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Section 15
Components of Counselor Credibility
with Alaskan Natives

Question 15 | Test | Table of Contents

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In the last section, we discussed Collins’ five psychological sets of culturally different clients, including Alaska Natives. These five sets were the Problem-Solving Set, the Consistency Set, the Identification Set, the Economic Set, and the Authority Set.

In this section, we will discuss counselor credibility for culturally different clients. As you are well aware, credibility, which elicits the problem-solving, consistency, and identification sets in clients discussed in the previous section, can be defined as the constellation of characteristics that make certain individuals appear worthy of belief, capable, entitled to confidence, and reliable. I have found that there are three components of credibility. These three components of credibility are expertise, trustworthiness, and belief similarity.

When Emma, age 32, a Native Alaskan, came to me because she was having difficulties coping with her emotions, I knew I would need to handle her case differently than I would the case of a white client. Emma stated, "It’s hard for me to talk about these issues. My parents and friends … they wouldn’t understand … if they ever found out I was coming here for help …." Emma trailed off.

How would you have responded to Emma?

Instinctively I wanted to talk Emma through her feelings and help her to interpret those feelings. However, I knew that Emma was likely looking for a tangible solution. As you know, in some culturally different clients, oftentimes playing a relatively inactive role by simply talking through emotions would be perceived as being inexpert.

3 Components of Credibility

♦ #1 - Expertise
For the first component of credibility, expertise, the fact that counselors have degrees and certificates from prestigious institutions may not enhance their perceived expertise to a culturally different client. As you are well aware, this is especially true of clients who are culturally different and aware that institutional racism exists in training programs.

For this reason, ethically reputation-expertise is not likely to impress a culturally different client. Often culturally different clients like Emma will only accept expertise if it is demonstrated through your ability to help her. I have found that for this reason using counseling skills and strategies appropriate to the life values of the culturally different client is crucial.

♦ #2 - Trustworthiness
The second component of credibility I have found is trustworthiness. Obviously perceived trustworthiness encompasses such factors as sincerity, openness, honesty, and perceived lack of motivation for personal gain. Clearly self-disclosure is dependent on trustworthiness.

With culturally different clients however, trust is not always something that comes with the role of therapist. Therapists are often perceived by culturally different clients to be societal agents who may use information against them. For this reason, ethically, being trustworthy must be demonstrated in behavioral terms.

Dakota, age 27, a Native American, was referred to me for counseling after he became violent at a basketball game and punched a player on the opposing team in the face. When his white coach, Dave, tried to calm him down, Dakota threatened to punch the coach, too. In counseling, however, Dakota was not open to talking with me at first. I stated, "I sense some major hesitations. It seems you are having difficulty discussing your concerns with me."

Dakota replied, "You’re damn right! If I really told you how I felt about Dave, what’s to prevent you from telling him? You whities are all of the same mind." As you can see Dakota was testing my trustworthiness.

I stated, "Look, it would be a lie for me to say I don’t know your coach. He’s an acquaintance, but not a personal friend. Even if he was, I hold our discussions in the strictest confidence. Don’t put me in the same bag with all whites!" I then asked Dakota, "What can I do to make it easier for you to trust me?" Dakota replied, "Well, you’re on your way!"

As you can see from this scene with Dakota, clients of a different culture are likely to constantly test therapists regarding issues of confidentiality. Dakota was testing me by discussing my relationship with his coach. By admitting that I did know his coach but clarifying that we were only acquaintances, I gained a little trust from Dakota. However, I had to earn it.

Clearly the onus of responsibility for proving trustworthiness will often fall on you, the therapist. Additionally proving trustworthiness will occasionally require self-disclosure on the part of the counselor. As you are well aware proving trustworthiness is often difficult because it does occasionally demand self-disclosure from the counselor.

It goes without saying that self-disclosure is something therapist training programs teach you to avoid. However, is self-disclosure something you may need to do to prove your trustworthiness to a culturally different client of yours?

♦ #3 - Belief Similarity
Finally in addition to expertise and trustworthiness, the third component of credibility is belief similarity. Obviously racial similarity can be a key component of successful counseling. Many believe that successful interracial counseling is highly improbable because of the cultural barriers involved. However, Schmedinghoff suggests that belief similarity may be ethically more important than racial similarity.

Well-trained and sensitive counselors of another race may be able to establish effective counseling relationships with their culturally different clients through type of issue, sex of counselor, counselor experience, or counselor style. Literature on how prejudice is acquired indicates that prejudice causes people to assume that other people’s beliefs are dissimilar. However, this is obviously not always the case. Racial similarity may be less important in forming counseling rapport than genuine acceptance of your client’s beliefs.

Do you have a client... of a different culture like Emma who is not benefiting from counseling because she does not believe you are an expert and thus does not believe you have credibility? Or is your culturally different client more like Dakota, who simply does not believe you have credibility because he does not trust you? Or does your culturally different client simply not share the same beliefs as you in addition to not sharing the same race?

The APA Code of Ethics states, "Psychologists are aware of and respect cultural, individual, and role differences, including those based on age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language, and socioeconomic status and consider these factors when working with members of such groups."  

In this section, we have discussed three components of counselor credibility. These three components of counselor credibility were expertise, trustworthiness, and belief similarity.

In the next section, we will discuss methods of counseling a culturally different client who is depressed and angry.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Ford, T., Avey, J., DeRuyter, J., Whipple, J. L., & Rivkin, I. (2012). Providers' voices on telebehavioral health: Survey of an outpatient counseling agency in Alaska. Psychological Services, 9(3), 316–317.

Gundel, B. E., Bartholomew, T. T., & Scheel, M. J. (2020). Culture and care: An illustration of multicultural processes in a counseling dyad. Practice Innovations, 5(1), 19–31. 

Hwang, K.-K. (2019). Enhancing cultural awareness by the construction of culture-inclusive theories. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 39(2), 67–80. 

Mujica, C., Alvarez, K., Tendulkar, S., Cruz-Gonzalez, M., & Alegría, M. (2020). Association between patient-provider racial and ethnic concordance and patient-centered communication in outpatient mental health clinics. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 30(3), 423–439. 

Ruelas, S. R., Atkinson, D. R., & Ramos-Sanchez, L. (1998). Counselor helping model, participant ethnicity and acculturation level, and perceived counselor credibility. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 45(1), 98–103.

What are three components of counselor credibility?
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Section 16
Table of Contents