Ethical Issues in Multicultural Counseling

United States is made up of a combination of numerous cultures from different geographical regions. These cultures have come together combining the diverse aspects of their cultures to form one complex country governed by the same constitution and laws. Looking at the American world you can confuse it for a harmonized society in terms of beliefs and values but the reality is that it is a very challenging and complex society. The country sees unending immigration by people from different regions of the world therefore bringing in more backgrounds and cultures something that increases the need for multicultural counseling. These disparities in cultures create issues in multicultural counseling as during a session the counselor’s culture and that of the client come to play. The counselor’s values and beliefs as well as those of the person getting help are key factors and how well a session goes depends on the counselors understanding of the client’s cultures and their ability to blend into other cultures.

The multicultural counseling field has experienced setbacks in the past due to the inability of proper counseling occasioned by lack of competence and knowledge in the interpretation of ethical guidelines. It is a requirement that a counselor possesses the skills and tools for them to conduct the counseling according to the guidelines. Unfortunately, there lacks proper training concerning how race and ethnic backgrounds should be tackled and in the present there seems to be lack of adequate education on cultural backgrounds. There are so many situations that require ethical input today giving reason why ethics has become a popular topic with counselors including instances of client betrayal and injustice. Handling situations in an ethical manner remains hard because of the many ethical issues that come into play. These cause differences in accepting or deciding the appropriate response for a particular situation. Privacy and confidentiality, finance, time and roles, informed consent, competence and termination initiated by a therapist are examples of areas in ethical issues.

Code of Ethics

Code of ethics in the fields of counseling, social work and psychology is bound to experience modifications as time passes. In mental health for instance, physicians are restricted by the ethical codes and standards set in that profession. In their book, Brabender and Fallon (2009) highlights that the American Counseling Association has ethical guidelines set for counselors to oversee enhancement of human growth and cultural strategies to be embraced in order to uphold the uniqueness and dignity of their patients as well as recognition and respect for the diversity of those they serve (p. 96).


The association has five purposes for the proposed for the code of ethics: (a) clarification of the ethical responsibilities’ nature, (b) ethical complaints and enquiry processing (c) guide members on course of action construction (d) organization’s mission support and (e) establishment of principles that contribute to best practice (Brabender& Fallon, 2009).

Reasons why a counselor should be Aware of the ethical standards

From time to time, counselors will be faced with ethical dilemmas and they need to consult the ethical standards to guide them in their decisions. To make informed ethical decisions a counselor needs to have adequate knowledge of the ethical decision making models, the understanding of the ethical situations with proper application of his or her own ethical codes. Lack of this knowledge may lead to unintentional mistakes or breaking of the codes.Sue, Arredondo and McDavis, (1992) noted that there are not many professionals that get accused of being unethical. Only those who make clients and patients traumatized as a result of their mistakes and negligence.

It would be hazardous if there were no ethical standards predefined to monitor, censor and guide counselors in their work. If the guidance wasn’t available then the counselors would conduct their work basing it only on their beliefs and values. This means they would counsel their clients basing the guidance on their lives, since the counselors are the superior in the session, therefore trying to change the clients instead of providing them help that is based or aligned with the client’s life.  There is also the danger of laziness, selfishness, racism and ethnicity. Without the standards there is a great deal of favoritism and mistreatment that would be experienced by clients from a different race than that of the client. In a money making organization, selfish professionals may conduct sessions with an aim to make money forgetting the need to help the clients.   Fortunately, there existcodes of ethics in all organizations that the professionals need to follow.

Ethical Issues Unique to Multicultural Counseling

Multicultural counseling is made up of people from different backgrounds and cultures and therefore ethical codes and procedures are not effective in tackling every situation that presents itself. Durodoye (2006) poses that counselors should prepare before meeting clients from a certain ethnic group by researching their history and culture as well as health issues that theyhave. Academic, social, professional and web researches on the clients is important. They can also use movies and lectures as avenues for information source. However, this information cannot be considered definitive explaining why multicultural counseling cannot be compacted. Achor (2010) suggested thatdifferent cultures tackle different ethnic dilemmas are tackled differently by different cultures and there exists variations on how ethical behavior is set.

