Critical Issues in Cross-Cultural Counseling Research: Case Example of an Ongoing Project. (Articles)

By Tsang, A. Ka Tat; Bogo, Marion et al. | Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, January 2003 | Go to article overview
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Critical Issues in Cross-Cultural Counseling Research: Case Example of an Ongoing Project. (Articles)


Tsang, A. Ka Tat, Bogo, Marion, George, Usha, Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development


Cross-cultural counseling practice is characterized by a proliferation of opinions without empirical substantiation. Most research in this area is based on survey or analog studies that do not address practice issues in terms of outcome or actual clinical process, The authors examine issues in cross-cultural counseling and research, using illustrations from an ongoing study.

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In the last two decades, counseling practitioners have become increasingly aware of the need to develop cross-cultural competence. There has been a proliferation of opinions regarding how to work effectively with ethnoculturally diverse clients. There are also a growing number of research studies investigating aspects of cross-cultural counseling. Connections among theoretical conceptualization of cross-cultural practice, clinical realities, and research initiatives are, however, poorly developed. A number of reviewers (e.g., Atkinson, 1983; Betancourt & Lopez, 1993; Ponterotto & Casas, 1991) have identified both methodological and conceptual problems shared by most cross-cultural counseling studies. Moreover, proposed practice models are rarely tested empirically. In the absence of clinical studies, practitioners have followed "expert opinion" to guide their work in cross-cultural contexts. Simultaneously, researchers have struggled to formulate research questions that are meaningful to their practitioner colleagues. The aim of this article is to examine critical issues in cross-cultural counseling research. Challenges to definitions of major constructs, observation of practice realities, and implementation of research procedures are illustrated through reference to an ongoing clinical research project. The goal is to provide a more focused discussion about cross-cultural competence and the development of empirically based practice models.

the conceptualization of ethnocultural differences

The most important issue in cross-cultural counseling research is how practice is conceptualized. Traditional counseling has been criticized as Eurocentric or ethnocentric (Locke, 1992; McNeill, Horn, & Perez, 1995). Most clinical and research literature is based on the experience of White practitioners working with White clients (Graham, 1992). Demographic shifts in the last few decades have forced counseling practitioners to cope with the realities of ethnocultural diversity. Researchers and practitioners, however, still consider ethnicity to be a client characteristic, instead of its being a dimension of identity and an experience shared by all. It is not uncommon to find research reports that only report and analyze the ethnicity of clients without providing information on the ethnicity of practitioners (e.g., Sue, 1991). Clients are classified into generic ethnic categories, and attention is seldom given to differences within each group (Dwairy & Van-Sickle, 1996; Forehand & Kotchick, 1996; Kim, Omizo, & Salvador, 1996; Nwadiora, 1996; Salvador, Omizo, & Kim, 1997). In the counseling literature, cross-cultural practice is usually understood as a White counselor working with a non-White client. For example, in an attempt to operationalize multicultural counseling competence, Arredondo and colleagues (1996) explicitly chose to focus on the modal situation of a White practitioner working with a non-White client. They were still committed to the broad categorization of the client population into the five cultural groups of Asian, Black/African, Caucasian/European, Latino/Hispanic, and Native Americans. Little emphasis was put on within-group differences. Furthermore, by failing to include the practitioner in the same classification system, the exclusive focus on White practitioners served to marginalize and alienate non-White practitioners. Within this framework, only clients were considered different, and ethnicity was part of the client situation or the problem to be dealt with. The practitioner's ethnic background and cultural orientation and their effects on the counseling process were ignored.

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