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Cultural Diversity & Ethical Boundaries: Coping with the Challenges
Ethics continuing education MFT CEUs

Section 9
Ethically Counseling African American Clients

Ethics CEU Question 9 | Ethics CE Test | Table of Contents
Counselor CEUs, Psychologist CEs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

Although literature addressing cross-cultural concerns has been abundant during the last two decades, relatively few articles have addressed a specific culture rather than broad cross-cultural issues. An even smaller number of these articles have focused on specific issues concerning a particular culture. An attempt is made at this point to establish functional guidelines for a White counselor to follow to ensure a helping counseling relationship with a Black client.

It is necessary for a White counselor to have some working sense of Afrocentricity, including some knowledge and specific information about African American history, values, beliefs, and cultural characteristics. As Pedersen (1987) emphasized, the relevance of history must not be neglected if contemporary culture is to be properly understood.

It is also helpful to be aware of discrimination and its effects. When discrimination is perceived, the locus of control of the client is influenced (Herr & Cramer, 1988). Sue (1978b) implied that it is not unusual for minority clients to have an external locus of control (outcomes are not completely a result of their actions) as opposed to an internal locus of control (effects are a direct result of their actions). This may be true of many African Americans because of their high regard for group interdependence. Sue stated that "if we were to use the internal-external (I-E) dimension as a criterion of mental health, most of the minorities ... would be regarded as unhealthy and as possessing less desirable traits" (p. 459). It is possible that the experience of discrimination may increase one's perception that circumstances are beyond one's control, but it is probable that an external locus of control is inherent in African American culture.

Sue (1978b) generated a list of characteristics that may distinguish culturally effective counselors. The essence of this list is that culturally effective counselors (a) recognize their own values and assumptions about human behavior and acknowledge those that are different as legitimate, (b) are aware that "no theory of counseling is politically or morally neutral" (p. 451), (c) understand that sociopolitical forces have influenced minority groups, (d) can share and respect their client's worldview, and (e) have practiced and mastered a variety of counseling skills, regardless of theoretical orientation, and can choose those most appropriate for each individual client with respect to cultural background. In essence, Sue (1978b) indicated that a culturally effective counselor "is a person able to share the world views of his or her client and to generate the widest repertoire of microcounseling skills appropriate to the life-style of the individual client" (p. 462).

When working with clients from different cultures, a counselor must also be concerned with ethical issues. The ethical principle of beneficence (Cayleff, 1986) must be upheld at all times. Beneficence, or "doing good" by keeping the client from harm and aspiring to benefit the client, is central to the client-counselor relationship. A counselor must establish a relationship grounded in a knowledge of and an appreciation for the client's beliefs, values, and culture for beneficence to be possible. Unfortunately, counselors are not always adequately prepared to work with those who are culturally different from themselves. Research indicates "that faculty in training programs generally are not committed to providing [counseling] training of relevance to racial and ethnic minority groups" (Casas, Ponterotto, & Gutierrez, 1986, p. 348). As these authors implied, a counselor who is not adequately educated to work with a culturally different client is working from an unjustifiable position and therefore should be regarded as engaging in unethical practice.

Ibrahim and Arredondo (1986) proposed ethical standards to consider when (a) training counselors, (b) providing ethical counseling to culturally different people, (c) selecting adequate assessment methods, and (d) preparing to perform culturally appropriate research. Counselor educators should consider cultural differences and provide students with specific training concerning cross-cultural issues.

The triad model discussed by Pedersen (1977) proved useful in training effective cross-cultural counselors. In practice, counselors must understand and incorporate the worldview of culturally different clients into their counseling style. It is also important for counselors to be acutely aware of their own view of the world, of their culture, and of their biases.

In addressing the area of assessment, Ibrahim and Arredondo (1977) asserted that counselors should evaluate the client as a cultural entity prior to deciding on a counseling approach, and that multisource, multilevel, and multimethod strategies for understanding the client are beneficial and important. Finally, research should incorporate cultural factors and apply culturally appropriate methodology. Ibrahim and Arredondo's outline is thorough and provides sound guidelines for a more ethical approach to cross-cultural counseling.

Possible and appropriate counseling approaches for a White counselor to use with a Black client must now be considered. It is possible that a group-oriented counseling approach that reflects African American cultural values is more appropriate than individual counseling for some African American clients. This position was advocated by Shipp (1983), who argued that the group approach is more compatible with Afrocentric values than are other counseling strategies.

Ethnic awareness groups were emphasized by Woods (1977), who believed that minority clients who participate in a group that is not predominantly White tend to benefit from the experience. In addition, the use of minority paraprofessionals may be a suitable approach for meeting the counseling needs of minority clients more fully. Gardner and Shelton (1977) suggested that such paraprofessionals could be and Shelton (1977) suggested that such paraprofessionals could be minority college students who had received special training in problem-solving skills and adjustment to academic life on a college campus.

Another approach for providing counseling to minority students is to bring counseling to the classroom (Schauble, Parker, Probert. & Altmaier, 1979). By using the classroom as a counseling setting, students have the opportunity to participate in a large group experience, work in smaller groups, and eventually interact with a counselor on an individual basis. This exposes minority students to counseling on three levels and allows them to become familiar with the counselor-client relationship, which they might previously have perceived as threatening.

This discussion of alternative counseling approaches is not meant to imply that individual, personal counseling is never appropriate for minority clients, in general, and African Americans, in particular. Woods (1977) said that although the group approach is emphasized in his program model, this method has also served to stimulate interest in individual counseling among minority students.

The affirmation counseling approach, as discussed by Larrabee (1986), is a specific individual counseling approach that is "applicable to minority clients and especially relevant to helping Black men, who are likely to be reluctant to participate openly in the counseling process" (p. 28). The aim of this approach is "the resumption of client dignity and personal responsibility through the process of affirming the client's integrity" (Larrabee, 1986, p. 28). Alternatively, the systemic approach, discussed by Gunnings and Lipscomb (1986), emphasizes environmental effects on Blacks and considers external influences on the Afrocentric way of life.

In addition, traditional individual counseling is often appropriate, providing that the counselor is adequately prepared to work with African American clients. Counselors must recognize that not all approaches are appropriate for all clients and that the most suitable approach, or even referral to a culturally similar counselor, must be determined and implemented for each client as an individual as well as a member of the African American culture.
- Todisco, Maria, & Paul Salomone; Facilitating effective cross-cultural relationships: the white counselor and the black client; Journal of Multicultural Counseling & Development; Oct. 1991; Vol. 19, Issue 4.

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

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Ahn, L. H., Kivlighan, D. M., Jr., & Hill, C. E. (2021). Helping skills courses: The effects of student diversity and numeric marginalization on counseling self-efficacy, counseling self-stigma, and mental health. Journal of Counseling Psychology.

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.

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

Taylor, L., & Ray, D. C. (2021). Child-centered play therapy and social–emotional competencies of African American children: A randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Play Therapy, 30(2), 74–85.

What is the ethical principle of "doing good" by keeping the client from harm and aspiring to benefit the client? To select and enter your answer go to
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