Exploring Relational and Individualistic Counseling Preferences of Culturally Diverse College Students

By Lewis, Theresa Odenweller; Tucker, Carolyn M. | Journal of College Counseling, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Exploring Relational and Individualistic Counseling Preferences of Culturally Diverse College Students


Lewis, Theresa Odenweller, Tucker, Carolyn M., Journal of College Counseling


This exploratory study examined the influence of gender and ethnicity on college student preferences for individualistic vs. relational-focused counseling approaches. Overall, the results did not demonstrate significant differences across gender and ethnicity. However, there was a small tendency for women and African American participants to rate the counselor conducting the relational-focused counseling approach more positively than did men and White participants, respectively.

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The fields of counseling and psychology are predicated on the worldview of White culture (Katz, 1985; Ponterotto, Casas, Suzuki, & Alexander, 2001). Katz has highlighted the similarities between White culture and the cultural values that form the foundations of traditional counseling theory and practice. More recently, D. W. Sue et al. (1998) explicated how four inherent values of counseling may be incongruent with the values of individuals from various cultural groups and for women in many societies. These values include (a) the focus on the individual, (b) verbal and emotional expressiveness, (c) self-disclosure of the most intimate aspects of one's life, and (d) an emphasis on insight. Additional values that are inherent in counseling and psychotherapy and that are not embraced across all cultural groups, including women, are "competitiveness rather than cooperation, linear-static time emphasis, nuclear vs. extended family, internal locus of responsibility, and an empirical approach to asking and answering questions about the human condition" (D. W. Sue et al., 1998, p. 83).

The inherent values of traditional counseling theory and practice may cause invalid interpretations and conclusions regarding the mental health behaviors and needs of clients. For example, by maintaining individualism as an inherent value, counselors may have the tendency to value autonomy and independence highly and thus use these attributes to define psychological health (D. W. Sue et al., 1998). Consequently, clients from groups that value a more collectivistic orientation may be inappropriately labeled as immature and overly dependent (D. W. Sue et al., 1998). Thus, as McLoughlin (1991) noted, "The individualistic worldview includes beliefs about racial and female nature that incorporate common scapegoating" (p. 230). Finally, D. W. Sue et al. emphasized that the continued use of theories that are predicated on one worldview is tantamount to cultural oppression, and, therefore, counselors must alter their practices to fit the needs of a multicultural population.

The worldview of many people of color and women is strongly influenced by racism and sexism and the subordinate position assigned to these groups in society (D. W. Sue & Sue, 1999). Culture also influences worldview in many ways (Ibrahim, 1991; Katz, 1985), and individuals belonging to ethnic groups from Asian, African, Latino/a, or Native American descent possess worldviews that vary from the White individualistic worldview (Carter, 1991; D. W. Sue & Sue, 1999). As the diversity on college and university campuses in the United States increases (Parameswaran, 1998), counselors in the university setting are faced with the challenge of modifying their use of traditional counseling approaches to meet the needs of a multicultural constituency. Indeed, some students of color avoid counseling centers because they perceive the system as racist and biased, and they believe that the counselors will not understand their worldviews (Leong, Wagner, & Tata, 1995).

The tendency to focus exclusively on the individual is particularly notable when counselors work with college students. The common belief, based on Western culture, that separation and individuation from the family group is a normal developmental process for traditionally aged college students may result in inappropriately encouraging college students to focus on their own wants and needs without adequate exploration or validation of their relational inclinations (Nelson, 1996).

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