Multicultural counseling is based on a body of academic theory and assessment, which seeks to adopt the highly diverse cultural, ethnic and social environment in which people act. It examines the differences which inform their worldview, as well as the attitudes, values and beliefs which they bring with them from their family, their peer group and from various countries. This also includes examining how these diverse influences affect the individuals in different ways, allowing them to develop their individual capacity for understanding and adaptation, and for building their own sense of belonging and community. Multicultural counseling techniques involve examining these cultural differences and the effects on people, and on the role of emotions, perspective and identity. Through this type of counseling, practitioners hoping to counsel people in crisis find the best way to provide emotional assistance and advice, as well as to understand the complex effects of cultural diversity on human behavior and development.
There are five main approaches used in multicultural counseling, especially by site. The first is called cultural niche modeling. In this approach, the focus is on identifying and describing a specific set of minority characteristics and behaviors. These are called the minority profile, and they are then ascribed to a set of general attributes or traits that characterize the cultural group under study. These profiles provide the theoretical foundation for counseling on psychological development.
It also looks at how these changes affect each person in the unique context of their own family, neighborhood, country, ethnic group and worldview. This style of multicultural counseling is best applied to situations when the counselor has some knowledge of the cultural practices and beliefs of the people being counseled.
Another multidimensional approach to multicultural counseling examines the effects of minority status on psychological and emotional well-being and its potential impact on identity development. The third major model is universal developmental theory. In this theory, there is no such thing as a single definition of culture, because all cultures are imagined to be variations of one basic concept. All are considered to be just as valid, but the effects of the existence of different cultural biases can vary widely from one culture to another. As such, there are no universal principles that could be used to categorize cultures and guarantee that therapy will be beneficial for everyone.
The fourth major model, relational construction theory, postulates that different cultural groups experience different kinds of oppression based on their membership in a group. Specifically, the therapist biases are assumed to contribute to the oppressive experience of the members of the target culture. However, this model may not be as conclusive as the other models, as it only examines whether the target culture is a culture, rather than exploring whether or not there are group member experiences of oppression that are not included in the culture.
The fifth and most important model is sociological constructions.
This assumption is that the cultural values and beliefs of the client are determined by the environment the individual has grown up in. Therefore, the therapist must determine the client’s cultural values and beliefs before starting the multicultural counseling process, and the therapist must make sure that these values are consistent with the client’s own worldview.
The six most popular assumptions in multicultural counseling are social constructionism, cultural inheritance, and proximal developmental theories. Social constructionism suggests that social circumstances shape individual perspectives and that they determine what people perceive themselves to be. For instance, if an African American counselor works with a client who perceives himself to be a victim of racial discrimination, but actually lives a wealthy white lifestyle, the counselor’s counseling process will likely fail. Likewise, the assumption of cultural inheritance says that how members of a certain culture view the world and how that culture shapes their experiences both affect the way they see the world and how they feel about themselves. Finally, the assumption of proximal developmental theory suggests that how children from certain ethnic or cultural backgrounds experience reality and how that experience affects how they perceive the world both affect how they view themselves and how they react to others.
While these assumptions are important to the field of multicultural counseling, not all therapists create a multicultural counseling experience that is congruent with the beliefs and values of their clients. Many therapists attribute their clients’ inconsistent views to “culture” or “ethnonectalism.” As a result, there are still boundaries drawn when it comes to therapist knowledge and how this knowledge is ascribed to individuals.