Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling

Infusing Cultural Competence and Advocacy into Strength-Based Counseling

Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling

Infusing Cultural Competence and Advocacy into Strength-Based Counseling

Article excerpt

Strength-based counseling represents a welcome shift from prevailing deficit perspectives. However, the literature often treats enhancing strengths as an acultural concept, minimizing or ignoring the essential role of culture in forming and defining strengths. Integrating cultural competence and advocacy into strength-based practice is examined as an antidote to ethnocentric practice.


Strength-based counseling perspectives are attracting increasing notice in the professional literature, representing a paradigm shift from the deficit or medical model prevalent in many settings today (Galassi & Akos, 2004; Harley, 2009; Peterson, 2006). This seemingly nascent movement appears to have the earmarks associated with new models of research and practice (e.g., lack of a coherent theoretical framework, the recent emergence of useful models, and a relative scarcity of empirical outcome research; Harris, Thoreson, & Lopez, 2007; E. J. Smith, 2006). While the advent of strength-based counseling in its current form was relatively recent, it has deep and varied historical roots in both counseling and counseling psychology, particularly through the prevention, resilience, humanistic, career development, positive psychology, educational, and social work perspectives (Albee, 1984; Galassi & Akos, 2007; Peterson, 2006; Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). In fact, the initial impulse behind counseling work--the vocational guidance movement--expressed the core strength-based notion that individuals grow from building on their assets. In addition, an emerging body of research appears to indicate that the "best predictors of children's functional outcome into adulthood lay not in the relief of their symptoms but rather in an understanding, appreciation, and nurturance of their strengths and assets" (Goldstein & Brooks, 2006, p. xiii). The time appears ripe to reclaim the counseling field's roots in strength-based practice (McAuliffe & Erikson, 1999).


Culture, regarded as encompassing a constellation of factors (e.g., gender, ability status, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, spirituality), is an essential factor in forming behaviors, attitudes, strengths, beliefs, and values (Delpit, 1995; Harris, Thoreson, & Lopez, 2007; Lindsey, Roberts, & CampbellJones, 2005). Despite the pervasive influence of culture, it is not uncommon for the strength-based counseling literature to either treat strength as if it were an acultural concept or consider the topic solely from the perspective of the dominant culture (Leong & Paul, 2003; Ungar, 2005).The shortsightedness of this approach is evident when one considers that characteristics seen as strengths in one culture may be experienced as deficits in another culture or situation (E. J. Smith, 2006). For instance, mainstream culture may emphasize individualism, materialism, and competition as strengths, yet those in collectivistic cultures may view these "assets" as sources of problems (Harley, 2009; Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). One important aspect of culture--race or ethnicity--can illustrate additional reasons for concern. The vast majority (approximately 87%) of counselors in the United States represent the dominant European American culture (Bemak, 2005). In addition, graduate counseling preparation programs are regarded as inadequate in their infusion of multicultural competence training in both course content and field experiences (Sue & Sue, 2003). To add to the concern, research findings suggest that European Americans are both less knowledgeable about multicultural issues and less multiculturally aware than persons of color (Yeh & Aurora, 2003).

As counselors work to promote human growth, they must recognize that such development is "inextricably embedded in family, neighborhood, school, community, society, and culture and cannot be considered in isolation from these contexts" (Walsh, Galassi, Murphy, & Park-Taylor, 2002, p. …

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