The Cross-Cultural Relevance of Person-Centered Counseling in Postapartheid South Africa. (Practice & Theory)

Article excerpt

Despite the increased attention that cross-cultural counseling has received in the international literature over the last decades, this research area is still considered to be in its infancy (Capuzzi & Gross, 1995). Effectively counseling the culturally different client remains a controversial issue worldwide (Holcomb-McCoy, 2000; Krause, 1998).

Until recently, the available counseling and psychotherapeutic services in South Africa have often been described as irrelevant to the needs of the majority of Black people in this country (Dawes, 1986; Swartz, 1996; Turton, 1986). Because current psychotherapeutic and counseling theories are a product of Western culture, some authors doubt their usefulness for counseling Black clients (Pedersen, 1987; Usher, 1989). Effective cross-cultural counseling thus constitutes a major challenge to helping professionals in a multicultural country such as South Africa, where the Black population has been estimated to comprise 76.1% of the population (Schonegevel, Watson, & Stead, 1998).

During the last few years, however, Black South African communities have become increasingly aware of the importance of counseling services and the necessity of marketing such services to the community (Lupuwana, Simbayi, & Elkonin, 1998). This makes effective cross-cultural counseling even more imperative at present, especially in view of the Government's declared policy of making health care more accessible, affordable, and available to all citizens (Spencer, 1998).

Due to historical and sociopolitical factors and the consequent lack of enough Black counselors, cross-cultural counseling in the present South African context still mostly involves a Black client in therapy with a White counselor (Swartz, 1996). In this regard, the situation in South Africa is similar to other countries in that White counselors are expected to form the majority of counseling practitioners, currently as well as in the future (Pack-Brown, 1999).

For the White South African counselor who works with Black clients, it is essential to recognize that Black South Africans have a common set of previous experiences, including sociopolitical experiences, that forms an essential part of their cultural identity. As pointed out by Arredondo (1999), individuals bring to counseling interactions a worldview that is influenced by these kinds of experiences, which affect the individual's attitudes and beliefs about self and others. South African counselors, therefore, need to work in a counseling modality that makes provision for recognizing and appreciating Black clients' common history of White oppression, the anger that this generates, the counselor's own response to that anger, and the impact of this on the counseling relationship. In this article, I argue that person-centered counseling is the modality best suited to accomplish this deep level of understanding in cross-cultural counseling in South Africa.

CHARACTERISTICS OF PERSON-CENTERED COUNSELING THAT MAKE IT SUITABLE FOR CROSS-CULTURAL WORK IN SOUTH AFRICA

The basic assumptions in person-centered counseling, as set out by its founder Carl Rogers (1951, 1961, 1980), are that people are essentially trustworthy, that they have a vast potential for understanding themselves and resolving their problems without direct intervention on the counselor's part, and that they are capable of self-directed growth if they are involved in an effective counseling relationship. According to Rogers, three essential counselor attitudes create a growth-promoting climate in which individuals can move forward and become what they are capable of becoming. These three attributes are (a) congruence (genuineness or realness), (b) positive regard (acceptance and caring), and (c) accurate empathic understanding (an ability to deeply grasp the subjective world of another person). In person-centered counseling, therefore, clients define their own goals, and counselors strive to deeply understand the world as their clients see and experience it (Merry, 1995). …