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Cross-Cultural Considerations

Person-centered counseling has drawn questions as to how well it can adapt to various cultures that may hold different values, have widely dissimilar immediate and generational experiences, and operate from social norms that are poles apart (Day, 2004). Such questions deserve significant attention from person-centered counselors because the therapy originated from White, European, and American influences that emphasize individuality, self-control, and ongoing personal development more than changing the immediate forces affecting individuals. To effectively meet the American Counseling Association and the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development's Multicultural Counseling Competencies, person-centered practitioners must pay particular attention to understanding themselves, being genuine in their interactions, continually working to better understand the world experienced by their clients, and applying active empathy in the broadest sense with clients.

Being genuine in counseling relationships entails a prerequisite that counselors understand themselves sufficiently to be genuine. Exploration of their own values, beliefs, biases, cultural norms, and how they act on these is essential for the congruent communication necessary for clients to evaluate it as honest and trustworthy Furthermore, because personal characteristics change with time, circumstances, and introductions to people with vastly different experiences from one's own, the self-exploration must be ongoing. Cross- cultural counseling requires even greater emphasis on such self-exploration, because when it is lacking, counselors will see clients' differences from themselves as being problems for correction rather than as cultural differences in experiences, behaviors, and worldview. Only when person-centered counselors are continually examining and expanding understanding of their own values and biases will the genuineness they attempt to present in counseling be valuable and not counterproductive.

Active empathy is an essential part of a counselor's relationship capacities that are continually gaining in importance as diversity and interactions between cultures increase (Comstock et al., 2008). This ability to gain full understanding of client thoughts, experiences, emotions, and worldview, and the ability to communicate these effectively to the client, are primary requirements for breaking down the expected barriers and misconceptions in cross-cultural counseling. The phenomenological perspective of person-centered counseling in many ways parallels the multicultural worldview concept, with both emphasizing that people view the world differently, and thus counselors are required to learn about the client's world as fully as possible. It is through understanding the culture of clients and the multiple influences it has on them that counselors can make sense of the words, actions, and emotions that are seen and described by clients. Then it is the ability to communicate the depth and accuracy of the understanding that helps clients to trust in the counselor and accept the genuine relationship as positive.

Self-exploration, genuineness, and active empathy implemented effectively allow for the implementation of cultural adaptations necessary for cross-cultural counseling to be successful (Spangenberg, 2003). These are the conditions that allow for the traditional person-centered counselor to adapt counseling to cultures to counteract the potential for stigmatization of minorities (Lemoire & Chen, 2005) or to meet the unique needs of cultural entities within larger cultural groups (Sanders & Bradley, 2005). These are the conditions that encourage person-centered counselors to move beyond what is sometimes seen as a reflection-only model to the dynamic and evolving one it is meant to be (Spangenberg, 2003).

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