Multicultural Competence in Counseling

A driving force in recent years is a more counselor awareness of multicultural differences between people.  As the world becomes smaller and more and more different ethnic and religious communities interact, the reality that individuals with very different views is becoming more and more common.  Simply through social media, the interaction between different individuals with diverse backgrounds has increased over the years.  Counselors also are coming into more contact with others of different beliefs and cultures and it is important for counselors to understand cultural issues within a client and how that affects the counseling process.  How a particular person from one culture versus another culture can vary greatly how various emotions such as grief are displayed, or how certain emotions are seen as positive and negative.  When working with a client, a counselor needs to be able to understand these differences.  The counselor will also need to understand other sensitive issues that exist for a particular client that is tied to his/her culture or background.  This involves many investigative and interviewing steps to have a full grasp of the client.

Multicultural Competence

When counseling, counselors need to be aware of cultural differences between themselves and clients

Many are sometimes rigid to ideas of multicultural issues and may see it as merely another “woke” agenda but this is farther from the truth.  Multicultural competence is imperative to social skills, especially for counselors.  It helps counselors better understand different clients to maximize helping and minimize harm.  According to Ivey, it is ethically imperative that counselors become more multicultural competent in their care of clients (2018, p. 51).   Hence any hesitancy by counselors to remain close minded to cultural realities is something contrary to the very nature of helping others.  There are extremely important things to consider when helping others with different backgrounds and they play key roles in the therapeutic process.

Ivey lists the “RESPECTFUL” model which highlights key dimensions within a human person.  Each letter of respectful correlates with something unique about ourselves as well as others.  When looking at the counselor and client, it is important to identify not only the client within this model, but also the counselor and how the differences between the two could possibly manifest and side track the counseling process.  We will briefly look at this model.



R= Religious or spiritual background.  Obviously someone who is Christian would differ greatly from someone who is Hindu, or someone who is religious versus someone who is secular.

E= Economic and social background.  A more wealthy counselor may have issues identifying with an individual with far less income and wealth.

S= Sexual Identity.  Individuals who are heterosexual or homosexual have very different stories to tell in regards of acceptance within society

P= Personal Style and Education.  Different levels of education can cause differences in how well communication and conversation is achieved.

E= Ethnic and Racial Identity.  Different cultures and races have different experiences with situations. Sometimes counselor and client are two differently culturally and racial people

C= Chronological/Life Span.  Depending on one’s age, the outlook on a particular situation can differ greatly.

T= Trauma.  An individual based on their situation or culture may inherit various different levels of inherent trauma

F= Family background and History.  A person’s upbringing can play a key role in his/her development.  A person raised in a two parent home versus a one parent home

U= Unique Physical Characteristics.  A person with various disabilities has a unique set of challenges.

L=Location and Language.  A person’s land or origin, or where a person resides or the language a person speaks can all create unique difficulties

(Ivey, 2018, p. 33)

These types of differences all point to unique challenges a counselor may encounter with a particular client.   When counseling, different cultural expressions can emerge in how one expresses or speaks or means a certain phrase.  Hence it is important to be aware of the RESPECTFUL model and see how each element can possibly apply to a client

Soul Wounds

Different races, cultures and people face historical traumas and what is referred to as “soul wounds”


Different cultures experience different griefs or collective wounds that an individual has inherited.  This can be referred to as social grief, but also according to Ivey, as “soul wounds” (2018., p.52),  Historical trauma can play a key role in how an individual living in the present experiences the world and interacts with it.  African American clients can experience quite a different situation from day to day interaction with others than White Americans.  A simple traffic stop can have a greater traumatic effect due to racial profiling, police brutality, and social injustice.  In addition, African Americans suffer the tragic legacy of slavery within their history.  Following slavery, unjust and unequal economic restrictions prevented many African Americans from accumulating wealth leading to current poverty levels for many of them.  These types of issues and a host of other microaggressions greatly affect African American clients.

Simple prejudice can also exist at the microlevel that many individuals do not notice.  Microaggressions based on mere differences of culture and skin color exist within the world.  Whether unintended or intended, these aggressions add up over time.  Individuals face prejudices, looks, stares, or unkind words or opinions that can build up within them over time (Ivey, 2018, p. 52).  In most cases, although, microaggressions are not intended to be harmful, they still can cause great harm and trigger the other party.

So whether it is the African American community, or the Native American community, or the LGBTQ community, various slights and soul wounds exist within their communities that affect them.  Understanding these wounds and the importance of recognizing this diversity is critical in any type of counseling.

