The development of American society as a multicultural society in the recent years resulted from the numerous incidences of diaspora and migration among individuals who belong to various cultures and societies all over the world. At present, the United States is host country to peoples of various race, ethnicity, worldviews, as well as social class, which include Europeans, Asians, Africans, Hispanic, and Native Americans. The diversity of American society thus necessitates an awareness of the cultural differences among these groups to further understand and tolerate these differences as each group interacts with the other and the whole of American society.
Understanding cultural diversity is indeed imperative for the counselor, who faces the challenge to provide efficient mental health service for an individual who may belong to a culturally-different group other than the white Americans. The hybridization of American society serves as a challenge for multicultural counseling to become more up-to-date, dynamic, and flexible as this field of expertise is vital for the healthy mental and personal development of people. This challenge means that multicultural counselors should become more competent in their chosen field and are able to adapt to the changes that are created and developed in the society.
In the texts that follow, the researcher discusses the important characteristics or competencies that a multicultural counselor must have. Apart from these competencies, the discussion of multicultural counseling involves a critical analysis of important issues, scope, and limitations of multicultural counseling as it is applied in the field, wherein the competencies enumerated demonstrates the need for an integrative approach towards counseling -- that is, subsistence to a multilateral rather than a unilateral or bilateral approach to counseling clients availing of mental health services.
The essence of multicultural counseling competence is underscored by Baruth and Manning (1999), enumerating nine (9) competencies which counselors should have:
1. Awareness of their own cultural characteristics
2. Awareness of how their cultural values and biases may affect minority clients
3. Understanding of the American sociopolitical system in relation to minorities
4. Ability to resolve differences of race and beliefs between counselor and client
5. Ability to know when a client should be referred to a counselor of the client's own race or culture
6. Knowledge and information about the particular group of clients with whom the counselor is working
7. Clear and explicit knowledge and understanding of counseling and therapy
8. A wide range of verbal and non-verbal response skills
9. Skills to send and receive both accurate and appropriate verbal and non-verbal messages
This list of competencies demonstrate that in order to become an effective multicultural counselors, counselors themselves must confront the fact that they should also have a deep reflection and understanding of their personality and identity as individuals. This means that s/he must be able to fully comprehend that multicultural counseling makes it imperative for him/her to go beyond understanding the client based on his/her race, ethnicity, gender, and social class, to include the counselor's attitude and perception of the client.
Given the following characteristics that counselors must have to become competent, it is also vital to understand why "race matters." Why there must be understanding of people coming from a different race? What does race have anything to do with counseling? These questions brings to surface the history of multicultural counseling, and how focus on race have become the core or foundation of multicultural counseling in determining people's cultural differences from each other.
One of the pioneering studies in the history of multicultural counseling is the Hernstein and Murray's study of the bell curve, which argues that "intelligence is inherited and that there is a correlation between race and intellect" (Arredondo, 2004). This assertion is considered racist by the scientists' critics, but this important finding illustrates how race is a fundamental determinant of cultural differences among people from all societies and nations. It is through race that the counselor, at surface value, assesses the personality and behavior of the individual. It is important to note, however, that race is just the first step towards attaining awareness about multiculturalism for the counselor. Nevertheless, determination of cultural differences and similarities through race is an effective way of creating constructs which counselors will adopt in formulating potential therapy programs for the individual. In effect, understanding how the client interacts with his/her society provides better understanding of what effective intervention or therapy program…