ETHICAL ISSUES IN MULTICULTURAL COUNSELING 1
ETHICALISSUES IN MULTICULTURAL COUNSELING
The professionalbodies of counseling have put an emphasis on the need for counselorsto embrace diversity. The increased interest in multiculturalcounseling has resulted in new training and courses being added fortraining students to ensure they are competent and possess therequired skills and knowledge for handling patients fromcross-cultural backgrounds. The analysis of existing literatureidentifies the ethical issues associated with multiculturalcounseling as stereotyping, discrimination, failure to upholdconfidentiality, making choices, determining the appropriate culturalintervention, and communication barrier.
In today’s world, the population of people who seek counselingservices has been increasing. The demand for the services hasresulted in the need to consider some essential factors that areaffecting the profession such as multicultural counseling. Manycountries are emphasizing on the need to promote unity among itscitizens and the significance of embracing diversity withinorganizations. Hence, the increased attention on multiculturalcounseling that has been in existence since the profession began.According to Kağnici, (2014), cross-cultural counseling refers to apractice where the counselor takes into consideration the beliefs andvalues of their clients. The advisers are required to undergoadequate training to obtain the skills and knowledge to handle theethical issues that arise from interacting with individuals fromdiverse backgrounds. The morals regarding multicultural counselingare significant since they determine the quality of services that theadvisors can deliver to their clients. The paper seeks to reviewexisting literature on cross-cultural counseling to identify thevarious ethical issues affecting the profession.
One of the ethical issues experienced in multicultural counseling isstereotyping. Both the counselor and the client may belong todifferent cultural groups, which imply that their beliefs and valuesshall vary. According to Kağnici, (2014), advisors undergomulticultural counseling so that they can work with people who belongto different cultural groups while at the same time abiding by theethical standards of their profession. Stereotyping is an ethicalissue that arises when counselors make the assumption that people ofa particular race or ethnic group practice common culture, yet inreality, they have different beliefs. For instance, when a clientbelongs to the white race, the counselor may assume that the culturalpractices of the British, Dutch, and Germans are same whereas theytend to vary. The customer may feel violated when they realize thattheir therapists are not understanding their background especially ifthey are in a foreign country. Kağnici argues that an ethical issuelike stereotyping can be eliminated by ensuring that the counselorsundergo adequate training that equips them with the competency toattend to clients from cross-cultural backgrounds. For example, in astudy that was conducted among counseling students that sought todetermine the contribution of a multicultural counseling course oncultural diversity awareness, it was found that the training equippedthem with knowledge and outreach that shall enable them to cope withprofessional and persona challenges such as stereotyping (Kağnici,2014). It is argued that counselors are likely to work in differentregions in the world where they shall interact with people of variouscultural backgrounds. However, if they fail to understand how to copewith the unfamiliar environments, their careers may be terminatedbecause they shall be considered unprofessional when they stereotypetheir clients. Therefore, it is essential for a therapist to obtainadequate training in multicultural counseling because they never knowthe cultural background of the customer who seeks their services, andyet they are required to do no harm to them (Barnett & Molzon,2014).
Biasness is also another ethical problem that affects multiculturalcounseling. It entails being unfair or favoring clients who belong toa particular cultural group. As a counselor, one is required touphold justice by exercising fairness among all customers despitetheir cultural backgrounds or status in the society. Advisors who arebiased are considered to be morally unfit for the profession becauseinstead of helping their clients to obtain solutions to theirproblems, they tend to worsen their conditions. Discrimination canbe based on race, gender, disability, age, and ethnicity. Researchshows that it is illegal for counselors to practice injustice totheir clients as per the Chapter five of the American CounselingAssociation Code of Ethics (Herlihy, Hermann & Greden, 2014). Itis essential first to understand some of the factors that tend tolead researchers to be unbiased.
Some of the reasons could be that the counseling services could becontrary to the counselors’ values, determining the time thetherapist can decide to refer the client to another counselor, andestablishing when one becomes a customer. Although the factorsmentioned above might lead advisors to be biased, they are stillrequired to uphold their ethical principles that entail upholdingjustice. According to Kaplan, (2014), therapists should not denytheir professional services to persons who have contradictingcultural values because their career requires them to embracediversity. The values of the client are crucial, and it requires thecounselor to focus on the interests of their customer instead oftheir personal values. Besides, it is recommended that if theyencounter such scenarios, they should desist from concentrating onthe negative values of the client. For instance, if a gay personwishes to be advised on some issues and the counselor does notsupport homosexuality, it is unethical to refuse to counsel him/herbecause homosexuality is contrary to the advisor’s personal values. Kaplan also argues that although the code of ethics of counselingallows counselors to refer their clients to other professionals atany time, the referral should not be based on the unwillingness ofthe advisor to provide the services, but the inability (Kaplan,2014). It implies that when the client situation is contrary to thetherapist values, he/she should not only send the customer to anotheradvisor. The profession requires the counselor to determine theircompetency to provide the required services, and if they are capabledespite their religious or cultural differences, they are obligatedto provide the counseling. Therefore, one’s personality should notbe used as a reason for being biased by professional counselorsbecause they shall be acting in contrast to their code of ethics andundermining the developed professional values that emphasize onmulticulturalism and diversity in counseling.
