Cultural Competence

What does it mean to be a culturally competent counselor?

A culturally competent counselor means having the ability to effectively work with a diverse group of people. This is a simple, straightforward definition of a culturally competent counselor. Competence involves skill, knowledge, expertise, understanding, and empathy. A culturally competent counselor must have the ability to vicariously experience their client's constructs and experiences. As a clinician, there will be times your client will see you as part of the dominant culture. This may create a distrusting attitude from your client. It will be your task to assimilate to your client's culture and ease any anxieties.

Westernized psychology and ideas often suffer from incorrectly assigning definitions of what it means to be healthy. Being able to adapt techniques, communicate validation and respect with the client's cultural framework marks the beginning of the importance of being culturally competent. As a clinician, this means being able to identify what socialization has been assigned to the client and being able to work through this; eventually connecting to the client as they experience themselves.

When you engage culture, look to find identifying differences and similarities in a celebratory manner. While you may not have experience with every culture, your level of self-awareness will allow you to effectively work with diverse clients. Being self-aware reveals your limitations and assumptions.


ADDRESSing acronym stands for Age and generational influences, Developmental or other Disability, Religion and spirituality, Ethnic and racial identity, Socioeconomic status, Sexual orientation/Experience, Indigenous heritage, National origin, and Gender.

This model provides a framework for counselors to become more aware of their own, as well as others, cultural influences. Below is an example taken from a client:

Age and generational influences:

Early thirty’s, 1980s generation y; I identify with the traditional values of my upbringing but understand nuances; technological advancement and social responsibility are also important.

Development disabilities: None

Disabilities acquired later in life: No personal disabilities; Lived with and assisted grandmother who has Multiple Sclerosis during first two years of high school. Lived with and assisted grandfather who had debilitating diabetes later part of high school career.

Religion and spiritual orientation: Christian with orthodox beliefs. Family was of various beliefs; mother was Christian, father was atheist, some extended members were Muslim, some extended members held to Black liberation theology.

Ethnic and racial identity: Black/African American; Closest Caribbean heritage from islands of Grenada and Barbados through mother's parents. Mother was second generation American. Father's heritage is traced to the American south with a few Cherokee Indian influences; Grandmother & Great grandmother was Cherokee Indian.

Socioeconomic status: Born into working class family, currently in middle class.

Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual with no other persuasions.

Indigenous heritage: Strong affiliation with African American and Afro-Caribbean Culture.

National origin: Born in the United States with the American experience.

Gender: Male

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