Confidentiality Risks

Confidentiality is critical in counseling. Ethical clinical practice and judgment are two things that go hand in hand (Achor, 2010).For a client’s needs to be met ethically, a lot of challenges have to be overcome from dealing with restricting decisions to ethics and the most crucial challenge, confidentiality needs to be maintained to ensure that client feels safe to divulge information for a session to be successful.

The success of a counseling session depends on how well a doctor offers advice but it cannot be effective if the client is not going to contribute. The contribution of a client is usually information and finance, with information being the ultimate contribution by a client to the session.  When a client trusts a counselor with personal or criminating information then the information comes back to haunt them or they hear it from other people the session becomes ineffective. A client doesn’t feel safe to give any more information and they start viewing the counselor as an enemy. A client may come out of such a session worse than they were before they started.

Informed Consent

According to Brabender and Fallon (2009), a psychology session causes legal problems and dilemmas as well as ethical issues. Achor (2010) explains that informed consent requiresthat a counselor requests permission from the client before they conduct or involve themselves in a study. In a case where the client is below the legally accepted adult age, the counselor needs to get consent from the guardian or parent. Should they use deception there must be justification for it and should not result to harm or go against the privacy of the client. A good example is where a session is recorded; the audio or video should only be viewed if the client allows it.

Role Boundaries

There are lines that cannot be crossed between professional and personal life in a counseling intervention. To ascertain this, personal and professional lines should be limited by set guidelines. According to Brabender and Fallon (2009) counselors are required to follow a careful but ethical decision-making procedure with proper situation evaluation based on the professional’s relationship covenant.

Unplanned Endings

Sometimes counseling takes an unplanned ending. Abrupt ending of counseling occasioned by unexpected of unavoidable occurrences can be challenging for both the client and the counselor because they leave heaps of uncompleted or unaccomplished businesses. They have a negative effect on your creativity and drive and may act as a test for your service. Should they happen then you should not question yourself and your potential but encourage yourself.


Financial hardships sometime contribute to client’s inability to continue their counseling sessions. These hardships may be occasioned by loss of income channels and other unforeseeable happenings. Achor acknowledges existence of cultures with funeral rites that are too extreme for some human beings (Achor, 2010). The list of reasons multicultural counseling can be affected by finances is endless.


0explains expertise as the possession of skills and competencies in a certain field. The expertise is nurtured through devotion of attention and practice to gain skills and experience in that field. Experts can take different channels to find solutions for certain problems and they can approach a problem in any manner they deem fit as long as it is ethically acceptable (Achor, 2010,). A competent counselor is not the one with a doctorate in the profession or above. A competent is one with the education or training, one that has taken enough time to research and understand the cultures of the clients and one who understands the codes of conduct and is able to apply all of the above in a session to make a client comfortable and safe therefore being able to help them.

Understanding Ourselves

A counselor is equipped with knowledge and formal education that puts them in a beneficial position and privileges including access to professional attachments. A counselor is required to stretch to extra limits and become equipped with knowledge of diverse cultures for them to be capable of handling sessions with clients from all fronts and cultures (Cannon& Frank, 2009).

The significance of Multicultural Counseling Training

Canon & Frank, (2009) explains the development of ethnic or racial identity as the path through which a person becomes aware of ethnic or racial differences and attains self-understanding. A counselor in the multicultural field has to add training or education on skills and awareness for them to be able to conduct multicultural sessions. Such education should make them competent enabling them to administer to patients from different ethnic backgrounds and also to enable them bemore effective in collection of information through the various studies they conduct (Brabender& Fallon, 2009). Beyond providing income, work acts as a source of shield from stress and frustrations and plays an important role in providing the psychological and social needs for the person as they spend a big part of their day at work (Brabender& Fallon, 2009). An organization that you work for acts as your teacher because it develops your personal and professional skills that act as your armor for in the fulfillment of the organization’s objectives and the economic needs as well as positioning you well to take on the changes in life (Brabender& Fallon, 2009).

