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Cross Cultural Equity, Cultural Diversity, the Marginalized, & Ethical Boundaries: Coping with the Challenges
Ethics and Cultural Diversity continuing education MFT CEUs

Section 10
Cross-Cultural Counseling Competencies: A Conceptual Framework

Ethics CEU Question 10 | Ethics CE Test | Table of Contents
Counselor CEUs, Psychologist CEs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

It is possible to develop a 3 (Characteristics) x 3 (Dimensions) matrix in which most of the cross-cultural skills can either be organized or developed. For example, the characteristics (a) counselor awareness of own assumptions, values, and biases; (b) understanding the worldview of the culturally different client; and (c) developing appropriate intervention strategies and techniques would each be described as having three dimensions: (a) beliefs and attitudes, (b) knowledge, and (c) skills. Thus, a total of nine competency areas are identified in Appendix A. We tentatively offer what we believe to be important competencies under each area.

Counselor Awareness of own Assumptions, Values, and Biases
Beliefs and Attitudes

  1. Culturally skilled counselors have moved from being culturally unaware to being aware and sensitive to their own cultural heritage and to valuing and respecting differences.
  2. Culturally skilled counselors are aware of how their own cultural background and experiences, attitudes, and values and biases influence psychological processes.
  3. Culturally skilled counselors are able to recognize the limits of their competencies and expertise.
  4. Culturally skilled counselors are comfortable with differences that exist between themselves and clients in terms of race, ethnicity, culture, and beliefs.


  1. Culturally skilled counselors have specific knowledge about their own racial and cultural heritage and how it personally and professionally affects their definitions and biases of normality-abnormality and the process of counseling.
  2. Culturally skilled counselors possess knowledge and understanding about how oppression, racism, discrimination, and stereotyping affect them personally and in their work. This allows them to acknowledge their own racist attitudes, beliefs, and feelings. Although this standard applies to all groups, for White counselors it may mean that they understand how they may have directly or indirectly benefitted from individual, institutional, and cultural racism (White identity development models).
  3. Culturally skilled counselors possess knowledge about their social impact upon others. They are knowledgeable about communication style differences, how their style may clash or facilitate the counseling process with minority clients, and how to anticipate the impact it may have on others.


  1. Culturally skilled counselors seek out educational, consultative, and training experiences to enrich their understanding and effectiveness in working with culturally different populations. Being able to recognize the limits of their competencies, they (a) seek consultation, 03) seek further training or education, (c) refer out to more qualified individuals or resources, or (d) engage in a combination of these.
  2. Culturally skilled counselors are constantly seeking to understand themselves as racial and cultural beings and are actively seeking a nonracist identity.

Understanding the Worldview of the Culturally Different Client
Beliefs and Attitudes

  1. Culturally skilled counselors are aware of their negative emotional reactions toward other racial and ethnic groups that may prove detrimental to their clients in counseling. They are willing to contrast their own beliefs and attitudes with those of their culturally different clients in a nonjudgmental fashion.
  2. Culturally skilled counselors are aware of their stereotypes and preconceived notions that they may hold toward other racial and ethnic minority groups.


  1. Culturally skilled counselors possess specific knowledge and information about the particular group that they are working with. They are aware of the life experiences, cultural heritage, and historical background of their culturally different clients. This particular competency is strongly linked to the "minority. identity development models" available in the literature.
  2. Culturally skilled counselors understand how race, culture, ethnicity, and so forth may affect personality formation, vocational choices. manifestation of psychological disorders, help-seeking behavior, and the appropriateness or inappropriateness of counseling approaches.
  3. Culturally skilled counselors understand and have knowledge about sociopolitical influences that impinge upon the life of racial and ethnic minorities. Immigration issues, poverty, racism, stereotyping, and powerlessness all leave major scars that may influence the counseling process.


  1. Culturally skilled counselors should familiarize themselves with relevant research and the latest findings regarding mental health and mental disorders of various ethnic and racial groups. They should actively seek out educational experiences that enrich their knowledge, understanding, and cross-cultural skills.
  2. Culturally skilled counselors become actively involved with minority individuals outside the counseling setting (community events, social and political functions, celebrations, friendships, neighborhood groups, and so forth) so that their perspective of minorities is more than an academic or helping exercise.

