March 27, 2017

Enhancing (Multi)Cultural Counselling

Using experiential learning and self-reflection to build competence

In an increasingly diverse society, developing awareness, knowledge, and skills to attend to the needs of individuals and families from various cultural backgrounds is essential for counsellors and psychologists. The development of these multicultural counselling competencies help service providers work more effectively and sensitively with clients from different cultures, aiding in the counselling process.

Dr. Anusha Kassan and Amy Rose Green, a Werklund PhD student, were interested in learning about how the completion of a self-reflective field activity can be used to promote multicultural counselling competencies. As traditional teaching methods (i.e., reading and writing about these concepts) may not be effective at addressing cultural biases and assumptions, learning through experience may better engage counsellors and psychologists in examining their values and beliefs.

In the study, counselling psychology graduate students completed a self-reflective field activity during their practicum placement. The students identified a cultural group that represents a “minority” whom they previously knew little about. The activity was intended to help students identify biases and connect to a different cultural group outside of the clinical setting.

Cultural Connection

During their learning, the students began by reflecting on biases and assumptions they had about the group (pre-reflection). Afterwards the students were asked to find and attend a community event in which they now represented the “minority”, interacting and connecting with the community and its members. Afterwards, the students reflected and debriefed their experiences and considered how their beliefs and thoughts may have changed (post-reflection).

After the activity was complete, the students were interviewed about their experiences. The students spoke to the initial anxiety of stepping outside the classroom and attempting to connect with an unfamiliar group. This discomfort continued through the finding and beginning the activity, but also sparked a realization about the opportunity to increase their competency in an authentic way. The participants shared their thoughts and perspectives on how their perceptions shifted during the event. The participants agreed that while they had begun to gain new knowledge, they also recognized the need to learn more about their chosen cultural group as well as others.

Experience for Learning

Given that most training in counselling psychology programs takes place in classrooms, or in clinical practice, students may miss the opportunity to engage with various cultural groups in other settings. This issue is particularly important given that most counsellors and psychologists will only see individuals who are in distress in the context of their work, and not in their own environments, where they feel most comfortable. Through interacting and connecting with different groups in this way, students may acquire valuable awareness, knowledge, and skills that will later inform their work.