Multicultural Counseling: Working with People of Color

It is well-documented that working with minority populations can be challenging for therapists, especially for white therapists, largely because of trust and specific cultural issues. Because the current, if not ongoing, issues of racism and bigotry have been brought into the spotlight so starkly once again, I find it to be important and timely to look at these challenges more deeply, so that we, as therapists, can more effectively be part of the solution rather than contribute to the problem.

Williams and Levitt (2007)1 studied the differences between the values of therapists and clients as they relate to multiculturalism. They found substantial evidence supporting the fact that real value differences exist between therapists and clients and, “therapists cannot be value-neutral and that they routinely convey their values with clients.” (p. 256) Therefore, they say, “the potential exists for therapists to consciously or unconsciously influence clients to become more like themselves.” They point out that most therapists are unaware of the potential negative effects of sharing such values with the client, because they do so intending to benefit the client. Within a multicultural context, there is a higher probability of alienation, shame and/or indoctrination for the client in ways that either shut down the treatment or is counter-indicated for real progress to be gained.

Respect needs to come from a place of authenticity and symmetrical balance to have any true validity.

According to the research, among the most prominent ethnic minority groups in this country (African-Americans2, Latinos3, Native-Americans4, Asian-Americans5 and Middle Eastern Americans), common themes exist in their overall experiences with therapy. Additionally, there is vast underutilization of mental health services, primarily for the following reasons: a sense of alienation and shame, stereotyping and lack of trust in the therapist (particularly a white therapist).

Because this phenomenon is so embedded in horrific histories as well as ongoing cultural disparities, it often seems insurmountable to rectify. But it is my strong conviction that we in this field can, and must, put every effort into positively intervening in this issue by fully recognizing it and, coming from a place of authenticity, fully focus respectfully on the unique cultural backgrounds and qualities of each human being we encounter.

1Williams, D., & Levitt, H. M. (2008). Clients’ experiences of difference with therapists: Sustaining faith in psychotherapy. Psychotherapy Research18(3), 256-270.

2Thompson, V. L. S., Bazile, A., & Akbar, M. (2004). African Americans’ perceptions of psychotherapy and psychotherapists. Professional psychology: Research and practice35(1), 19.

3Comas-Diaz, L. (2006). Latino healing: The integration of ethnic psychology into psychotherapy. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training43(4), 436.

4Heinrich, R. K., Corbine, J. L., & Thomas, K. R. (1990). Counseling Native Americans. Journal of Counseling & Development69(2), 128-133 and Trujillo, A. (2000). Psychotherapy with Native Americans: A view into the role of religion and spirituality.

5Leong, F. T., & Lau, A. S. (2001). Barriers to providing effective mental health services to Asian Americans. Mental health services research3(4), 201-214.


RFT Book Cover

Respect-Focused Therapy (RFT) is a foundation on which all modalities and techniques used in therapy can be strongly grounded, in order to produce sound, effective outcomes. This approach offers clients the opportunity to gain experiential understanding of being respected, possibly for the first time, from the therapeutic relationship and then be able to heal old wounds by creating more respect for self and others in the therapeutic process.