Adequate understanding is only the part of providing competent counseling to diverse clients. Differences between counselor and client affect the counseling process from relationship formation to goal setting and implementation of strategies and techniques. Counselors must be aware of and manage the influence of diversity on the counseling relationship, collaborate with diverse clients to form appropriate goals, and then implement socially and culturally sensitive interventions and strategies to meet those goals. The following sections discuss the implications of diversity on the counseling relationship, goals, and diversity-appropriate counseling interventions.

The Counseling Relationship

A strong relationship is necessary for effective counseling to take place. The qualities of such relationships were summarized in the first chapter as empathic understanding, respect and positive regard, genuineness and congruence, concreteness, warmth, and immediacy. Strong counseling relationships become even more important when working with diverse clients; however, forming a strong relationship may be challenging. Issues that deserve particular attention during formation and maintenance of the counseling relationship are developing cultural empathy (Chung & Bemak, 2002) and trust (Helms & Cook, 1999; Slattery, 2004; Sue & Sue, 2008) and striving for an egalitarian relationship when appropriate (McWhirter, 1991; Slattery, 2004).

Cultural Empathy

Empathy is accepted as one of the core conditions in the counseling relationship and has been described as the counselor's ability to view and experience the world cognitively and emotionally as the client does (Chung & Bemak, 2002). Attaining and communicating this level of understanding when counseling diverse clients is a different experience and requires special consideration. The term cultural empathy is used to describe this experience and process. Ridley and Lingle (1996) defined cultural empathy as a counselor's learned ability to both understand and communicate understanding of the culturally diverse client's experience, as well as to experience and communicate concern for the culturally diverse client. Cultural knowledge is a prerequisite; however, cultural empathy moves a step beyond cognitive understanding to include emotional understanding, concern, and, especially, communication.

Several authors have discussed concrete ways to establish cultural empathy. The list below summarizes the suggestions of Chung and Bemak (2002) and Ridley and Lingle (1996). To establish cultural empathy, the counselor should communicate the following in clear but culturally appropriate ways during the counseling process:

• His or her understanding of the client's experience for clarification.

• A humble but realistic sense of how well the counselor may or may not understand the client's cultural background and experience.

• A sincere interest in learning more about the client's cultural background and experience.

• Openness to clarifying verbal and nonverbal communication, checking out assumptions, and adapting the counseling process and techniques to be more culturally appropriate.

• Affirmation of the client's cultural experience as well as cultural differences between counselor and client.


Trust is an important component of effective counseling relationships, whereas cultural mistrust can be a barrier to effective counseling relationships and may be based on personal experience, group history, association of counseling with the establishment, or therapist behavior (Slattery, 2004). This may be especially true when clients have predominantly target group identities and counselors have predominantly agent identities. Because of experiences with institutional discrimination, clients from target groups may tend to view mental health professionals as representatives of the dominant establishment and as not to be trusted unless there is evidence to the contrary.

Sue and Sue (2008) reported that therapists and school counselors who are perceived as trustworthy by clients have more influence and potential effectiveness during the counseling process. Responsibility for developing trust in the diverse counseling relationship rests on the counselor. Counselors should not immediately pathologize mistrust on the part of the client. Diverse clients may test dominant-culture counselors for sincerity and openness. Even subtle verbal or nonverbal behavior by the counselor that indicates prejudice will lower levels of trust, whereas responses that are honest, genuine, include some selfdisclosure, and acknowledge obvious differences will more likely be perceived as trustworthy (Sue & Sue, 2008).

Creating Egalitarian Relationships

Egalitarian relationships, when consistent with client expectations and needs, are ideal for work with diverse populations, especially those who have been disempowered by chronic oppression (Cheatham et al., 2006; Slattery, 2004). Many of the ideas regarding egalitarian counseling relationships are derived from feminist therapy and are counter to some traditional counseling theories that place the bulk of power in the counseling relationship with the counselor. Egalitarian counseling relationships occur when the client's and counselor's balance of power is somewhat equalized. McWhirter (1991) suggested the following for developing egalitarian relationships:

• Counselors should not use psychological jargon, blame the client for lack of improvement, or refuse to share knowledge or educate the client. These acts mystify the process.

• Counselors should collaborate with clients on problem definition and identification of goals.

• Counselors should present themselves realistically, as fallible humans with specialized knowledge and skills that may be helpful.

• Clients should be presented as experts on themselves and their environments.

• Counselors should educate clients so that they may participate in an informed manner as well as increase their power to deal with issues on their own.

In light of the fact that many diverse clients, due to their issues, stage of development, and worldview, may require a more direct or authoritarian style (Sue & Sue, 2008), counselors must be sensitive to cues that indicate a client may need a more direct style. Such cues may include the client frequently requesting and accepting feedback, verbally or nonverbally expressing displeasure with lack of direction or authority, and needing prompting before expressing opinions (Slattery, 2004).

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