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Cross-Cultural Considerations

When one speaks of culture today, one does not think of just the ethnic orientation of a client. Contemporarily, culture has been defined in broader terms and includes many variables, such as age, gender, language, ability, sexual orientation, social class, education, and so forth (Arredondo et al., 1996). As such, all counseling is multicultural counseling based on the above multidimensional model of culture (Fernbacher & Plummer, 2005). For example, if the counselor is male and the client is female, that can be considered cross- cultural counseling.

Having defined cross-cultural counseling in those terms, Gestalt therapy, as any therapy, must address these issues. Cross-cultural counseling attempts to understand clients within their sociocultural context. Gestalt therapy, which is based in existentialism, looks at each client holistically and phenomenologically, is concerned with the experience of the client in the here and now, and is concerned with the totality of the individual's being-in-the-world. Therefore, Gestalt therapy uniquely addresses the cross-cultural variables presented by the client (Crocker & Philippson, 2005).

Many of the techniques associated with Gestalt therapy, such as working in the here and now, the empty-chair technique, and reversal, are amenable to helping the client enhance his or her awareness of interpersonal and intrapersonal experiencing and in facilitating cross-cultural understanding of the client by the counselor (James & Gilliland, 2003). Gestalt counselors and therapists are trained to be aware of themselves, their biases and assumptions, and the way they make contact with others. Gestalt theory also advocates that the individual cannot be understood in isolation but must be understood within his or her social and historical context and within the uniqueness of his or her field (Fernbacher & Plummer, 2005). This fits well with the basic tenets of cross-cultural counseling.

However, when one talks about ethnic culture, there may be some concerns regarding use of Gestalt therapy. Gestalt therapy emphasizes individual responsibility for one's own happiness and advocates for the expression of emotion. Clients from cultures that are col- lectivistic and emphasize collective responsibility, or clients who do not favor the expression of emotion, may find this therapy inapplicable, unhelpful, or even harmful (James & Gilliland, 2003).

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