Culturally Competent Counseling

Culturally Competent Counseling.

Culturally Competent Counseling

In this post, I will briefly describe what it means to be a culturally competent counselor. Then I will discuss the importance of being culturally competent in my practice. Next, I will explain my level of self-awareness, knowledge, and skills related to cultural competence. Finally, I will describe the training I will need to become culturally competent as a counselor.

Cultural Competence

A culturally competent counselor is one who has self-awareness, knowledge, and skills on a personal and interpersonal level that allows them to “function effectively with a culturally diverse population” (Hays, 2016; Sue & Sue, 2016, p. 747). As a multiculturally competent counselor, it is imperative to be aware of the impact of one’s own biases, values, inherited familial and social beliefs before change towards a higher level of cultural competence can be achieved (AMCD, 1996; Sue & Sue, 2016). It impossible for human beings to remain completely free from bias, so counselors must continue to self-monitor their effectiveness (ACA, 2014, Standard C.2.d.; Sue & Sue, 2016). However, to increase in knowledge and understanding of the diverse cultural influences of self and others on the way we engage with the world, a counselor must begin the process of self-awareness, gaining knowledge and an increased level of skill (Hays, 2016). “Being able to recognize, understand and overcome resistance to multicultural counseling training is essential to becoming a culturally competent counselor (Sue & Sue, 2016, p. 21). By accepting and embracing the cultural differences of others, multiculturally competent counselors are in a better position to meet the needs of a growing, diverse population in the United States of America (AMCD, 1996; Killian, 2015; Sue & Sue, 2016).

Self-Awareness, Knowledge, and Skills

The American Counseling Association (ACA), 2014 Code of Ethics, requires counselors to be aware of their own values, biases, and influences to ensure they do not impose those practices and beliefs on clients (ACA, Standard A.4.b.). As a counselor in training, who has exposure to practices, cultural norms, and relationships within various cultural and ethnically diverse communities, I have a moderate level of self-awareness about my own biases (Hays, 2016). I also possess a moderate level of knowledge and skills about understanding different cultural influences within a small sector of the population (Hays, 2016). I believe I have a minimal level of competence with clients from diverse cultural ethnic/racial, religious minorities, some sexual orientations and people groups from national origins of indigenous descent, which is needed to support clients within our increasingly diverse nation (Hays, 2016, Killian, 2015). My level of self-awareness, knowledge, and skills related to cultural competence needs to increase to meet the diverse needs of multicultural and intercultural clients that will come in for counseling (Hays, 2016; Killan, 2015; Sue & Sue, 2016).

Increasing Cultural Competence

Although it is impossible to be culturally competent with all the cultural diversity of our nation and world, cultural competence is still to be aspired to by all ethical counselors (Hays, 2016; Killian, 2015; Sue & Sue, 2016). Multicultural training to increase skills and knowledge will be needed to increase my level of cultural competence and cultural humility (ACA, 2014, Standard A.11.b.; Sue & Sue, 2016). Various techniques and interventions can be implemented such as the use of the tripartite framework, ADDRESSING acronym and ADDRESSING framework to increase my “understanding of the effects of diverse cultural influences on my own beliefs, thinking, behavior and worldview,” as well as the complex cultural identity of others (Hays, 2016, p. 11; Sue & Sue, 2016).

Without taking into account the multicultural uniqueness of client influences and experiences, a counselor can do more harm to clients who come in seeking help (ACA, 2014, Standard A.2.c., A.4.a.; Sue & Sue, 2016). It is essential for counseling practitioners to safeguard the dignity and welfare of clients (ACA, 2014, Standard A.1.a.). The ACA (2014) Code of Ethics requires counselors “to consider both the positive and negative implications of a diagnosis” (Standard, E.5.d.). A counselor who fails to “consider historical and social prejudices in the diagnosis of pathology,” without sensitivity to alternative cultural views is more likely to stereotype or even misdiagnosis clients (ACA, 2014, Standard E.5.c., Hays, 2016; Sue & Sue, 2016). When completing intake with clients with whom the counselor has little experience the ACA (2014) Code of Ethics requires counselors to obtain increased knowledge, education, and training and to consult with other counselors or professionals with that specialty (Standard C.2.a., C.b., C.2.e.). According to the Association of Multicultural Counseling and Development (AMCD) Multicultural Counseling Competencies (1996) I can increase my cultural competence using such techniques as staying abreast of the latest research in the field, and engagement with and receiving training regarding the historical backgrounds, heritage, practices and life experiences of diverse cultural groups within the community in which I will work and live (AMCD, 1996). As a multiculturally competent counselor, I must undergo the process of continual self-awareness, increased skill, and knowledge to efficiently set a therapeutic environment that recognizes and embraces the unique cultural perspectives of others. With a recognition that some levels of bias and physical response will remain, I must continuously monitor and challenge personal prejudices, attitudes and behavioral responses throughout the practice of counseling in the field (Hays, 2016; Project Implicit, n.d., Sue & Sue, 2016).


The American Counseling Association (2014) Code of Ethics requires counselors to obtain multi-cultural competence and work in collaboration with clients (Standard A.2.c., C.2.a.). Developing cultural competence is a lifelong process (Hays, 2016). To meet the needs of an increasingly diverse nation, counselors can use various techniques to increase self-awareness, other awareness, skills and knowledge (ACA, 2014 Standard C.2.a.). The ADDRESSING format can support increasing cultural awareness by beginning the process of asking questions that will enhance understanding of client worldviews (Hays, 2016). By obtaining cultural competence training, knowledge and experiences in cultural areas for which a counselor lacks expertise, and by interacting with communities of culturally diverse populations counselors can obtain additional training and higher levels of competence in understanding various client cultural worldviews and experiences (AMCD, 1996). To avoid negatively impacting clients a counselor must remain self-aware of biases and physiological responses to client issues, as well as a humble, compassionate and open demeanor; counselors can provide a welcoming environment where clients change may be possible (Hays, 2016; Sue & Sue, 2016).


American Counseling Association (ACA). (2014). 2014 ACA code of ethics [White Paper]. Retrieved from

Association of Multicultural Counseling and Development (AMCD). (1996). AMCD multicultural counseling competencies. Retrieved from

Hays, P. A. (2016). Addressing cultural complexities in practice: Assessment, diagnosis, and 
therapy (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Killian, K. D. (2015). Couple therapy and intercultural relationships. In Gurman, A. S., Lebow, J. L., & Snyder, D.  (2015). Clinical handbook of couple therapy (5th ed., p. 1 -18). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Project Implicit. (n.d.). Preliminary information: Take a test. Retrieved from

Sue, D. W., & Sue, D. (2016). Counseling the culturally diverse: Theory and practice (7th ed.).
Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Culturally Competent Counseling

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