Awareness and Acceptance of Differences

Multicultural counseling starts at attainment and growth of awareness and competence of diverse cultures and understanding that the differences in cultures have a direct influence on the impact of a session (Durodoye, 2006 ). People have different ways of acquiring psychological needs which is dependent on the way they grew. Durodoye further states that disparities in cultures are seen in communication, values, community health and personal time. These disparities therefore pose challenges to counselors whose cultures and beliefs conflict with those of their clients.A counselor therefore, has to be broader in perspective and should be able to accept differences in realities and be able to deal with them without comparing or judging (Durodoye, 2006)


A person starts to be aware of themselves at a tender age of twelve months (Achor, 2010). During the same time they also start realizing their capabilities. Culture has a very important impact in everyone’s life and to cherish this one needs to know their culture well.Durodoye confirms this by comparing culture to the adhesive that molds our lives and the experiences while defining values and experiences enabling us understand what we are capable of (Durodoye, 2006 ). Counselors need adequate understanding of how our values are affected by our daily encounters and the influence family, friends and people we interact with have on the values. Lack of self-awareness makes it hard for a counselor to be effective while at the same time being empathic of diverse cultures.

There is a famous psychology experiment that focuses on ‘unintentional blindness’. Achor (2010) explains it as the human inability to see something that is in front of them occasioned by the fact that they don’t focus on it.  People will see things in different ways but the ways they do will not result to equal seeing of those things. Some people tend to lean too much on the negative side of something not regarding the positive well enough and this usually tends to have a negative effect on their happiness and performance in what they do. It is important therefore that one tries to pay more regard on the positive in a situation.

Difference in Culture

The diversity in cultures occasions misunderstandings and miscommunications during the sessions. Cultures are gradually changing. For instance, in America, people live under one constitution and governing law. They also grow through the same education system, political systems and culture (Hildebrand et. al., 2008).For counselors to be able to maintain the right track and also be able to solve conflicts and bring back a session to the right path they need to be better trained as well as have adequate knowledge of cultures.

Taking Culture Into Consideration

Training for counselors should not have an end. It should run through their entire career (Brabender& Fallon, 2009). A counselor cannot be able to empathize or help a client if they don’t have an understanding of the groups and their different cultures. This explains why it is critical that a counselor gathers plenty information on each client’s culture to understand how to deal with them.Durodoye (2008), states that active consultation on cultures from experts should go hand in hand with understanding.

Adapting to Multicultural Counseling

There are a number of measures that can be put in place to accommodate the diversity in cultures. In a session, a counselor usually has a plan they intend to follow when dealing with cultures and these plans can be modified as per the cultural values of every client. Some topics for treatment can be subjected to alterations to fit the diversities in terms of culture therefore making it easy to deal with different races and conflict resolutions as it pertains to adaptation and clarification of ethnic identity issues (Durodoye, 2006). This helps counselors succeed in helping their clients. They also need to know the different emotional responses between different ethnic groups as this would have an effect on the relationship of a counselor.

Personal Approach

Responsibility is a three staged process. It begins with choice recognition followed by choice ownership with the last stage being accepting the consequences of the choice (Canon & Frank, 2009).Achor (2010) explains that the difficulty of life’s journey is evidenced by the difficulty in moving from being selfish to being in a serving heart.


As time passes the nation is gaining demographical diversity posing a need for the counselors to take a lead role in promoting and multicultural advocacy.  For a counselor to be able to make better ethical decisions they need to consult their personal codes, understand and apply ethical decision making models and also have adequate knowledge of the ethical circumstances. The diversity in cultures and religions promotes ethical issues and dilemmas when conducting a session. A counselor therefore needs to be aware that ethics depends on focus on morality and not the theory. The issue of ethnicity is too profound for it to be bound by a particular set of rules. Should a counselor be a Christian, they need to display great character, be guided by accommodating values and beliefs, and be able to solve conflicts with consideration of cultures and religion. It is also worth noting that the changes in time and the shift in cultures and values requires a continuous review of ethics and codes as what is important today may not be after some time (Achor, 2010). The ultimate goal of a counseling session is helping the client and as such a counselor’s actions should not result to a negative mental effect on the client.

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