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Multicultural Counseling

Many scholars have attempted to define multicultural counseling during its evolution. Vontress (1988) defined multicultural counseling as "counseling in which the counselor and the client are culturally different because of socialization acquired in distinct cultural, subcultural, racioethnic, or socioeconomic environments" (p. 74). More recently, Sue and Sue (2008) described multicultural counseling as a helping process that relies on both universal and culture-specific techniques to meet goals that are consistent with client values; recognizes individual, group, and universal dimensions of client identity; and integrates client worldview into the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of clients and client systems.

These definitions share the assumptions that counseling professionals should recognize the impact of cultural differences on client life experiences, client-counselor relationship, and the counseling process. Prior to the development of a multicultural counseling perspective, counseling was most often viewed as a culture-free process in which cultural differences between client and counselor were largely ignored (Ivey, D'Andrea, Ivey, & Simek-Morgan, 2006).

The multicultural counseling movement originated in the 1950s (Jackson, 1995) in response to recognition that the United States had become increasingly diverse in race, culture, and language. Racial segregation, systematic discrimination, and prejudice were widespread during this era, and as an extension to societal inequality, the counseling with clients of color during this time focused primarily on assimilation into the White dominant culture. Although professional literature at the time had begun to address these issues, people of color were underrepresented as counselors, counseling scholars, and members and leaders of counseling-related professional organizations (Jackson, 1995). The inequalities served as painful motivation for society and the profession to change as they entered the 1960s.

The 1960s were a time of social and political unrest, and open challenge of the White establishment and racist institutions became commonplace. During this time mental health scholars and practitioners began to question the racist counseling practices that were prevalent in the field (Pope-Davis, Coleman, Liu, & Toporek, 2003; Sue & Sue, 2008). This questioning led to positive changes in the profession, such as increased numbers of publications and studies dedicated to issues of race counseling and the formation of professional groups to raise awareness (Jackson, 1995).

The end of the 1960s marked the formation of the Association of Non-White Concerns (ANWC), which consisted mainly of African American members of the American Personnel and Guidance Association (APGA), the predecessor of the American Counseling Association (ACA). Initially, AGPA rejected recognition of ANWC as an official division, and it was not until 1972 that official divisional status was granted (McFadden & Lipscomb, 1985). This led to the creation of the ANWC journal, the Journal of Non-White Concerns. Also, the 1970s began to bring a broader focus to counseling that included other racial and ethnic groups, as well as women and people with disabilities.

In the 1980s and 1990s, multicultural issues became a priority in the counseling profession with unprecedented numbers of publications devoted to the subject (Jackson, 1995). During this era, the ANWC changed its name to the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development (AMCD; Parker, 1991), which reflected a desire to widen the focus from primarily African American concerns to include the concerns of Latino/Latina Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans (Lee, 1999).

The 1990s and the new millennium brought legitimacy to multicultural counseling (Sue & Sue, 2008). Part of this legitimacy can be attributed to AMCD's 1991 approval of the Multicultural Counseling Competencies (MCCs) as standards for counselor training and practice (Sue, Arredondo, & McDavis, 1992). The original MCCs contained 31 competencies that emphasize counselors' actively seeking understanding of themselves, their clients, and their clients' environments and using these understandings to provide services that fully respect, embrace, and utilize diverse clients' unique life experiences.

In addition to increased credibility, debate regarding the scope of multicultural counseling as well as its limitations has emerged (Pope, 1995). The most prominent criticisms are that the multicultural counseling movement has emphasized cultural awareness within counseling sessions but has placed less emphasis on systemic social change strategies and social justice (Vera & Speight, 2003), and that the movement has emphasized issues of race and ethnicity over other social identity variables such as gender, sexual orientation, religion, class, and disability status (Carroll, Gilroy, & Ryan, 2002; Fukuyama, 1990; Pope, 1995). These limitations have led to increased calls for inclusion of a social justice perspective in counseling (L. A. Goodman et al., 2004; Vera & Speight, 2003).

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