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Embracing Diversity: The Importance of Cultural Humility in Counselling Practice

Updated: Apr 9


Embracing Diversity: The Importance of Cultural Humility in Counselling Practice


The importance of cultural sensitivity and cultural diversity is often overlooked in therapeutic settings. Although Australia boasts a population of 270 ethnic groups, culturally effective therapeutic techniques are often only addressed in one theoretical module for most counselling courses, if at all. The majority of mental health practitioners are not practically trained to provide CALD/ culturally sensitive/ culturally informed therapy unless they have been exposed to it during their practicums or internships.


Furthermore, the essence of effective counselling extends far beyond mere therapeutic techniques. Indeed, culturally competent therapy considers the intricacies of human experience, a specific humanistic attitude, and respect for CALD backgrounds. In today's contemporary society, whereby a sizeable population of Australians present with cultural hybridity and various religious and spiritual positions, cultural humility actually stands as a cornerstone in effective culturally informed therapeutic practice.


So, what exactly is cultural humility, and how is it different from cultural competency? Well, one is grounded in a virtue while the other is grounded in experience and practice.


Cultural humility, as the term suggests, is a lifelong process of the counselling practitioner engaging in self-reflection and exercising openness when exploring the experiences of others, both in their personal and professional lives. Cultural humility often involves acknowledging the counsellor’s own limitations in practice, prejudices, biases, and assumptions. Counsellors exercising cultural humility approach their practice by committing to learning from their CALD clients and colleagues, valuing their perspectives, and engaging in relevant professional development. Cultural competence on the other hand refers to having a certain expertise, mastery or significant experience counselling individuals from CALD backgrounds.


So what does cultural humility in counselling look like? Cultural humility begins with self-awareness. Counsellors must be aware and critically reflect on their personal cultural identities, their personal values and belief systems, their biases and their assumptions. This is often an introspective process allowing counsellors to recognize:


their own cultural blind spots,


how their cultural background influence how they perceive and interact with their clients


how to steer away from cultural faux par, and


how to increase the client’s sense of cultural and religious safety,


so as not to project of impose their own cultural values, biases or worldviews onto the therapeutic relationship.


By being aware of their own cultural background and acknowledging their cultural blind spots, counsellors are better able to freely approach each client from a stance of humility, curiosity and openness.


As mentioned earlier, cultural humility also demands intrinsic interest on supporting clients from CALD backgrounds. Therefore, engaging in ongoing professional development and training becomes crucial. Informal learning can also take place whereby counsellors have been known to consult their colleagues from CALD backgrounds as well as doing their own research. Counsellors can therefore better identify and validate the unique cultural experiences and perspectives of their CALD clients (friends, family members and colleagues!) through these formal and informal avenues of cultural humility. Like any virtue, it needs to be exercised over time in order to strengthen. Furthermore, ongoing cultural competence training can also help counsellors stay abreast of the ever-evolving dynamics of transculturalism and cultural hybridity in Australia.


The core aspect to the practice of cultural humility is the cultivation of genuine curiosity and heartfelt empathy towards clients' cultural backgrounds. Counsellors with cultural humility approach each client truly wanting to grasp their cultural context, their values, their belief systems and lived experiences. Counsellors would spend more time listening and enquiring gently into the nuances of their clients’ cultural identities and the roles they play within their various identities. This allows for clients to feel respected and valued by their counsellors, thus establishing a safe and affirming therapeutic relationship where clients would feel understood, significant and validated.


In this respect, cultural humility emphasizes the importance of collaboration between counsellors and their CALD clients as it moves away from the expert-driven or symptom treatment medical model. The client feels increasingly like the expert on the subject matter, while the counsellor walks alongside him/her. This can result in an effective co-creation treatment plan that upholds the clients' cultural values, beliefs, preferences, and strengths because it fosters a partnership grounded on mutual respect and trust. Counsellors can facilitate more meaningful and culturally relevant therapeutic interventions with higher adherence, retention, and success.


To conclude, cultural humility is not simply a buzzword in the field of counselling. Rather, it is a virtue cultivated and honed from intrinsic personal and professional values that serve underpin ethical and culturally effective practice. Culturally humble counsellors are adept in creating inclusive safe spaces whereby CALD clients feel valued, understood, and empowered. Cultural humility ensures the motto: Power with, not power over. In today's transcultural and multicultural society, cultural humility is no longer an option but a requirement for delivering culturally competent and responsive mental health care. Let us all keep striving towards a future where cultural humility is a way of being in the world, rather than just mere practice.


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