Cultural awareness – or cultural competence, as it’s also known – is an integral factor in counselling sessions. Counsellors work with people from all walks of life and, as such, they need to be able to understand, appreciate and respond to cultures, beliefs and ideas that differ from their own.
Statistics from Mental Health UK show that Black women experience mental illness, including anxiety, more often than those from any other community. They also suggest that more white people are successfully treated for mental health issues than any other community group.
While the exact reasons for this are not clear-cut, it is believed that it’s often due to stigma and living inequalities. There are also concerns around the ability to access adequate support, whether that’s through NHS mental health services, a GP or hospital care.
Other significant factors include cultural barriers and stereotyping, which are sometimes experienced when an individual seeks help from a professional counsellor.
If you’re a counsellor working with people from different cultural backgrounds, there are some key aspects to consider.
It’s important to recognise the reality of privilege and inequality, whoever you’re working with. This enables you to create a safe space where clients feel able to explore their experiences and identities without judgment. By providing a positive experience, clients are more likely to continue working through their challenges and, as a result, achieve a better outcome.
While language barriers can be an issue when working with those from different backgrounds, in some cases, failing to communicate sensitively can be an issue. As a counsellor, it’s imperative to show respect to all clients and listen actively, even when there are cultural discrepancies.
The ability to understand different perspectives is key, as is actively listening and being empathetic.
Adapting your approach
When counselling, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. You must be able to adapt to your client’s needs, regardless of culture and ethnicity, and tailor sessions to suit the individual. This might mean taking into account different beliefs and backgrounds as well as personality traits.
Clients might respond better to nuances that fit in with their culture and that they recognise within their current lifestyle and systems. Often, this might be different to your own set of ideals.
Education, training and insurance
Being culturally competent requires a diverse skillset and ongoing education and awareness. This might include attending a variety of workshops, working under supervision and assessing case studies.
As well as adhering to strict standards, counsellors might also choose to take out professional counselling insurance that includes provisions for issues that might arise relating to diversity and cultural competence.
Finally, it’s important to have an open and honest working relationship with clients. If either party feel it’s not right or that you can’t offer the client the best approach to meet their needs, then you should recommend another counsellor who might have a more appropriate skillset.