Healthcare Training Institute - Quality Education since 1979
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Ethical Issues in Counselor Preparation
During training, counselors adopt a cognitive map of the counseling process and a related "psychology" of humanity. This worldview confirms and maintains the identity and self-esteem of the counselor. Powerful filters between the counselor and external reality are created to support this worldview. (Holiman & Lauver, 1987, p. 186)
The most influential and powerful filter is a product of the counselor's own cultural background and experiences (Holiman & Lauver, 1987). Therefore, it comes as no surprise that counselors tend to identify clients who are culturally similar to themselves as the most desirable with which to work. Sue (1981) suggested that counselor preparation programs facilitate cultural encapsulation through "(a) the substitution of model stereotypes for the real world, (b) the disregarding of cultural variations in a dogmatic adherence to some universal notion of truth, and (c) the use of a technique oriented definition of the counseling process" (p. 5).
Ponterotto and Benesch (1988) suggested that inefficiency in and criticism of multicultural preparation in counselor training programs discourages trainees from seeking proficiency in the cross cultural arena. Ponterotto and Benesch also contended that training programs, through misdirected emphasis on deviation instead of synthesis, arguably defeat the purpose of sensitizing counselors to multicultural perspectives. Palmo and Weikel (1986) recast the paradox:
The gap between awareness, understanding, and knowledge, on the one hand, and behavior, on the other, has led to failure in counseling programs and ultimately to ineffective cross-cultural counseling experiences. (p. 131)
The lack of relevancy in cross-cultural training programs may give birth to the tendency among counselors and trainees to avoid working with multicultural clients. Section H.8 of the Standards states, "Preparatory programs must encourage students to value the ideals of service to individuals and to society" (AACD, 1988). Because "society" represents a collection of culturally distinct groups and individuals, one can argue that some counselor training programs fail to live up to the ethical guidelines of the very profession they serve. The Standards of AACD should specifically define and reflect what the minimum multicultural training requirements and demonstrable competencies are (see Ponterotto & Casas, 1987).
Ponterotto and Benesch (1988) went on to note that there are too many culturally distinct groups and too many intragroup variations in behavior for counselors and trainees to master and internalize. Such a task would be overwhelming. It is unrealistic to expect the majority of counselors to develop in-depth expertise in a specified (or minimum) number of cultures or social groups.
This is not and should not be the aim of our ethical or professional approach to multicultural training. A reasonable and attainable goal is to indoctrinate mental health counselors with tools that allow for systematic identification, understanding, and accommodation of the unique needs of people from differing backgrounds and experiences. Although counselors must remain within the bounds of competence in the provision of services (see Section A.7 of the Standards), they also must strive to be available to and effective with a wide variety of human beings.
Even as training programs adjust to impart multicultural skills to mental health counselors, individual commitment to and motivation for working with clients from diverse backgrounds may still be lacking. Weikel and Palmo (1989) describe professionals that "play at counseling" (p. 19) or otherwise display "halfhearted" (p. 19) investment in clients, professional growth, or the continuation of skills development.
These same ethical concerns are easily discernible in the context of multicultural counseling. Too many professionals rely solely on personal strategies that are derived from limited experience or intuition. As a result, many clients are inadequately served. The final case vignette addresses the ramifications of such ethically questionable posturing.
Connie has been a master's-level practitioner in a private setting for several years. As a beginning counselor in the community agencies, she had sometimes served people from different ethnic and sociocultural backgrounds. Often, they had been very poor. Connie remembers those as having been difficult cases.
These days, regardless of ethnicity, the majority of Connie's clients are striving to be mainstream and middle class. Considering that her graduate program had not offered any training in cross cultural counseling, Connie is content with her own strategies for dealing with the occasional client from a foreign culture. Her ability to be empathic has certainly never been questioned. What would be the point of investing in formal multicultural training? besides, if competence really becomes an issue with a particular client, Connie can always make referrals.
Drawing upon data gathered by inducing cultural disorientation in counselor trainees, Merta, Stringham, and Ponterotto (1988) accurately prescribed a remedy for training programs that are cross culturally deficient. To effectively serve the needs of professionals and clients, counselor training programs must provide both "in vivo exposure and behavioral interaction" (p. 242) with clients who are culturally distinct.
Casas et al. (1986) responded to the suggestion that although the Standards do not detail specific guidelines for the preparation or delivery of optimal services to culturally unique persons, counselors are effectively able to infer, interpret, and concoct individualized strategies:
The reality of the situation, however, is that most counselors have not been sufficiently prepared to be able to extrapolate the implicit guidelines automatically to racial and ethnic minority groups. Even if counselors have the proper intentions, they are not likely to have the basis for assessing ethical issues regarding these groups. (p. 348)
The revised Standards still prove inadequate in addressing the specific ethical obligations of mental health counselors to culturally diverse clients. Before the profession can fully pursue the ideal of mental health through prevention and development, AACD and counselor training programs must cooperatively remediate the existing approach to multicultural preparation. Even if ethical constructs can be implied from the professional guidelines, the problems of variability in interpretation and apathy pose a significant danger to clients, counselors, and the integrity of the counseling profession.
This is our ethical obligation to such clients. Ponterotto and Casas (1987) aptly summarized the point: "One must consider how this [client's] cultural background (including values, expectations, perceptions, expression of symptoms, nature of stressors, and available resources) interacts with the power-dominant host society's cultural patterns" (p. 433).
This review has emphasized the counselor's worldview as an influential variable in the provision of service. It has been suggested that the ethical guidelines regarding service to culturally unique clients be specifically defined to protect the interests of the client and the counselor (Pedersen & Marsella, 1982). The nonspecificity of the current Standards leads to considerable variability within the counseling profession and counselor training programs. As Pedersen and Marsella (1982) stated, "The ethical crisis relates to the practical application of abstract ethical formulations" (p. 499).
The professional literature contains an abundant supply of strategies and proposals for defining specific ethical principles in regard to serving culturally unique clients. If the counseling profession truly aspires to meeting the needs of the heterogeneous groups that constitute "society," it must institute principles that facilitate thorough counselor training, thus maximizing the capacity to serve effectively.
In the trek toward achieving parity and being recognized as viable "service providers," counselors must use proactive measures and be mindful of the obligation to support preventive mental health. The development and implementation of clear and specific cross-cultural ethical guidelines would be a significant step forward.
Reflection Exercise #2
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References: