Counselor Bilingual Ability, Counselor Ethnicity, Acculturation, and Mexican Americans' Perceived Counselor Credibility

By Ramos-Sanchez, Lucila | Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Counselor Bilingual Ability, Counselor Ethnicity, Acculturation, and Mexican Americans' Perceived Counselor Credibility


Ramos-Sanchez, Lucila, Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD


For more than 2 decades, a group of mental health providers (Falicov, 1998; Javier, 1989) and researchers (Martinez & Mendoza, 1984; Ponterotto, 1987; Santiago-Rivera, Arredondo, & Gallardo-Cooper, 2002; Sciarra & Ponterotto, 1991) have focused on the development of culturally sensitive therapeutic approaches for the Latino/a population. The rapid increase in the Latino/a population has likely spurred research in this area. As of the last census, Latinos/as made up the largest minority group in the United States, representing 12.5% of the population, 58.5% of which was of Mexican decent (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000). Moreover, Santiago-Rivera et al. estimated that Latinos/as in the United States would reach 59 million by the year 2050. Given the dramatic population increase, there is undoubtedly a high need for culturally relevant counseling services.

Yet despite the increase in population, Latinos/as continue to underuse psychological services (Abreu & Sasaki, 2004; Cheung & Snowden, 1990; Leong, Wagner, & Tata, 1995; Lopez, 1981). This finding is perplexing given the increased need for services because of stress related to poverty, immigration, and acculturation, which can result in interpersonal conflicts and intrapersonal disorders (Comas-Diaz, 1990; Espin, 1987; Falicov, 1998; Lefley, 1994). Leong et al. theorized that institutional barriers and culturally inappropriate services led to premature termination of those Latinos/as who sought services. In fact, Takeuchi, Sue, and Yeh (1995) found that ethnic minorities used culturally appropriate psychological services when such services were offered.

It seems obvious that offering culturally appropriate counseling services would influence use. Unfortunately, little is known about what makes counseling attractive to the Latino/a population, specifically Mexican Americans. The purpose of this study was to explore the specific ingredients of culturally appropriate counseling services that may be especially appealing to Mexican American clients. Evidence from past research (Atkinson, Poston, Furlong, & Mercado, 1989; Guttfreund, 1990; Marcos & Urcuyo, 1979; Pitta, Marcos, & Alpert, 1978; Ramos-Sanchez, Atkinson, & Fraga, 1999; Sanchez & Atkinson, 1983) suggests that counselor bilingual ability and ethnicity may contribute to making counseling services more welcoming to this population.

Research on counselor bilingual ability (Altarriba & Santiago-Rivera, 1994; Bamford, 1991; Marcos, 1976, Marcos & Urcuyo, 1979; Pitta et al., 1978; Ramos-Sanchez, 2007; Santiago-Rivera, 1995; Sciarra & Ponterotto, 1991) has indicated that bilingual counselors serve the linguistic needs of bilingual clients better than do monolingual (English) counselors. Santiago-Rivera hypothesized that having a bilingual counselor would allow clients greater freedom to conduct the session in whichever language they felt most comfortable. Language switching also engendered greater emotional expression (Marcos & Urcuyo, 1979; Pitta et al., 1978; Ramos-Sanchez, 2007; Santiago-Rivera & Altarriba, 2002), emotion applied across contexts (Santiago-Rivera & Altarriba, 2002), and access to language-specific personalities (Marcos & Urcuyo, 1979; Santiago-Rivera et al., 2002; Sciarra & Ponterotto, 1991). Sessions void of such emotions and of a client's complete personality may lack critical depth. In turn, the lack of depth could have a negative impact on the effectiveness of counseling and on the perceptions of the counselor. Nevertheless, research on the effects of language on the counseling process, specifically the perceived credibility of the counselor, is sparse. Most of the studies that support the benefits of language switching have relied mainly on case studies (Javier, 1989; Marcos & Urcuyo, 1979; Pitta et al., 1978) and theoretical articles (Altarriba & Santiago-Rivera, 1994; Santiago-Rivera, 1995). Few studies have investigated language switching in an experimental fashion (Guttfreund, 1990; Ramos-Sanchez et al. …

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