Integration in Multicultural Competence and Diversity Training: Engaging Difference and Grace

By Eriksson, Cynthia B.; Abernethy, Alexis D. | Journal of Psychology and Theology, Summer 2014 | Go to article overview

Integration in Multicultural Competence and Diversity Training: Engaging Difference and Grace


Eriksson, Cynthia B., Abernethy, Alexis D., Journal of Psychology and Theology


Multicultural competence and attention to diversity in clinical practice are professional ethical mandates and a natural expression of the Christian ethics of hospitality, compassion, and justice. The course Clinical Interventions: Diversity, is embedded in an integrative understanding of psychotherapy and psychology. Our teaching philosophy is that creating a cultural lens for viewing ourselves and our clients allows us to be both authentically present to the work that God wants to do in psychotherapy and counseling, as well as attentive to the person who God intends us to become. Three sets of topics are foundational to the task of teaching integration within multicultural competence and diversity training: (1) self and other, (2) power and justice, and (3) grace and reconciliation. We highlight key Biblical and theological constructs that undergird the journey of developing multicultural competence and suggest teaching strategies to engage students in this potentially challenging but formative process.

For you created my inmost being;

you knit me together in my mother's womb.

I praise you, because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.--Psalm 139: 13-14 (NIV)

A central tenet of Christian faith is that humans have all been lovingly and knowingly formed by God, with His hand and intention in all the details. God has made humans with unique characteristics, within specific cultural settings, and during a certain historical and political context. From that unique perspective, individuals experience the world through their own eyes, but do not typically see it through the eyes of others. Miroslav Volf recommends that we develop a "double vision" where we can see the world not only from our perspective, but from others as well (1996, p. 250). At times this can be challenging as the perspectives may be in stark contrast or even opposition. Yet, Christians and psychologists have a responsibility to cultivate this mutual vision that "sees" accurately and challenges falsehoods based on stereotypes, discrimination, or racism. The task of teaching multicultural counseling and diversity from an integrative perspective creates a prophetic opportunity to consider the truths of God's creation, to engage students in a conversation which reveals truths and falsehoods, to build toward a more faithful, resilient, and honest community, and to lay a foundation of attitudes, knowledge, and skills that are critical to multicultural competence.

Introduction and Historical Context

The fields of psychology and counseling have not consistently supported a culturally-informed perspective of practice and research. Building on the work of early trailblazers, African American, Latino/a, Asian American, Alaskan native, and Hawaiian native psychologists and student leaders created ethnic minority psychological associations in the 1970's. These groups sought to develop psychologies that were embedded in the unique historical and cultural contexts of each group, and recognized the resilience and pain borne in the context of racism and inequality (Franklin, 2009).

Each ethnic minority psychology sought to challenge the "historic deficit orientation for ethnic minorities in the literature and research ... and transform the status quo in the profession" (Franklin, 2009, p. 416). The cultural deficit model was based on a biased perspective that ethnic minority student differences in academic achievement in comparison to white majority groups was due to their dysfunctional families. The cultural difference model attempted to be more sensitive to the role of differing values and experiences, but still was oriented toward an assumption that difference translated into inferiority for ethnic minorities and superiority for the white majority. The emergence of ethnic minority psychological literature provided a fuller appreciation of unique cultural and contextual factors that enriched our understanding of diverse people groups. …

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