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Exploring Cultural Competencies sample essay

Being culturally competent of a student’s culture is essential for school counselors within a diverse population. In order for a school counselor to be culturally competent, it is essential for them to be aware of three major ideas: know yourself, know the student, and know the technique. Within these three competencies there are common themes that are utilized throughout each. Beliefs and attitudes, knowledge, and skills are all indispensable within the context of school counseling. Throughout the evolution of school counseling, these concepts have been consistent with multicultural counseling. However, based on recent research counselors are developing reason to believe that it is also imperative to explore spirituality as one of the competencies. These multicultural counseling competencies as well as spirituality will all be explored within this paper in regards to how school counselors (and myself, as a school counselor in training) can best counsel and work through the diverse issues of their students. The competencies being addressed can be further explored in Operationalization of the Multicultural Counseling Competencies (Arredondo, et al., 1996).

Counselor Awareness of Own Cultural Values and Biases

In order for a school counselor to be effective within this role, they must know their own cultural values and biases that they will be carrying with them throughout their professional journey. By self reflecting on their own attitudes and beliefs, knowledge, and skills a school counselor will help a school counselor to become more self aware of what these values and biases are within their life. Self-awareness is crucial when working with a diverse culture of students as a school counselor. Attitudes and beliefs are consistent across all cultures and generations, regardless of where they are at in their life-span development. Therefore, school counselors also carry their own attitudes and beliefs. Since many school counselors work with diverse student populations, they should learn more about their own attitudes and beliefs and how they are expressed in their life.

This is an important standard because students’ ethics, thinking, and perspectives are influenced by their own attitudes and beliefs (Wolf, 2004). It’s common for a school counselor to not be bothered when they are working with students who have similar cultural backgrounds of their own. However, a potential challenge presents itself when school counselors assist students from different cultures, ethnicities, and/or spiritualties (Wolf, 2004). A school counselor must be able to acknowledge their own limits of their own multicultural competencies and expertise, as well as understand when they are beginning to feel discomfort with the differences that will come out between themselves and their students. Along with attitudes and beliefs comes the need for a school counselor to retain knowledge about their own culture.

There is specific information within the school counselor’s culture and heritage that can both personally and professionally affect their ability and effectiveness throughout the counseling process. A significant challenge is for school counselors to acquire an understanding and knowledge of racial/ethnic identity development with their own cultural history and then apply that knowledge to students’ issues and concerns (Holcomb-McCoy, 2004). This allows counselors to acknowledge how their own culture has suffered or maybe even benefited from the cultural racisms throughout history. In order for school counselors to continue to practice cultural competency in counseling, they must maintain the skills and education as this multi-cultural world continues to change.

It is essential for school counselors to continue to seek consultation, further training and education, as well as refer students to other mental health counselors (outside of the school system) that could better work with their culture. According to the ethical standards for the school counseling profession (ASCA, 2004) counselors need to be proficient in working with students from diverse backgrounds and within a multicultural framework that supports the cultural contexts in which today’s students develop (Moore-Thomas & Day-Vines, 2008). Ethically it is essential for counselors to maintain these skills in order to better serve their students.

Counselor Awareness of Client’s Worldview

School counselors must be aware of negative and positive emotional reactions that are put off towards students, because this is significant towards the counseling relationship with the student. If a counselor chooses to share their own attitudes and beliefs with a student, it is important for the counselor to remember that they are willing to share those beliefs in a non-judgmental and pushy fashion (Wolf, 2004). Culturally skilled counselors must be aware of their own biases and stereotypes that they hold towards other racial and ethnic minority groups. These preconceived notions need to be addressed so that they are not being outwardly communicated (verbally or nonverbally) to a student that could potentially hinder the counselor-student relationship (Curry, 2010). How the client receives a counselor’s nonverbal social queues can seriously affect the relationship.

In order for school counselors to continue to maintain a positive relationship with a student of a different cultural background than their own, they must obtain the knowledge necessary to do so. Part of that knowledge involves possessing specific knowledge that is strongly linked to understanding the minority identity development that is available from different pieces of literature. School counselors need to be prepared to do additional research regarding different cultures in order to better understand the students they are working with.

Along with knowledge, school counselors must also have the skills necessary that will enrich the counseling experience for the student. The following question must always be asked, how can counselors become more actively involved outside of the school system within the minority cultures that they are working with? School counselors can play a major role in the empowerment of ethnic minority families and communities by taking a leadership role in developing school-family-community partnerships (Holcomb-McCoy, 2004). School counselors are not only advocates for mental health and education within the school system, but they are also advocates within the community as well, and their community involvement with diverse cultures is a practical way of obtaining the knowledge needed to work with those students.

