In her book Lessons From Plants, Beronda Montgomery wrote, “We are best able to create access for and support the success of individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds when we appreciate the gifts that each of them has to offer.” Within our practice here at Garrett Counseling, we recognize the importance of diversity and representation in counseling. In this blog, we are going to delve into this topic a little more.

Why Diversity & Representation Matters In Healthcare

When searching for a clinician, whether it be for primary care or mental health, we always want to consider a provider’s education, experience, and how much they can relate to us. Having a diverse clinical team can open opportunities for new perspectives, a wider speciality pool, and fresh innovation. Managing diversity is more than simply acknowledging differences in people… It involves recognizing the value of differences, combating discrimination, and promoting inclusiveness. Having a diverse clinical team also allows clients to choose their clinician based on their own goals and needs. Licensed Professional Counselor Taylor Negus states “Being able to staff and process with other clinicians from different experience levels allows you to explore other alternatives to helping clients work through challenges they’re facing”.

Diversity & Representation In The Counseling Setting

At Garrett Counseling, we have clinicians who specialize in helping those with depression, anxiety, trauma, stress, addiction, and a plethora of other mental health challenges. We have clinicians who offer faith-based counseling, strength-based counseling, solution-focused brief therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and other evidence-based techniques. As counselors, we are expected and required to follow an ethical standard as a foundational aspect of multicultural counseling competency. In other words, it’s safe to assume that a counselor who is culturally competent also aspires to high ethical standards. Simply put, the more differences present in a group of people, the more ideas that group will have to solve a problem, create a product, or serve a population of people. Licensed Professional Counselor Lynsey Leopard from Garrett Counseling says, “As counselors, we have a responsibility to create a safe and inclusive environment where clients feel comfortable expressing themselves and exploring their thoughts and feelings while recognizing the impact of race, cultural background, sexual orientation, and disability status. I bring my unique intersectional identity of gender, sexuality, and disability to the treatment team as a way to incorporate multiple perspectives allowing for professional growth to better serve clients.”

Most people want to feel heard, seen, and understood by their clinician. This could touch on several aspects of diversity. Having a clinician that understands and empathizes with the hurdles that are being faced can enhance the therapeutic alliance. A lack of representation results in fewer role models, as well as limited peer support from those with a shared experience. Cultural differences mean just that– differences. They are not deficiencies or pathological deviations. This suggests having the ability to meet clients where and how they are. Gains made in ethnic and racial diversity among counselors and their subsequent experiences have shed light on oppressive factors that impact minoritized clients’ success. Counselors apply their awareness of and knowledge about cultural diversity to appropriate skills development with specific client groups. It is pertinent for counselors to take into account the entire person including their physical aspects, religious backgrounds and overall values. The client and the counselors attitudes and behaviors may vary, thus competent counselors need to have an awareness of how important these differences are within the counseling session.

Guidelines To Consider

All people in a particular group do not act or think in the same manner and that although cultural knowledge is important, it is critical to approach each client as a unique individual. If one is discussing ethnic differences, one might use generalizations in order to understand differences, and often generalizations become pejoratively cast as “stereotypes”. Stereotypes are a widely held but fixed and oversimplified idea of a particular type of person or thing. Working to challenge stereotypes when searching for a clinician can positively impact your treatment. Finding a diverse clinician can deepen the understanding of the journeys of cultures that differ from ours. As humans, we have different experiences of power and powerlessness, which are influenced by the social GGRRAAACCEEESSS. This acronym can be used to describe aspects of personal and social identity that can impact a client’s privilege and power in society. Power differentials can never be obliterated but making positions explicit and exploring their effects enables people to make better choices in their future actions.

Sexual orientation

The American Counseling Association says, “Every human being on earth is unique and uniquely important. Each person embarks on the adventure of life guided by their own spirit, outlook, and traits of character. These facets help to shape and guide the course of every human journey. Everyone is equal on this path. No individual has the right or the authority to judge or mock another, or to force anyone to adhere to any type of societal norm.” This is the foundation of expectations for counselors, ethically, working to increase cultural competency. Diversity offers people with different talents, experiences, and skill sets working together to create and research creative and inventive solutions. On the other hand, having a less diverse team of counselors that share similar life experiences and backgrounds may use a more standard approach to solving problems, oftentimes stifling innovation.

It is important to know that just because your therapist may not look like you or come from the same background as you, they may still be qualified to work with you. Mental health providers are supposed to be educated on working with a wide array of clients using a multitude of therapeutic and evidenced based practices and be warm, respectful, and welcoming enough to listen and learn from their clients to foster rapport. It is also thought that if therapists identify too similarly with clients, they may not be the right fit either, because maintaining appropriate boundaries may be challenging due to “over-identifying.” Also, if clients identify too closely with their therapist, they may see the therapist as a friend versus a service provider or assume they have the same life experiences, and be upset when the outlook of life is dissimilar. Licensed Clinical Social Work-Supervisor Jamie Thompson says, “Learning from the clients helps develop a better understanding of where they are coming from, and it is important for me to engage in self-reflection and to recognize that the clients are the expert in their own experiences.”

Finding Diversity & Representation

Bottom line, everyone wants to feel like they belong and connect with others. Everyone wants to feel understood and validated. This starts by increasing diversity and decreasing discrimination and prejudice. As counselors many times this starts by us thinking about what it would be like to be in that person’s shoes. It is recommended for counselors to be present in the counseling room both physically and emotionally. Additionally, it is important for counselors to be knowledgeable of a variety of approaches to fit the person in the environment. Licensed Professional Counselor Sarah Cook says, “As counselors we are trained to be present in the room with our clients. You can learn so much from listening to other people’s life experiences and sometimes feeling heard and understood is the best way for people to grow”. Most everyone has goals and dreams, and everyone has hurdles and limitations. We, as a society, need to welcome, support, and validate all experiences of life.

By looking at life experiences, we can be aware of how different levels of diversity, including trauma related to racial concerns may be impacting our clients. It is imperative that we as therapists assess how different multicultural concerns impact our clients by asking. We cannot assume that our clients have no multicultural concerns, because they have not “brought it up.” If we do, we are missing a vital part of not only their potential personal history, but our ability as clinicians to be their advocate should they want that. It is important that we as mental health providers build rapport with our clients in every avenue we have available to us. We cannot assume that a person does or does not identify with a particular group because of overt features (age, race, ethnicity, sex, etc). Our eyes do not paint the picture of the clients in front of us, it is the clients’ right. What is our job is to create a safe space for each person to feel whatever concerns one may have, can be brought to our attention.

At Garrett Counseling, we work to individualize, not generalize. We ask our clients about their experiences without exploiting them for our own learning process. We strive to model multicultural competency in our work and demeanor, being sure to ask all clients the correct way to pronounce names, preferred pronouns, what they prefer to be called, etc. Our offices provide an inviting environment that displays culturally inviting and appropriate artwork. Our clinical staff at Garrett Counseling strives to promote genuineness, authenticity and a safe space for diverse clients to have access to mental health. We consider it an honor to work with people of all orientations, ethnicity, religions, highlighting multicultural competence and a respect for diverse views. We encourage our clients to be genuine and to work to find their own authentic self, even if your true self appears to be different from social norms.

This article was written by Maegen Harris, M.Ed, ALC (under the supervision of Leah Simmons #3334) and Sarah Cook, LPC.

For more articles like this:



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