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

Section 4
Aspects of Culture in Counseling Marginalized African American Clients

Ethics CEU Question 4 | Ethics CE Test | Table of Contents
Social Worker CEUs, Counselor CEUs, Psychologist CEs, MFT CEUs

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In the last section, we discussed the cultural perspectives of culturally different clients who are African American and the implications of these perspectives on counseling.

In this section, we will consider a case study of Gerald, a culturally different client who is African American. We will consider this case in light of the topics discussed in the previous section, including three aspects of African American culture, which were nonverbal behavior, humanism, and importance of family. As we discuss the case, consider the ethical issues being raised.

♦ Case Study: Gerald
Gerald, an age 20, African American college student, was referred to a white therapist at his university regarding academic problems. Gerald explained to the therapist that he was coming to the sessions because he had failing grades, needed help with learning study skills, and wanted advice about changing his major. As the therapist listened, he interpreted Gerald’s behavior as guarded, mistrustful, and frustrated. Gerald’s therapist, who was trained in a nondirective counseling approach, felt uncomfortable with Gerald’s guarded and mistrustful behavior. He was also resentful that Gerald just wanted information about studying and advice about his major.

The therapist decided that he believed Gerald’s behavior was indicative of avoiding responsibilities for making decisions. Focusing on Gerald’s feelings, the therapist reflected Gerald’s emotions and paraphrased his thoughts. As the session progressed, the tension between the two increased and became evident. Finally the therapist attempted to reflect the tension he felt growing in the room and the antagonism he could feel from the situation.

When the therapist started talking about the tension, Gerald stood up abruptly and stated, "Forget it, man! I don’t have time to play your silly games!" Gerald then quickly stalked out of the office.

What ethical issues regarding culturally different clients who are African American can you see in this case? How did Gerald’s requests of the counseling session reflect the African American culture? Did the therapist understand Gerald’s value system? Were the therapist’s therapy techniques appropriate for an African American client like Gerald?

2 Ethical Issues from Gerald's Case Study

♦ Ethical Issue #1: The Inflexibility of the Therapist

Obviously the first ethical issue raised by this situation is the inflexibility of the therapist. As you can see, the therapist, who was trained in a nondirective counseling method, approached Gerald’s situation with the expectation that he could use the nondirective counseling approaches he used with other, non-African American clients. However, I have found that African American clients typically benefit more from directive approaches in counseling. In this case, Gerald is typical of African American clients. When Gerald asked for direct help through advice and information, the therapist became uncomfortable and resentful. Clearly this inflexible approach negatively affected the counseling experience.

♦ Ethical Issue #2: No Clarification of Goals and Expectations
The second ethical issue of this case is that there was no clarification of goals and expectations. In my experience, in counseling African American clients like Gerald, one of the keys to a successful counseling experience is the clarification of goals and expectations. In this case though, the therapist did not explain to Gerald what he expected of Gerald as a client, nor did he ask Gerald for clarification on what Gerald, as an African American client, expected of him as a therapist. The therapist also neglected to ask what Gerald’s goals for the counseling session were and what Gerald hoped to gain from the experience.

♦ 3 Keys to Effectively & Ethically Counsel Your Client
Did you notice the three key conflicts in the situation? These three key conflicts were:
1. The approach,
2. The needs of the client, and
3. The expression of feeling.
Again, the therapist used a nondirective counseling approach, despite the fact that African American culture norms indicate that the typical African American client requires a directive and structured counseling approach.

Regarding the needs of the client, Gerald valued getting advice and information from the therapist, while the therapist placed value in a system in which Gerald would find information out for himself. In addition to Gerald finding the information out for himself, the therapist valued Gerald’s ability to take responsibility for himself.

Finally concerning the expression of feeling, have you found as I have that African American clients like Gerald tend to avoid discussing intimate feelings in counseling situations? In Gerald’s case though, the therapist valued focusing on Gerald’s personal feelings. Gerald on the other hand, wanted to focus on academic issues. Gerald did not want to reveal intimate feelings to his therapist. To summarize, the therapist did not account for the needs of a culturally different client.

Do you have a culturally different client who is African American? What are the ethical implications of the counseling techniques you are using? How might your counseling techniques be influenced by your knowledge of African American culture and value systems?

In this section, we have discussed Gerald’s case and the effect that his African American culture and value systems had on his counseling experience.

In the next section, we will discuss cultural and historical perspectives in counseling culturally different clients who are Hispanic. We will also discuss the implications of these cultural and historical perspectives.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Bartholomew, T. T., Pérez-Rojas, A. E., Bledman, R., Joy, E. E., & Robbins, K. A. (2021). “How could I not bring it up?”: A multiple case study of therapists’ comfort when Black clients discuss anti-Black racism in sessions. Psychotherapy.

Davis, D. E., DeBlaere, C., Owen, J., Hook, J. N., Rivera, D. P., Choe, E., Van Tongeren, D. R., Worthington, E. L., Jr., & Placeres, V. (2018). The multicultural orientation framework: A narrative review. Psychotherapy, 55(1), 89–100.

Diemer, M. A., Voight, A. M., Marchand, A. D., & Bañales, J. (2019). Political identification, political ideology, and critical social analysis of inequality among marginalized youth. Developmental Psychology, 55(3), 538–549.

Lui, P. P., & Quezada, L. (2019). Associations between microaggression and adjustment outcomes: A meta-analytic and narrative review. Psychological Bulletin, 145(1), 45–78.

Reigeluth, C. S., & Johnson, B. II. (2022). Pragmatic applications for therapeutic engagement with marginalized men: An intersectional exploration of two emerging adult African American male clients. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration.

Stevenson, H. C., & Renard, G. (1993). Trusting ole' wise owls: Therapeutic use of cultural strengths in African-American families. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 24(4), 433–442.

Want, V., Parham, T. A., Baker, R. C., & Sherman, M. (2004). African American Students' Ratings of Caucasian and African American Counselors Varying in Racial Consciousness. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 10(2), 123–136.

Ward, E. C. (2005). Keeping It Real: A Grounded Theory Study of African American Clients Engaging in Counseling at a Community Mental Health Agency. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 52(4), 471–481.

What were two ethical issues raised by Gerald’s case? To select and enter your answer go to Ethics CE Test.

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