A Critical Analysis of the Multicultural Counseling Competencies: Implications for the Practice of Mental Health Counseling. (Practice)

Article excerpt

The authors discuss the implications of adopting the Multicultural Counseling Competencies created by the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development (Arredondo et al., 1996) for members of the American Mental Health Counseling Association and other counseling practitioners. At the present time, there is no evidence that those who master the Competencies are, or will be, any better counselors than those who do not. More empirical data need to be collected before the Competencies are required of practicing counselors or implemented in counselor education programs.


In 1996, the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development (AMCD) published its Operationalization of the Multicultural Counseling Competencies (Arredondo et al., 1996). These multicultural counseling competencies are the latest in a 20-year effort to operationalize the work of counselors in the area of diversity-sensitive counseling (Sue, Arredondo, & McDavis, 1992; Sue et al., 1982). Throughout the present article, the term Competencies refers to the Operationalization of the Multicultural Counseling Competencies (Arredondo et al., 1996). Proponents of the Competencies are advocating that they be adopted by the American Counseling Association (ACA), each of ACA's divisions, the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), the American Psychological Association (APA), and a variety of other professional entities.

Identity politics and multicultural counseling share many goals and strategies. Much of the present rationale for multicultural counseling (e.g., Atkinson, Morten, & Sue, 1989) has been predicated upon some variant of the following, often-cited prediction (Sue & Sue, 1999, p. 8): "Projections indicate that persons of color will constitute a numerical majority somewhere between the years 2030 and 2050." Therefore, this line of reasoning goes, counseling interventions should be developed that correspond with the racial or ethnic characteristics of specific racial groups. According to Etzioni (2001, p. 6) such a position is inadvertently racist because "to argue that all or most members of a given social group behave the way some do is the definition of prejudice."

Were the Competencies adopted by various professional bodies, there could be significant implications for mental health counselors. One reason that mental health counselors will be so prominently affected relates to the specific clientele with whom they work on a daily basis. Minority group members (Survey of Community Mental Health, 1994) and women make up a disproportionate number of the clients seen in settings where mental health counselors are likely to work (e.g., mental health centers and other publicly funded agencies). Moreover, even if working in independent practice, mental health counselors are likely to treat less affluent clients than psychologists or psychiatrists. Less affluent clients are also more likely to be women (University of Michigan News Release, 1997) or members of minority groups.

The purpose of this article is to provide a critical analysis of the Competencies, not only in terms of their face and empirical validity, but also in terms of what their adoption could mean for the practicing mental health professional. Implicit in this analysis is a profound commitment to inclusiveness. As previously stated (Weinrach & Thomas, 1996):

   Designating only a few minority groups as worthy of the profession's
   attention is (a) profoundly demeaning to those minorities not included, (b)
   a gross distortion and denial of the realities that many disenfranchised
   clients experience every day, (c) blatantly incompatible with the very
   essence of the counseling profession, and (d) antithetical to why many of
   us entered this helping profession in the first place. To the extent that
   any (italics in original) client population is excluded from the dialogue,
   we are all diminished. … 


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