Culturally Appropriate Intervention Strategies

While keeping the other two competencies in mind counselors must consider how they can apply those to the different intervention strategies needed within the context of school counseling. Attitudes and beliefs that a school counselor must have in order to be culturally skilled must reflect a level of value and respect for the student. In some situations, when working with clients from a different culture, there might be a language barrier; therefore counselors must value the ability to reach the student with their language needs. If there is a language barrier within a counseling setting, a counselor must be open to either offering a translator (while maintaining confidentiality) or referring the student to a different counselor or mental health practice that can better serve their needs (Holcomb-McCoy, 2004).

Culturally competent counselors have a clear and unambiguous understanding of the generic characteristics of counseling and therapy and how they may clash with the diverse values of various backgrounds. School counselors must consider if there are any institutional barriers that might prevent a student from coming to them for help. If there are any circumstance that would hinder a student from seeing a school counselor, then that needs to be addressed by the administration and see that counseling can still be offered within the school system for the student (Ponterotto, Alexander, & Grieger, 1995). It is essential that a counselor have the knowledge of the interventions strategies and techniques to use in order to best work with the multicultural students of the school.

School counselors must be able to not only have the attitude and knowledge to work with a diverse population, but they also must have the skills. Skilled school counselors are not above seeking the needed additional trainings, education, and guidance that will enable them to better utilize their skills and techniques when working with diverse clients. The use of theories and techniques within school counseling is essential because of how diverse the students may be, and because of the development stage the students will be in (Ponterotto, et al., 1995).

Competencies Applied to an African American Adolescent

Appropriate counseling for African American adolescents requires the professional school counselor to carefully consider the discussed competencies. While incorporating many of these, the following case study was conducted when working with an 11-year-old African American student; child’s name in this assessment will be Jane Doe (Moore-Thomas & Day-Vines, 2008).

Jane Doe is in the sixth grade, and has experienced many behavioral difficulties, however she is not considered a special needs student. Throughout the years, all of Jane’s teachers have reported their concerns of her disruptive behavior. Jane’s mother was concerned about her daughter’s behavior and decided to see the school counselor about what the next step might be, so that it won’t begin to interfere with her academic performance. Jane’s mother reported to the counselor that Jane never had disruptive behavior at home or even at any of their church functions, and so she was surprised that this behavior was occurring within the school day. After meeting with Jane’s mother, the counselor reflected on meeting and decided to explore more information about the community that Jane was living in, as well as the church community that her and her mother were involved in. The counselor was not familiar with their church because it was a different culture and religious belief than her own.

She began her research online, checking out the church website, and then on her way home from school that afternoon she drove through Jane’s neighborhood. The counselor found that the neighborhood was a lower to middle class neighborhood, and the church a protestant-Baptist church that was only about two blocks from Jane’s address. After the counselor’s research, it was decided that the best behavior plan to start with Jane would be to develop a school-home-community intervention plan that recognized the family’s values, and allowed Jane to express those values not only at home and at church but also throughout the school day. Rather than ignoring Jane’s spiritual and cultural identity, the counselor allowed Jane to embrace it as part of her cultural identity as a central key to her cognitive and academic development.

In this case study, the counselor illustrates a professional example of how to best incorporate the multicultural counseling competencies within the school system. First the counselor understands the importance of knowing her own culture and how it is different than Jane’s and therefore, she needs to be sure to not reflect her own biases onto Jane or her mother. The counselor utilized her skills to find a technique that would work best for Jane and Jane’s mother in order to develop change within Jane’s behavior at school. Finally, the counselor worked to conduct research and learned more about Jane’s home, the community she lives in, and specifically her spirituality.


Spirituality is not a consideration of the multicultural counseling competencies that were addressed in this paper; however after the previous case study and further research it may be culturally incompetent if a counselor does not include a student’s spirituality. In some cultures spirituality plays a vital role in an individual’s culture, values, and beliefs, so to not consider it within counseling could potentially be detrimental to the student’s counseling experience. When considering a student’s spirituality it is essential for a counselor to be aware of not only their own spirituality but also the ethical and legal implications of talking about spirituality within the school system.

Ethically, the American School Counselors Association writes in the preamble of the Code of Ethics that school counselors are willing and able to talk to all students regardless of the student’s spiritual beliefs (ASCA, 2010). However, legally the counselor must abide by the First Amendment of the Constitution, the separation of church and state. So, how are school counselors supposed to ethically work with the client’s spiritual needs, but also legal abide by the law that was written to protect the citizens’ freedoms? Very carefully.

Spirituality is already a taboo subject within the school system because the first amendment, therefore it is suggested that a school counselor only brings up spirituality if the student approaches the topic first (Wolf, 2004). Working with diverse cultures, spirituality will inevitably come up, either directly or indirectly. However, when they do present themselves within the school counseling setting it is unethical for the school counselor to advocate for their own personal spiritual beliefs. This is not only a constitutional issue, but also a professional and ethical issue (Wolf, 2004).