Counselor World View 

Believe it or not, the counselor brings with him/herself a variety of inherent bias and world views that he/she must be aware of and attempt to filter out when counseling.  Awareness  of one’s own background is as key as awareness of the client’s background (Ivey, 2018, p. 52).  Within this, a counselor of a particular background must be aware of his/her own beliefs and background but also how he/she appears before the client.  A white male counselor may initially cause some distance between a black female client.  The issue of creating trust and understanding may take longer. In this case, privilege and image play a key role.  A young counselor may find struggles counseling an older client, so minimizing the status of oneself or the privileges associated with oneself can play a key role in a healthy counselor/client relationship.  Unfortunately, sometimes, counselors and clients do not match, and through no fault of either, another fit may be best.  Do not feel horrible if this is the case because in many cases the perception of the client regarding the counselor is key.

The client hence needs to show cultural sensitivity to race, religion, age, gender, sexuality or culture of the individual.  This involves using political correct terminology (Ivey, 2018, p. 52).  The counseling session should not include language that is non-inclusive that already exists in the  outside world and causes distress to the client.  The counseling should be professional and void of damaging language.  In addition, the counselor must be extra careful in how he/she presents himself to different individuals with different backgrounds that may cause distress, either through posture, facial expressions, or words.  The counselor also needs to be mindful of his/her own beliefs and maintain a neutral setting with those of extremely different views.  The counselor should do his/her very best to be inclusive and open minded in listening and discussing issues that are different than his/her own religious or even moral beliefs.   If bias exists, then it needs to be dismissed.  A client can never be dismissed or set to the side due to cultural or moral differences.  This goes against all ethical standards of counseling.  If cultural differences are so great and there is no benefit in the counseling, usually the client will sense it, but if not, a counselor can help the client find a counselor that better matches the client’s needs, but again, this must be done with sensitivity, care and mutual agreement.


Ultimately it is the counselors job to be multicultural competent.  Some counselors may be less open to this type of training but to better serve the client and cause no harm it is absolutely essential that counselors become multicultural competent.

Please also review AIHCP’s Grief Counseling and Christian Counseling certification programs and see if they meet your academic and professional goals

Counselors need to be aware of different backgrounds through the RESPECTFUL MODEL, be aware of soul wounds of a particular culture and also be aware of their own beliefs and values.  The counselor needs to remain neutral but educated on different backgrounds.  This is not only important ethically but it also permits the counselor to better understand how different people experience the world and how they communicate it.  In addition, a counselor needs to be aware of his/her own values and appearance and how that translates to a potential client.

Please also review AIHCP’s Grief Counseling Certification, as well as its Christian Counseling Certification.  AIHCP also offers a host of other mental health certifications for clergy, pastoral and clinical counselors, social workers and any individuals within the Human Service fields in Crisis Intervention, Stress Management and also Anger Management.  All of the programs are online and independent study and open to qualified professionals seeking a four year certification.

Also for members of AIHCP with existing Grief Counseling Certifications, please review AIHCP’s Grief Diversity Counseling Program which focuses on such issues of grief and diversity within different cultural groups.



Ivey, A. et. al. (2018). “Intentional Interviewing and Counseling: Facilitating Client Development in a Multicultural Society” (9th Ed.) Cengage

Additional Resources

Seales, J., (2022). “Cultural Competence in Therapy: What It Is and How to Find It”. PsychCentral.  Access here

Farook, M. “The State of Multicultural Counseling Competencies Research”.  Society for the Advancement of Psychotherapy. Access here

Gillson, S. & Ross, A. (2019). “From Generation to Generation: Rethinking “Soul Wounds” and Historical Trauma”. Biol Psychiatry. 2019 Oct 1; 86(7): e19–e20. National Library of Medicine. Acces here

Berns-Zare, I. (2021). “6 Ways to Build Multicultural Competence and Combat Racism”. Psychology Today.  Access here

LGBTQ Diversity and Grief Video

Different minority groups share different social traumas and collective grief.  The LGBTQ community is no different in experiencing its own pain and suffering in the world.  The collective grief that is shared within the community when a night club is shot up not only resonates within their community but also causes trauma and fears of other hate crimes that can be perpetrated against them.

LGBTQ groups suffer a collective type of grief. Please also review AIHCP’s Grief Diversity Certification


Individually, they face uphill battles within their families, churches and communities.  Many are discriminated against by family members or potential jobs.  Some lose parents or siblings over their identity.  Others face issues within their faith as moral questions take central stage.  Along with marriage rights and civil rights, the grief of having an alternative life style can be over bearing.

