Study: Nonminority Psychologists Can Adapt to Cultural TrainingGAINESVILLE, Fla.
Traditional thinking holds that psychologists with ethnic or racial backgrounds like those of their minority patients may be better suited to counsel them.
University of Florida researchers have determined that often is the case, but a new study has found that nonminority counselors who receive multicultural training can overcome and adapt to those differences in order to treat minority clients effectively.
The findings come at a time when a growing number of people of all ethnicities are seeking psychological help to deal with stresses that accompany today’s economic uncertainty, increasing family and job pressures, and other societal demands.
Minorities account for more than a quarter of those who seek services from public mental health facilities, yet just 14 percent of the U.S. psychologists have ethnically diverse backgrounds, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).
“This old notion of cultural matching — a Hispanic client should see a Hispanic therapist because someone of a different race would not understand them — is clearly called into question by this study. Multicultural counseling skills are definitely trainable,” said Greg Neimeyer, a UF psychology professor who conducted the study, which appeared in the October issue of the Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development.
“More critical than someone’s race and ethnicity is their awareness of that difference and their capacity to adapt themselves to the ethnic characteristics of the clients they work with,” he said. “That challenges us to not operate on the basis of simple prejudice or cultural stereotypes.”
For the study, Neimeyer evaluated 87 counseling students entering 27 doctoral programs around the country in 1998. He used a self-reported questionnaire that included a demographic survey and a 45-item standardized multicultural counseling competency measure that was appropriate for each participant’s racial background. Respondents were divided into a White and a non-White group, which included Black, Asian and Hispanic individuals, and were evaluated in two areas: racial identity development — the awareness of one’s own ethnicity and its impact on others, and multicultural counseling competency — the skills necessary to effectively treat diverse clients in a therapeutic context.
Two years later, the participants completed the same survey again, and their responses were evaluated in the same domains. While the non-White group showed a higher competency for multicultural counseling at both times, the gap in the skill difference between White and non-White trainees narrowed across time with multicultural training and experience, Neimeyer said.
“Counselors with diverse ethnic backgrounds have a heightened awareness of their own racial identity, which allows them to be more sensitive to issues of diversity and the experiences that go along with being a minority in the American culture,” Neimeyer said. “Consequently, they are better able to identify with multicultural clients. On the other hand, work such as this suggests that these skills are trainable, and therapists can enhance their cultural competence regardless of their own ethnic backgrounds.”
In 1992, three-quarters of psychology doctoral programs did not require even a single minority-focused course, and one-third of students spent less than 5 percent of their time with minority clients. While those numbers have increased during the past decade, training in multicultural counseling remains only minimally available at most institutions, according to the APA.
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