Addressing Immigrant and Refugee Issues in Multicultural Counselor Education

By Villalba, José A. | Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory, & Research, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Addressing Immigrant and Refugee Issues in Multicultural Counselor Education


Villalba, José A., Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory, & Research


Although counseling, psychological, and mental health research has been conducted on the needs and experiences of immigrants and refugees living in the United States, inclusion of these topics is not as prevalent or consistent in neither counselor preparation nor discussion of multicultural counseling competence. In an effort to increase the likelihood that immigrant and refugee issues will be included in multicultural counselor education, a case is made for adding immigrant and refugee issues and experiences to the multicultural competency training discourse.

Since the development of the Multicultural Counseling Competencies and Standards (Sue, Arredondo, & McDavis, 1992), the mental health professions (e.g, counseling, counseling psychology, clinical psychology) have made a clear and concerted effort to address the needs, experiences, strengths, and input of ethnically, racially, and culturally diverse groups of clients. The Competencies were developed to call attention to the need for all mental health specialists as well as those in training to become more aware of their beliefs toward those from different ethnic, racial, and cultural groups (as well as their own racial/ethnic identity development). The Competencies also were used as a tool to encourage mental health professionals to increase their knowledge of diverse groups of individuals and to augment their clinical skills based on their newfound self-awareness and knowledge of others (Sue, et al., 1992). In 1996, when the Competencies were operationalized and updated by Arredondo et al. (1996), other factors for consideration were added to the discussion of multicultural competence, including the gender, religious/spiritual beliefs, age, sexual orientation, abilities, and social class of clients and prospective clients. Absent from this list of factors is whether or not an individual was considered by themselves or others to be an immigrant or refugee. This article seeks to address this omission by providing general information on immigration and refugee issues so as to support the notion of including the shared experiences of this group in multicultural counselor education.

This article will focus on first-generation U.S. immigrants and refugees, meaning those individuals who were born outside of the United States and who came here to establish long-term residence (either with or without proper documentation), as opposed to second-generation U.S. immigrants and refugees, born in the United States to first-generation parents and subsequent generations (Pew Hispanic Center, 2002). The focus on first-generation immigrants and refugees is due to the increased likelihood of these individuals to experience prejudice and discrimination, academic difficulties, traumas, posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, English language acquisition difficulty, and acculturative stress associated with being a newcomer to the United States of America (Chung & Bemak, 2002; Giles, 1990; Jamil, Nassar-McMillan, & Lambert, 2004; Marotta, 2003; Phan, Rivera, & Roberts-Wilbur, 2005; Sciarra, 1999; Shin, Berkson, & Crittenden, 2000; Williams, 2003).

Before delving into the characteristics of immigrants and refugees from different countries living in the United States, a distinction must be made between both terms. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS, n.d.) website, a refugee is any person who is outside her or his country of nationality who is unable or unwilling to return to that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution. Persecution or the fear of persecution must be based on their race, religion, nationality, political opinion. Furthermore, the USCIS website notes that refugees are eligible for lawful and permanent U.S. resident status after one year of continuously residing in the United States. Immigrants are broadly defined in the Immigration and Nationality Act as any alien (a person who was not born in the United States or who is not a U. …

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