Essay: Multicultural Ethics in Counseling

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Multicultural Ethics in Counseling

Following ethical procedures ensures the proper professional treatment of consultations and counseling sessions, as well as interactions within the professional community. The counselor's integrity is at stake for private practice and for research. It is fortunate for prospective counselors that there are valuable resources available to help them think about and enact moral guidelines, particularly those related to the important issue of multicultural interaction.

The American Counseling Association (2005) published an ethical code that is a major reference point and a crucial resource for the counselor in resolving ethical dilemmas and maintaining professional standards. A thorough immersion in the ACA code can help mitigate potentially unethical practices. Although the new version takes into account issues of multiculturalism that were downplayed by the previous code, the necessity for revision (a positive step) shows the limitation of relying solely on written codes. Outdated standards may contain prejudicial ideas or inadequate information that limits their utility for current settings. In these cases, the code must continually be subject to new ideas that better reflect the changing situation of people who seek counseling services.

Another limitation of the code is that it does not provide a specific model for engaging ethical dilemmas. As ACA code (2005) states in its purpose statement, "While there is no specific ethical decision-making model that is most effective, counselors are expected to be familiar with a credible model of decision making that can bear public scrutiny and its application" (p. 3). In other words, the code is general. Therefore, the counselor must seek other resources to fill out their understanding of ethical decision-making. This involves continuous thoughtful investigation. In terms of the increasing multiculturalism of today's practice, a good place to start would be the proposal of Garcia et al. (2004) for a four-step transcultural integrative model for approaching ethical decision-making. It stresses balance, attention to cultural context, self-reflection, and collaboration in making ethical decisions.

The ACA code's standards go far to address relevant ethical dilemmas faced in the therapeutic context. Its new emphasis on culture, diversity, and social justice is a real strength. It encourages therapists to understand cultural diversity, to communicate in culturally and mentally sensitive language, and to explore how their own cultural identities affect the therapeutic process. The code is helpful for its guidelines on clarifying the role and relationship of therapist-client and maintaining proper boundaries, including defining how any potentially beneficial interaction with a client outside the professional context should be conducted and recorded (a.5.d). Its regulations about confidentiality, disclosures, and privacy are important, such as keeping records in a secure place (B.6.a) and making sure parents/guardians are informed of the counseling role (B.5.b). The examples could be multiplied. All the sections on professional responsibility and consultations, as well as on the ethical conduct of research, are adequate guides for ethical decision-making in these areas.

Another valuable aspect of the ACA code is that it emphasizes the legal obligations of the therapist. A therapist must be cognizant of and comply with the law (for example, those about confidentiality and reporting possible conditions of abuse). However, as stated above, no code can contain ethical advice for every specific human situation. As a result, the counselor must be prepared to make well-informed interpretations of the general guidelines in situations where the code is insufficient. This is where it becomes important for the counselor to be self-aware of the influence of their own beliefs, cultural values, biases, and social identity.

In the past, counselors often lacked the necessary preparation to interpret ethical guidelines with racial and ethnic sensitivity (Pederson, 1994). Many of the ethical theories they studied were founded on paradigms that did not consider specific cultural content such as issues of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status. They used biased models that were irresponsible when counseling clients informed by different cultural assumptions. Some of the mistakes made are addressed in Gielen, Draguns, & Fish (2008), such as misdiagnosis of client's concern, poor reading of non-verbal cues, and misunderstanding between therapist and client. As a result, their therapeutic results were bound to be underachieved.

Today there is more awareness that beliefs, cultural values, background, biases, and social identities inform the therapeutic situation and the work of the counselor. It is important to understand their influence not only as a matter of respect for the client, but also because understanding them may advance the therapeutic process and prevent breakdown caused by lack of multicultural awareness. For example, the socially oppressive situation of many clients should be recognized as an important aspect of their psychological identity and cannot be ethically ignored. If a client feels socially oppressed, it might be important for the counselor to become a social advocate for that person, or at least support the person in their own struggle against oppressive social structures, in order to create change. It is imperative for a practitioner to consider the cultural context of their client since the way a client defines their concern has much to do with their cultural experience and background. The therapist must be aware of the client's perspective. If a client claims a different ethnicity from the therapist, the therapist has an ethical duty to understand that perspective in order to provide the best help. The language he or she uses ought to reflect cultural understanding keyed in to their client's language and capacities.

To become multiculturally sensitive, the counselor must engage in a reflection process on their own personal biases, beliefs, background, values, and social identity. This development of the counselor is significant for their openness to and honoring of diversity. One should not impose one's values on a client. Rather, one should minimize bias, increase awareness, and meet the client on ground that suits them as a unique person whose life needs and context may be very different than the therapist's own. Otherwise the therapist risks making judgment errors or leading the client down the wrong path. A counselor who is more self-aware in the areas of beliefs, biases, values, etc., will be a more prepared counselor, because he or she will be able to construct and pursue theoretical viewpoints, therapeutic plans, and research that take a broader range of experience into consideration. A depth of human understanding cannot help but make him or her more successful in aiding others. If the counselor holds different values than a client and insists on asserting them, he or she may lose credibility and effectiveness. If the therapist is aware of this, she or he can use an alternative approach that respects the client's values.

Sadeghi, Fischer and House (2003) have shown that a central multicultural ethical dilemma is the contrast between fostering independence for problem-solving and the client's expectation that the counselor will offer solutions. This raises the issue of independence/empowerment techniques vs. interdependence/collectivist techniques. The client may not value autonomy as the therapist does and may not understand the suggested solution. This is an example of the therapist's bias coming through in a way that is not helpful for the client. It is not the therapist's job to reverse the client's cultural experience, but to meet the client where they are. In terms of assessment and diagnostic instruments, the practitioner must beware of using biased tools and information gathered on populations different than the client's on data like age, race, gender, disability, ethnicity, and sexual orientation (among others). It is unethical to utilize incautiously an assessment tool that cannot match the experience of the client.

To gain further multicultural sensitivity, steps must be taken to self-educate. Professional conferences and seminars should be attended on multiculturalism and related ethical issues. Knowledge and skills for dealing with ethical dilemmas and multiculturalism can be acquired through keeping up-to-date on new research conducted in this area. One good idea is to subscribe… [END OF PREVIEW]

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