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Culturally Competent Counselling/ CALD Counselling: Why It Matters

Updated: May 7

Culturally Competent Counselling/ CALD Counselling: Why It Matters

Given Australia’s every growing cultural hybridity, the significance of culturally competent counselling should not be overstated. As our contemporary society becomes increasingly multicultural and interconnected, it is crucial for counsellors and mental health professionals to possess nuanced skills and awareness to effectively support clients from a variety of cultural backgrounds/ CALD clients. Culturally competent counselling goes beyond the basic understanding of differences like distinguishing between individualism or collectivism. Instead it involves understanding, respecting, and valuing the unique lived experiences and worldviews of each individual. This blog post explores why culturally competent counselling is important and the profound impact in can have on clients, counsellors, and the counselling profession.

Understanding Cultural Competence in CALD Counselling

Cultural competence in counselling is about the ability of counsellors to effectively work walk with clients in their diverse cultural heritage. The prerequisite for this is for counsellors to first be aware to their own cultural biases, stereotypes, and assumptions. Counsellors are also expected to be curious about their CALD clients’ values, virtues, stigmas, taboos, and way of life. Authentic curiosity and deep self-awareness allow culturally competent counsellors to recognize the influence of culture on clients' values, beliefs, behaviours, and experiences, as they are in a better position to adapt their counselling approach accordingly.

Importance of Cultural Competence in CALD Counselling

Building Trust and Rapport: When clients feel that their counsellor understands and respects their cultural background, a sense of trust and rapport is easily fostered. Culturally competent counsellors create a safe and inclusive environment where clients feel at ease when sharing their innermost thoughts, feelings, and experiences without judgment or prejudice.

Enhancing Effectiveness of Therapy: Culturally relevant intervention is best attained through experience, from both personal and professional means. Culturally competent counsellors are innately curious about the experiences of CALD populations. They engage in culturally competency through professional development, as well as socialise with people from culturally diverse backgrounds. They tend to find themselves participating or attending events held by various communities in Australia. Thus, their therapeutic approaches are culturally relevant and appropriate. This is because they have a deeper participatory and intellectual understanding of their clients' cultural contexts can dynamically tailor their interventions to better meet their needs. Culturally competent counsellors who possess cultural humility are more successful at this.

Reducing Barriers to Treatment: Culturally competent counselling reduces barriers to treatment, especially for marginalized and underserved populations. Clients are less likely to be referred to practitioners who are not suitable, and have more community connections with various cultural and faith groups. When clients receive culturally sensitive and informed counselling, they are more likely to engage in counselling for longer and subsequently benefit from the therapeutic process. However, the stigma of counselling still prevails in various CALD populations. The perception of counselling and the value of counselling can be reasons for resistance and help seeking behaviour. Counselling in some cultures and demographic is still perceived and believed as ‘for the weak minded’ and therefore not sought after.

Promoting Social Justice and Equity: Culturally competent counsellors align themselves with principles of social justice and equity by challenging systems of oppression and advocating for the rights and well-being of all individuals. Acknowledging the impact of systemic inequalities in the health and mental health industry gives counsellors a deeper appreciation for CALD clients’ recovery journey. Thus, culturally competent counsellors strive to empower their CALD clients to navigate these challenges.

Preventing Harmful Practices: The lack of cultural competence leads to misdiagnosis and naïve support provision. Counsellors who are not culturally competent risk perpetuating harmful stereotypes, or engaging in ethnocentric practices that may harm clients. Research indicates that one of the contributing factors to CALD clients disengaging from ongoing counselling is due to negative past experiences whereby mental health professionals have offended or misunderstood them based through harmful stereotyping (Shah, 2023). Therefore, engaging in cultural competence practice promotes awareness of potential biases and encourages counsellors to approach each client with cultural humility and open-mindedness.

Implementing Culturally Competent Practices

We have addressed the importance of cultural competency in counselling, and discussed its impacts. Let us now look at the virtues associated with it. Culturally competent counselling requires ongoing professional development, reflective practice, supervision with a culturally competent senior practitioner, and cultural humility. Counsellors can enhance their cultural competence by:

Engaging in Diversity Training: By participating in workshops, seminars, or courses focused on cultural competence, counsellors develop the clinical and practical knowledge required to work effectively with CALD clients.

Seeking Supervision and Consultation: Culturally competent counsellors generally take it upon themselves to research their clients’ cultural and faith backgrounds. They are also known to consult with colleagues and/or supervisors who have expertise in cultural competence to provide them valuable guidance, intervention ideas, referral pathways, and support.

Exploring Personal Biases: It is paramount for counsellors to reflect deeply on their own cultural background, biases, beliefs, and assumptions. Such self-awareness can enhance counsellors ability to refine their practice by observing and noting their responses in certain CALD settings. They are able to recognize and mitigate the influence of their own cultural perspectives on the therapeutic process, and identify (counter) transference in a cultural context.

Note: Sigmund Freud founded the terms transference and countertransference: Transference is when someone redirects their feelings about one person onto someone else. During a therapy session, it usually refers to a person transferring their feelings about someone else onto their therapist.

Countertransference is when a therapist transfers feelings onto the patient. Both transference and countertransference usually happen unconsciously, which brings to home the important of reflective practice amongst counsellors and other mental health practitioners.

Being Open to Feedback: Culturally competent counsellors are humble and are committed to professional improvement. They tend to be open to feedback from clients, friends and colleagues as they have realised that cultural competence is an ongoing journey rather than a destination. Culture itself is dymanic and everchanging (just look at K-Pop or a recent Bollywood movie and I am sure you will agree!). This proves the importance of a keeping abreast with evolving cultural traditions especially with children of migrants, and intercultural/ culturally blended families.


To conclude, culturally competent counselling is deemed as a vital skill; and it is now a fundamental ethical imperative for counsellors in Australia’s contemporary society society. By embracing cultural competence, counsellors can be more creative in implementing effective therapeutic relationships, reduce disparities in mental health care, and promote social justice and equity. Cultural competency in counselling reflects key qualities about counsellors (who are also people and may be from CALD backgrounds themselves. Ultimately, culturally competent counselling, grounded in cultural humity, reflects a commitment to honouring the dignity and worth of every individual, regardless of their cultural background and belief systems.

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