Multiculturalism in Social Work
Some may view multicultural counseling as simply working with various cultures while being open and accepting. This is, of course, a huge part of it; however, it involves much more. Not only is it important to be open and accepting but it is also important is to understand how other cultures may view multiculturalism. To understand this, multiculturalism in social work is important.
It is also important is to understand services and counseling, stereotypes cultures must face and fight through, and what is important to a culture based on their upbringings, such as values and religion. It means to approach the counseling process from the context of the personal culture of the client.
No one, of course, can know every single thing about every single culture. That being said, having at least a basic understanding will take you far.
For example, where a handshake may be the appropriate and professional greeting in one culture, in another culture physical touch with a stranger or acquaintance may be looked down upon.
It is nuances like these that will make your job much easier if you know them ahead of time, or at least learn them very quickly in your professional experience.
How to Effectively Use Multiculturalism in Social Work
Here are some tips on how to be a multiculturally competent Social Worker:
Defining Multicultural Counseling
As mentioned above, this includes more much than an open, accepting attitude towards your clients. Multicultural counseling is when a professional counselor works with a client from a different cultural background and how those differences may affect the relationship. This includes religion and spirituality, sexual orientation, gender, age and maturity, socioeconomic class, family history, and even geographic location. A great first step is to both identify and acknowledge these differences so you are aware of the weight they may hold throughout your professional work together.
As a social worker, it is vital to be present enough to identify the culture differences at play. The typical “Western-style” of counseling and social services is not necessarily compatible with other cultures. The western style tends to be inquisitive and direct, including the use of body language, eye contact, and using open-ended questions. Asian Americans however, for instance, may experience this method as impolite. Native Americans also may feel this directness to be too invasive. It is the job of the social worker to be sensitive to these preferences in order to build the trust necessary to have a successful professional relationship.
Understanding & Addressing Issues
An effective tool in counseling may be to openly acknowledge any differences between the social worker and client, again being sensitive to the directness of the western style. By addressing these differences you can create solutions on how to best work within the present dynamic. Establishing a genuine rapport with multicultural clients is to openly show your willingness to learn about their belief systems, how their family structure affects who they are, collectivist vs. individualistic viewpoints, etc.
As a multiculturally competent counselor, self-awareness is key. It is important to know your own worldview and how certain beliefs in regard to race, religion, gender, etc. may affect your own prejudices, feelings, and stereotypical ideas about other cultures. Being consistently self-aware may prove difficult at times, but as a professional counselor, it is important to remain open-minded and open to information about other cultures while never allowing your own views affect your work.
Continuing Education for Multicultural Counseling
As stated earlier, it is impossible to fully master all knowledge of every culture. It is a continual process to educate yourself in multicultural counseling. The more you work within the field and work with a diverse population of clients, the greater your knowledge and insight will be. Be open to learning continuously, whether it be through a greater understanding of multiculturalism in social work or another area of focus.
Ahmed, S., Wilson, K. B., Henriksen Jr., R. C., & Jones, J. W. (2011, Spring). What Does It Mean to Be a Culturally-Competent Counselor? Journal for Social Action in Counseling and Psychology, 3(1), 17-28.
Vera, E. M., & Speight, S. L. (2003, May). Multicultural Competence, Social Justice, and Counseling Psychology: Expanding Our Roles. The Counseling Psychologist, 31(3), 253-272.