Developing Appropriate Intervention Strategies and Techniques
Attitudes and Beliefs

  1. Culturally skilled counselors respect clients' religious and/or spiritual beliefs and values about physical and mental functioning.
  2. Culturally skilled counselors respect indigenous helping practices and respect minority community intrinsic help-giving networks.
  3. Culturally skilled counselors value bilingualism and do not view another language as an impediment to counseling (monolingualism may be the culprit).


  1. Culturally skilled counselors have a clear and explicit knowledge and understanding of the generic characteristics of counseling and therapy (culture bound, class bound, and monolingual) and how they may clash with the cultural values of various minority groups.
  2. Culturally skilled counselors are aware of institutional barriers that prevent minorities from using mental health services.
  3. Culturally skilled counselors have knowledge of the potential bias in assessment instruments and use procedures and interpret findings keeping in mind the cultural and linguistic characteristics of the clients.
  4. Culturally skilled counselors have knowledge of minority family structures, hierarchies, values, and beliefs. They are knowledgeable about the community characteristics and the resources in the community as well as the family.
  5. Culturally skilled counselors should be aware of relevant discriminatory practices at the social and community level that may be affecting the psychological welfare of the population being served.


  1. Culturally skilled counselors are able to engage in a variety of verbal and nonverbal helping responses. They are able to send and receive both verbal and nonverbal messages accurately and appropriately. They are not tied down to only one method or approach to helping but recognize that helping styles and approaches may be culture bound. When they sense that their helping style is limited and potentially inappropriate, they can anticipate and ameliorate its negative impact.
  2. Culturally skilled counselors are able to exercise institutional intervention skills on behalf of their clients. They can help clients determine whether a "problem" stems from racism or bias in others (the concept of healthy paranoia) so that clients do not inappropriately blame themselves.
  3. Culturally skilled counselors are not averse to seeking consultation with traditional healers or religious and spiritual leaders and practitioners in the treatment of culturally different clients when appropriate.
  4. Culturally skilled counselors take responsibility for interacting in the language requested by the client; this may mean appropriate referral to outside resources. A serious problem arises when the linguistic skills of the counselor do not match the language of the client. This being the case, counselors should (a) seek a translator with cultural knowledge and appropriate professional background or (b) refer to a knowledgeable and competent bilingual counselor.
  5. Culturally skilled counselors have training and expertise in the use of traditional assessment and testing instruments. They not only understand the technical aspects of the instruments but are also aware of the cultural limitations. This allows them to use test instruments for the welfare of the diverse clients.
  6. Culturally skilled counselors should attend to as well as work to eliminate biases, prejudices, and discriminatory practices. They should be cognizant of sociopolitical contexts in conducting evaluations and providing interventions, and should develop sensitivity to issues of oppression, sexism, and racism.
  7. Culturally skilled counselors take responsibility in educating their clients to the processes of psychological intervention, such as goals, expectations, legal rights, and the counselor's orientation.

We believe that these cross-cultural competencies represent AMCD's first formal attempt to define the attributes of a culturally skilled counselor. They are not meant to be "the final word" in establishing cross-cultural standards for the profession; rather, they represent what we consider to be very important criteria for counselor practice in working with racial and ethnic minorities. Many will, no doubt, undergo further revision, and other new competencies will be added. We propose these competencies in the spirit of open inquiry and hope they eventually will be adopted into the counseling standards of the profession.
- Kocet, Michael M.; Ethical Challenges in a Complex World: Highlights of the 2005 ACA Code of Ethics; Journal of Counseling & Development; Spring 2006; Vol. 84, Issue 2.

Practical Strategies for Culturally Competent Evaluation

- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Practical Strategies for Culturally Competent Evaluation. Atlanta, GA: US Dept of Health and Human Services; 2014.

Personal Reflection Exercise #3
The preceding section contained information about cross-cultural counseling competencies.  Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Choudhury, T. K., Stanton, K., & Balsis, S. (2018). Contextual consideration of the emergence of alexithymia: A case study highlighting cross-cultural client factors and limited English proficiency. Psychotherapy, 55(1), 80–88.

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.

Robitschek, C., & Hardin, E. E. (2017). The future of counseling psychology research viewed through the cultural lens approach. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 64(4), 359–368.

Uluğ, Ö. M., & Uysal, M. S. (2021). The role of ethnic identification, allyship, and conflict narratives in supporting pro-minority policies among majority and minority groups. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology.

According to Kocet, what is the first attitude and belief a counselor should have in order to develop appropriate cross-cultural intervention strategies and techniques? Record the letter of the correct answer the Ethics CE Test.

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