Spirituality is a new found essential when maintaining cultural competencies within counseling. Incorporating spirituality into therapy and interactions with the student will help the student to better focus their own emotional human needs on the spiritual side of their culture. And when this is practiced appropriately, it may help enhance the student-counselor relationship with a foundation built on trust, because of how personal spirituality can be to some cultures. The Importance of Self awareness

Self-awareness is the most important aspect that a school counselor (or even mental health counselor, for that matter) can have before entering into the world of counseling, especially within the school system. Without a counselor’s self-awareness of their own cultural background then they will not be able to know when their own personal biases are being expounded upon the student. A counselor needs to know what cultures or groups of people they would have the most difficult time counseling, and why they would have a difficult time counseling those individuals. If there is a specific group of people that the counselor is not comfortable working with, then it would be encouraged that the counselor takes action to work through those biases and develop more competencies with that culture.

However, if a counselor is unable to do this, then the counselor should consider referring those students to a different school counselor or even an outside mental health professional. If at any point a student walks through the door of a school counselors office, and the counselor is aware that they are not able to hold their own biases back about the student’s culture, then the counselor needs refer the student to another professional. Otherwise the emotional security and stability of the student’s well-being could potentially be at stake if the counselor helping them is not willing to budge from their own biases.

Exploring a Personal Touch in Cultural Competencies

Throughout the semester, in this class specifically, I have been able to grasp a better understanding of what cultures I may have a difficult time working with as a school counselor. I did not realize it before, however my self-awareness has helped me to acknowledge that I would have an incredibly difficult time working with the Muslim population. I realize that I feel this way because of some different personal experiences that my family has experienced with this culture, as well as how some Muslim cultures (or countries specifically in the Middle East) treat women. I do not think it’s fair for a woman to be forced into wearing a super black, super thick, and super huge garment that covers their entire body, with the exception of her eyes. I do not think that it’s fair for a woman to be forced into a marriage with a man she doesn’t love, and then lose all of her rights, making her ability to leave the marriage not an option at all. In some Muslim countries woman have been forced into oppression.

My mother’s sister (Aunt Julie) was a missionary for several years in different countries of the Middle East. At one point in her mission she was placed in Bahrain for a six-month commitment. While she was there it was Bahrain law for all woman to dress in garments and cloth that would cover their entire body, with the exception of their eyes. At one point in Aunt Julie’s mission, a body part (that wasn’t her eyes) was exposed in public accidently, and she was taken into custody for what would be considered indecent exposure here in the United States. She was in prison for several months, and eventually the United States Embassy of Bahrain was able to rescue her from the persecution, and she came home. That experience really shook up my family, and I believe that it’s because of that situation that I am not completely comfortable about Muslim men in particular. Therefore, I think I would have a really difficult time counseling with that population, because I would not be able to completely apply all of the cultural competencies.

Out of all the competencies, I believe that my strength would certainly fall into the realm of knowledge, and desire to learn more about specific cultures that I will be working with. I have a strong passion and desire to learn, especially when it comes to how I can better communicate and relate to people. However, a weakness that I would be forced to work through amongst all of the competencies would be techniques to use. At this time, I feel this way because I don’t feel like I have enough practice and experience using the techniques I have already learned. I also think that I consider this a weakness, because I’m not sure what techniques work best with different cultures. With time and experience I hope to have a better understanding of how different techniques work better with some cultures than others.

I think that the most important thing I have learned beyond the facts in the text and theoretical research would certainly be what I have learned through class discussion this semester, the importance of self-awareness. Self-awareness for a counselor is not something you can read about in a book or a journal. You can’t discover your self-awareness by visiting the library or getting on EBSCO-host. You have to learn it through getting to know yourself. Self-awareness can be discovered through talking to classmates about their beliefs, your beliefs, what culture says about the different things in this world, and searching our hearts to see what we believe. The only way we can become completely competent for who we can counsel is by allowing ourselves to discover the self-awareness we have inside of us; by not avoiding any issues or biases we may have, but instead working through those, and allowing our hearts to be transformed to accept and work with all people, however diverse they may be.


American School Counselor Association. (2010). Ethical standards for school counselors. Retrieved November 19, 2011, from Arrendondo, P., Toporek, M. S., Brown, S., Jones, J., Locke, D. C., Sanchez, J., & Stadler, H. (1996). Operationalization of the Multicultural Counseling Competencies. AMCD: Alexandria, Virginia. Curry, J.R. (2010). Addressing the spiritual needs of african american students: Implications for school counselors. The Journal of Negro Education, 79 (3), 405-415. Holcomb-McCoy, C. (2004). Assessing the multicultural competence of school counselors: A checklist. Professional School Counseling, 7(3), 178-183. Moore-Thomas, C., & Day-Vines, N.L. (2008). Culturally competent counseling for religious and spiritual african american adolescents. Professional School Counseling, 11, 159-165. Ponterotto, J. G., Alexander, C. M., & Grieger, I. (1995). A multicultural competency checklist for counseling training programs. Journal of Multicultural Counseling & Development, 23(1), 11-20. Wolf, J.T. (2004). Teach, but don’t preach: Practical guidelines for addressing spiritual concerns of students. Professional School Counseling, 7 (5), 363-366.

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