Fidelity is one of the ethical principles that counselors arerequired to uphold when delivering their professional services as itenables them to develop a relationship that is based on trust withtheir clients. One of the ways of achieving fidelity is throughconfidentiality. The customers are likely to disclose personalinformation that even their family, friends, and colleagues are notaware. Therefore, as a counselor, one is required to ensure theirclients that all the information that shall be disclosed during theirtherapy sessions shall not be disclosed to a third party unless underexceptional circumstances. According to Case, Sprong & Blackwell,(2016), a counselor in a multicultural counseling session is likelyto experience confidentiality as an ethical issue, when they need todisclose the information to a third party. For example, counselorswho work in rehabilitation centers tend to interact with individualswho are willing to commit suicide because of their life experiencesand they let their therapists know about it. Some of the customer’sactions might be triggered by their cultural beliefs and values, butthe counselor has a responsibility to understand the client’scultural practices and determine the necessary steps as per theprofessional ethics. Therefore, in such situations, although it shallbe unethical to involve a third party, the measures taken shall helpin saving the life of the client.
Confidentiality is also another ethical issue in multiculturalcounseling that can be experienced in determining when one becomes acustomer. It is normal for an individual to experience culture shocksand differences in values, beliefs, and practices when they interactwith people of varying backgrounds. However, the physical reaction tofinding out about the various cultural practices may determine thekind of relationship that the people of the different backgroundsdevelop. Most managers urge their employees and workers in theirvarious professions to respect other people’s culture as a way ofembracing diversity because there is no ranking based on the statusof a racial, ethnic or religious group. Professions such ascounseling are trying to encourage equality since they understandthat counselors shall interact with people of different status in thesociety, and they need to develop a trustful relationship that shallenable the client to benefit from their services. Hence, when aperson walks into a counselor’s office, it essential to understandwhen the fidelity relationship is established. For instance, in thecase of Ward v.Wilbanks, Wilbanks was a gay person who soughtcounseling services from Ms. Ward (Kaplan, 2014). However, thecounselor argued that she could not offer her professional servicesbecause same-sex relationships were contrary to her religiousbeliefs. In her argument, Ms. Ward stated that her decision was notunethical since Wilbanks had not become her client, which meant thatshe had not established the confidentiality relationship with the gaycustomer. Research showed that the ethical obligations of a counselorbegin when an individual makes the first contact with theprofessional and not during the first session (Kaplan, 2014).Therefore, advisors need to start applying the ethical codes to aclient because during the initial contact because it marks thebeginning of their professional relationship that allows thecounselor to fulfill their duty to the cross-cultural customers.
People appreciate when others acknowledge the personal decisions theymake. The respects for autonomy in counseling is used to indicate thesuccess of therapy sessions, particularly when the client makesinformed decisions on the steps that are likely to influence theirlives positively. In multicultural counseling, decision making is notan easy process because the factors that affect the client’schoices are their values and perception of a quality life that aredifferent from those of the counselor (Case, Sprong & Blackwell,2016). It might take the advisor time to understand the client’sdecision since it first involves embracing diversity. Throughappreciating their culture, the advisors get to learn differentaspects of their cultural practices that could have motivated thedecision. Autonomy is thus an ethical issue in multi-culturalcounseling because the choices could be influenced by factors such aspain, psychological conditions, cognitive abilities, and fear ofloss. Therefore, even if the counselor applies his/her knowledge andskills in promoting self-determination among his clients, it mightnot be comfortable understanding the various factors. Alternatively,the customer may belong to more than one cultural group. Forinstance, the client might be from a family set up where the fathercould be Asian, and the mother is white. The decision could be basedon varying cultural values obtained from both racial groups (Bidell,2012). Besides, the parents may disagree with the appropriatedecision for their child and fail to support his choice because it iscontradictory to their personal beliefs. In such scenarios, as muchas the counselor tries to abide by the code of ethics inmulticultural counseling, it might be difficult for them particularlywhen the choice affects the life of the client completely.
The respect for autonomy can also contribute to ethical dilemmas byfocusing on the self-understanding of the counselor regarding thevarious cultural practices they are witnessing in their profession.In Cross-cultural counseling, the advisors are ready to respect thechoices that their clients make provided they conform to their socialvalues and do not pose any form of harm to the community. However, itis significant to note that the counselors are not immune to theprivileges and oppressions that various groups experience within thesociety. Therefore, even though the therapists are trained and arecompetent to deliver their services, the social impact of such issuesare likely to interfere with their ethical standards, unethicalpractices. Researchers have raised the concern regarding the matterand are questioning the measures or safeguards that the counselingassociations have implemented to ensure that cultural differences donot affect the behaviors of their counselors (Goodrich, & Shin,2013).