Please also review AIHCP’s Grief Diversity Certification.  The program is a sub certification for those already certified as Grief Counselors.  The program is online and independent study and open to qualified professionals looking to better meet the diverse grief experienced by minority groups.


Please review the video below

Grief Diversity within Different Minority Groups Video

People of color, minorities, and those not traditionally of European descent face unique struggles, traumas, losses and griefs.  These diverse groups include African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and historically in the past even Irish Americans in the 1800s.  Those who failed to fit the WASP mode have a unique cultural and diverse grief experience.  While America on paper was the land of the free and equality for all, the reality fell short for many peoples.  Slavery of African Americans and genocide against Native Americans are only but a few dark moments in American history against others.  While history cannot be rewritten it can be remembered.  While patriotism and love of country is critical, it does not mean patriotism is equal to nationalism and blind eyes to sins of one’s nation.

Different minority groups face different collective grief. Please also review AIHCP’s Grief Diversity Program


Individuals within minority groups face unique and collective grief from the past but also experience trauma collectively and sometimes individually in the present.  Police brutality, racial profiling and racially motivated shootings all can trigger a more hyper vigilance within minority communities and individuals.  As Grief Counselors it is important to see the scars of collective grief and how it imparts on various individuals within minority communities.

Please also review AIHCP’s Grief Diversity Program.  The program is for certified Grief Counselors looking to enhance their grief background and add additional certifications to their resume.  The program is online and independent study and opens many to the different types of grief and loss and history faced by minority communities.


Please also review the video below

Minority and Black Grief in the United States

From a white male perspective, things for other people of color may look improved historically, but within the shadows, many of the same demons still lurk and at times reimpose themselves.  Yes, slavery has been eradicated, separate but equal denounced, and African Americans elected to almost every position of government, but there still are large issues.  The George Floyd case shows it.  While there is a new color, “blue”, that has its own brotherhood, those who are black or brown in color face greater threat of profiling and violence during arrest.  Not all cases can be validated, but there are enough cases to point towards an inherent problem.  In addition, due to socio economic barriers since the time of slavery, African Americans suffer a heritage of disadvantage in where their families came from, lived, and were educated.  This imbalance still reveals itself in poverty and crime statistics.  It also showed its ugly face in how African Americans received unequal care during the Covid Epidemic.

Many African Americans suffer from a subconscious trauma and are faced with a variety of stressors that incur the idea of a collective “Black Grief”


These types of inequalities and historic pains and scars lead to a unique experience of grief and loss coined as “Black Grief”.  Many experts have referred to this as a type of subconscious trauma as well that lingers within the DNA of Black Americans who suffer from this type of treatment by the police, or other agencies.  Anxiety, depression, and hyper vigilance are added emotions to Black communities due to national issues with police brutality and other types of unequal treatments.  There are simply more social stressors associated with one’s color of skin.

This in no way frees individuals from personal responsibility.  In no way is this a free pass for African American to commit a crime against a White American.   Black culture calls for responsibility of oneself, but the lingering affects of over a century of racism, poverty and displacement, plays a key role in current situations of many impoverish African Americans who did not receive a fair handshake with the American dream.  In many ways without progressing too far down a “woke” agenda, there is a privilege being a White American every time an officer pulls someone over or when someone acts erratic in public or when someone applies for a position.  This does not mean the individual has not earned or worked hard and deserves credit for achievement, but it does point towards a system that put Black ancestors at a totally unfair and immoral disadvantage.   It is true certain European immigrants faced hate and ridicule but none experienced the immorality of slavery itself.

While on the outside the Civil Rights Movement has made great strides and racism is considered heinous and a political and financial death sentence,  there exists within the modern African American communities a disadvantage and a trauma that causes Black grief.  It manifests in poverty, lack of opportunity for many, and police treatment.  While many African Americans boast of succeeding, their unique stories should not dismiss the many that are trapped in a system that has left them without an equal hand since they were born.

Many African Americans face depression, anxiety and hypervigilance due to stressors that other races do not face


The same can be true for other peoples of color or different descents that do not blend into the Caucasian colors.   Spanish descent individuals face a blatant racism equating them to cartels and illegal immigration.   While the Lady Liberty supposedly calls all to her shores, these individuals are rejected at the border.   Let us not also forget the great grievances and murders against the Native Americans whose land was stolen.  These individuals were relocated time again and again and some faced genocide at the hands of the American army in the 19th Century.  The loss of self and land closely is tied to Native Americans is a lingering subconscious and collective trauma.  Finally, let us not forget the unfair treatment of Asian Americans and Japanese Americans during World War 2 and the camps they were illegally assigned to. within the United States and currently the anti-Chinese hate due to Covid-19.

