may have offended someone through microaggressions or similar forms of racism, as people who are subject to this may become numb or tired of having to correct us for our ignorance. Make it a point to apologize and own up to your ignorance (be intentional as not to repeat the behavior).
  8. There are times when our personal beliefs will interfere with our ability to focus on a client’s well-being and welfare. Make a list of your values and beliefs. This is crucial to know when you are not best suited to support the needs of the client based on an internal crossroad. All moral and ethical dilemmas should be assessed through the help of consultation and the APA Ethical guidelines and principles.
  9. Immerse yourself in the literature that discusses different cultures and populations. Participate in various workshops, attend lectures, movies, and discussions about several different groups as a means to normalize culture and its variations.
  10. Never assume! Assuming that others may agree with your beliefs or experiences deprives us of getting to know one another. All each client and each encounter to resonate as it is. Find gratification in getting to know how others perceive the world.
  11. Being familiar with a specific culture does not indicate that you understand each person’s experience within a culture. Allow them to share their expertise with their culture. Use prior knowledge to support this process, but do not allow it to consume or cast a shadow on a person’s lived experience. Ask questions and be accepting of how they answer. This will help us build an alliance of trust.
  12. Consider the cultural implications of how multiculturalism is represented in each psychological field you pursue. Assessment, Therapy, and Forensic areas particular to psychology, for example, often approach multiculturalism differently. Nonetheless, the crux of it all is to help and respect people.
  13. Never decide to stop learning about yourself in relation to multiculturalism. You are the first account of creating a difference in how the field of psychology is represented to the community. Make it a point to continue learning and inquiring about cultures, people, and differences.

All of these points require a good level of reflection and internal growth. Knowing whether or not a multicultural situation is within or outside, your scope of understanding is the ability to assess your skills and your needs effectively. If you are not asking yourself whether you have the means or competence to approach a situation, then you are doing a disservice to your clients and yourself. Look inward first!

With Intention.