Studying the role of culture in counseling theory and practice became the focus of researchers and scholars about 30 years ago. A case can be made today that this work has resulted in significant changes in the assumptions underlying counseling theory, as well as an enrichment of traditional counseling approaches such as psychodynamic, humanistic, and cognitive-behavioral approaches (Ivey, Ivey, & Simek-Morgan, 1997).
Some assumptions that have been challenged include the concept of normality, the focus on the individual, the goal of independence, the universality of linear thinking, and the reliance on verbal communications (Sue & Sue, 1999). Many counseling researchers now agree that what may be the norm for one group is not necessarily the norm for another group, that interdependence may be a desirable goal, that many groups use associative thinking, and that nonverbal communications are essential in counseling people from different cultures (Pedersen, 1994).
At the theoretical level, Bowlby (1988) and Ainsworth (1979), in their development and validation of attachment theory in a variety of cultural situations, have advanced psychodynamic theory by stressing the importance of context and environment in child development. Taub-Bynum (1984) also contributed to integrating culture into psychodynamic theory through the concept of the family and multicultural unconscious. Humanistic theory has undergone extensive developments to include culture systematically. The work of Bingswanger (1963) and Boss (1963) translated the existential premise of being-in-the-world into specific counseling and therapy strategies. Miller (1991) emphasized the concept of self-in-relation that focuses on the individual in context. In cognitive-behavioral theory, authors like Cheek (1976) and Kantrowics and Ballou (1992) have pioneered the inclusion of culturally relevant practices. Cheek adapted traditional assertiveness training for African American clients who view rights differently. Kantrowics and Ballou shifted their behavioral theory approach from an individualistic focus to one reflecting feministic reappraisals. A more recent proposition by Sue, Ivey, and Pedersen (1996) advocated for a culture-centered meta-theory that would preserve the integrity of different counseling approaches while organizing their theoretical and philosophical assumptions in one cultural framework.
The aforementioned theoretical shift illustrated has resulted in the emergence and continuous refinement of so-called multicultural counseling competencies. These concepts have been summarized in writings by Sue and Sue (1999), Ivey et al. (1997), and Pedersen (1994), among others. These competencies have evolved from basic communication styles and self-awareness techniques to more specific strategies addressing particular cultural characteristics of racial/ethnic (C. C. Lee, 1997), disability (W. M. L. Lee, 1999; Sue & Sue, 1999), family (Flores & Carey, 2000; Sciarra, 1999), gender (Julia, 2000), gay and lesbian (Fu & Stremmel, 1999; W. M. L. Lee, 1999), youth (Aponte & Wohl, 2000), and older adult groups (W. M. L. Lee, 1999; Sue & Sue, 1999). Ramirez (1999) stated the need to train counselors to understand problems of maladjustment as a cognitive and cultural mismatch between individuals and their environments. Axelson (1999) added particular issues that counselors need to attend to in social, educational, work, and career development and in personal growth. In addition, Reynolds (1995) summarized different multicultural training modalities and suggested the appropriateness of using the multicultural change intervention matrix developed by Pope (1993) that focuses on competency changes at the individual, group, and institutional level. Responding to these theoretical advancements, professional associations such as the American Psychological Association (1993) have developed competence guidelines for its members. …