There is a dangerous balance in play in American history as America attempts to understand itself.  On one side is a proud movement that recognizes the Founding Fathers and the beauty of the Declaration of Independence and its profound affect on the entire world.  It sees America as the City on the Hill and as a birth place for democracy.  Yet in love of country, sometimes one loses sight of patriotism and fosters nationalism.  Patriotism loves one’s country and defends it but does not dismiss other cultures and expressions.   Nationalism on the other hand proclaims one’s nation and nationality as superior as others and looks to maintain purity of it.  It is racist and warlike.  It is a distortion of patriotism.  It fails to reprimand one’s own nation for past ills and proposes a select history that only sees on view and one side.  Nationalism is what led to the World Wars.

American exceptionalism is a myth.  The United States, while a great nation, is not a perfect state, nor has ever been.  Not only did the United States support slavery and utilize it as a key part of its economic survival, the White Anglo Saxon Protestant (WASP) had infiltrated itself into the core of the nation at its conception.   This can be seen in the its puritan roots where it was viewed as the City on the Hill and its nationalistic Manifest Destiny expansion West.  Horribly also, was the Know Nothing Movement/Nativist Movement and political party that worked against all forms of immigration.  Irish and Catholics and Jews were all discriminated against in the Early and Mid-Nineteenth Century and bias continued into the 20th Century.  Well after the Civil War, these White Nationalist Movements based on WASP principles demeaned not only Blacks but also any immigrants.  It is terrifying to see such ideals manifest itself today under such nationalist slogans under MAGA.  The insurrection at the Capitol only shows the movement of WASP like cells looking to revive nationalism and nativism over patriotism.

Does this mean as Americans we turn against our past heroes?  The “Woke” movement looks to erase the past, as much as the Nationalists look rewrite it, but there is balance.  Some monuments should be removed, but not all.  Some bases may need renamed, but not all, but for the most part, past American heroes should still be revered but also ridiculed for their faults.  They can be revered for their service of country but also criticized for moral decisions.  As the future proceeds, new monuments can be created for those who were left in the past or treated unfairly to show the progress of American enlightenment against past wrongs and commitment to betterment.  Those who were immorally enslaved, or murdered or relocated from homes, deserve recognition of their past trauma.  This does not undo the evil but it does help current generations find some collective justice and recognition of their grief.


Two forces are looking to tear the country in two.  Extreme rightists who favor a nationalist agenda and extreme leftists who looks to eradicate the past, but in the balance is found in true patriotism that loves the nation but recognizes its wrongs.  Tearing down the past is not the answer to collective trauma but rebuilding the future with recognition to that grief.

African Americans, Native Americans and immigrants have all faced unequal treatment in the past.  While it has improved, the collective trauma manifests in these cultures through anxiety, depression hypervigilance.  This is only re-awakened when incidents such as George Floyd erupt.  African Americans, especially, face an equal uphill battle and face anxieties that White Americans do not face during simple traffic stop.

While America is not the City of the Hill that many nationalists envision, she is still a great nation trying its best.  Most Americans are good people and are patriotic enough love her but also see her wrongs.  It is especially to critical to the future to acknowledge the wrongs of the collective trauma experienced by Americans of ethnic minority.

Please also review AIHCP’s Grief Diversity Program which focuses on African American, Native American and other minorities


If interested in the concept of grief and especially collective grief of minorities, please review AIHCP’s Grief Counseling Certification.  Please also review AIHCP’s new Grief Diversity Program which is open to qualified and certified Grief Counselors.  The program is online and independent study and addressed the particular issues facing minorities and their collective grief.


Additional Readings

“The Imposition of Black Grief”. Nneka Okona. February 27th, 2023. Yes: Solutions Journalism. Access here

“A hidden pandemic: Grief in the African American community”.  Mishel Reja.  February 2nd, 2021.  ABC News. Access here

“America’s Most Oppressed Minority “. Candy Raye. February 22nd, 2020. Odyssey Online.  Access here

“Cultural perspectives of death, grief, and bereavement”. Paul T Clements 1Gloria J VigilMartin S MannoGloria C HenryJonathan WilksDas SarthakRosie KellywoodWil Foster. 

2003 Jul;41(7):18-26.  doi: 10.3928/0279-3695-20030701-12.  Psychosoc Nurs Ment Health Serv. Access here
“Nativism and the Know-Nothing Party”. Kimberly Kutz Elliot.  Khan Academy. Access here