Professional counselors are aimed at doing well to people who seektheir services. As earlier mentioned, the counseling associations inthe world are implementing programs where counselors can be trainedon multicultural counseling since they have realized the significanceof embracing diversity. However, despite the efforts of beingcompetent for cross-cultural counseling, an ethical issue ariseswhere the counselors have to ensure they implement the appropriatecultural intervention. Professionals working in differentenvironments such as institutions, private practitioners, and staffin counseling agencies agree that determining the best interventionstrategy for handling the various cases of their clients is not easy.Their decisions are influenced by social factors such as whether theperson belongs to a minor or major racial or ethnic group in thesociety and their religious affiliation (Baker, et al., 2013).The code of ethics of counseling requires the professionals tounderstand the cultural backgrounds of their client so that they canselect the necessary strategy. However, since the interventiondepends on the counselor’s perception and understanding of theculture of their client, the approach may be ineffective. Therefore,the ability to comprehend other cultural heritages and practicesbefore providing help to other people might undermine the ability ofthe counselor to implement the right morals. At times, the advisorfails to understand innocently the effects of the intervention theyselect that could result in causing more harm rather than good to theclient.
A research was conducted by Baker, et al., (2013) on theanalysis of content used in teaching and training students inmulticultural counseling. The findings of the study showed that thesubjects that focused on enhancing the competency of the counselorsadvocated for frequent supervision of the professionals after theybegin practicing their skills to determine the effectiveness of thetraining. The recommendation is also considered significant as it canidentify some of the challenges that counselors are experiencing incross-cultural therapy such as determining the appropriateintervention, and establishing ways of handling the problems thatshall enhance their services (Barnett & Molzon, 2014).
Communication between the counselor and the client also contributesto the ethical issues in multicultural counseling. The cross-culturaldifferences may result in a communication problem particularly whenthe interaction is classified on one’s age, education level,ethnicity, the standard of privacy, and self-determination.Counselors are trained on how best to lead their patients to disclosehelpful information that the advisor can use to provide the besttreatment for their conditions. Communication can generate an ethicalissue where there is a language barrier between the client and thecounselor. Situations arise when the counselor has limited knowledgeof a foreign language which affects the counseling process. At othertimes, due to the differences in cultural beliefs and value, similarwords may have different meanings in various cultural groups(Eriksson & Abernethy, 2014). Therefore, the counselor may easilymisinterpret the thoughts or meanings of words that their clients areusing to express their ideas and feelings. The communication barriermay result in misdiagnosis of the patient issues and be recommendingthe wrong treatment resulting in unethical practice for thetherapist. Research that was conducted on the ethical issues inphysiotherapy found that most of the practitioners consideredcommunication as a moral dilemma that compromised the quality oftheir work (Praestegaard & Gard, 2013). An application of thefindings of the study on the ethical issues experienced inmulticultural counseling evidently showed that despite the commitmentand competency of the counselor, language barrier tends to underminethe delivery of their professional services. Research also indicatesthat communication also entails obtaining informed consent from theclient or his/her family members regarding the nature of treatmentthat the counselor finds suitable for the patient. However, if thereis a communication barrier, it might be difficult for the advisor toobtain the required mandate yet delivering the treatment might becontrary to the client’s beliefs. The advisor has thus to make apersonal decision on the best approach to apply as per the ethicalprinciples although he may be forced to act contrary to the moralcodes and standards.
In summary, the investigation on multicultural counseling showsseveral ethical issues that are associated with the counselingprofession. The problems include stereotyping where the counselorsmake assumptions that a patient belongs to a particular racial orethnic group. Another issue entails biasness where the therapiststend to discriminate their clients based on their culturalbackground. Discrimination is a crucial ethical issue incross-cultural counseling because the professional organizations arecommitted to ensuring that all their staff embraces diversity.Besides, by eradicating unfair practices within the profession, theyshall achieve equality among all their clients and employees who workin varying conditions. Confidentiality has also been discussed as anethical issue in multicultural counseling that requires the counselorto establish a trustful relationship with their customers so thatthey can be able to obtain all the relevant information needed forrecommending and implementing the required treatment. The advisorsare considered to act unethically if they disclose the information toa third party without the consent of their patient.
Decision-making has also been identified as an ethical issue becausethe clients are making choices that are influenced by either theircultural practices or non-related factors such as pain and physicalcondition. However, despite the focus on the cultural background ofthe customer, the counselor may find it difficult to understand theactual reasons which could make their services ineffective. Anothermoral problem is determining the most appropriate culturalintervention to adopt during a counseling session with a client. Thestrategies are likely to have various effects on the customers, andsince the counselors lack adequate knowledge of the culturalpractices, they may not establish the best intervention to apply inmulticultural counseling. Some of the cultures are broad and with theintercultural marriages, it becomes even difficult to select the bestapproach. Finally, communication barrier also contributes to theethical issues in cross-cultural counseling. Language can limit theexchange process between the advisor and the patient and alsocontribute to unintentional errors due to the different meaningsattached to words and actions across the various groups in thesociety. An analysis of the ethical issues in multiculturalcounseling shows that embracing diversity is significant since itallows people to seek professional services in any area in the world.Besides, the counselors get to work in different countries, althoughthey must undergo the training to become competent cross-culturalcounselors.
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