Multicultural Counseling

Alumni Spotlight

In one Amsterdam church, representatives from sixty countries gather together. Suddenly I felt a bit intimidated by my role as counseling and care director to this multicultural congregation. Granted, I represented my country and some represented the Netherlands, where I lived at the time, leaving only fifty-eight foreign countries about which I knew next to nothing!

This was my privilege and plight a couple years ago. In a small, wet country, unknown to most in the world, I counseled people from varied cultures. Their problems ranged from depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and confusion about sexual orientation, to eating disorders, grief, and marriage issues. Basically, they had the same problems dealt with by people everywhere. If you look at the root of any human problem, you will find sin, fear, and lack of complete trust in our God. In the core of our being, we all long for unconditional love and acceptance.

We have fewer differences between us than we imagine, but they are important nonetheless. Whether we live and counsel in a foreign country, do counseling during short-term missions, or counsel the people sitting in our increasingly multicultural congregations, we need to understand their cultural frame of reference. Learning these imperative details on our own can prove challenging. No one expects us to perfectly understand their background without asking them. Spend time asking discerning questions to get to know the person across from you. Do they come from an independent or interdependent culture? Does this culture have a pragmatic, practical worldview or a more emotional, spiritual worldview? Does this culture focus on process or the end result? What role do honor, shame, and guilt play? It all makes a difference in the way we counsel, form goals, or assign homework.

In goal-driven, less emotional cultures, clients may want us to outline specific steps or give tips on changing behavior. Studying Scripture, making lists, offering suggestions, and teaching coping or calming techniques might be important. In more processoriented, relational cultures, counseling might be more cognitive and social and may need to take into consideration how to involve others in the change. In these cases, it could be more effective to discuss emotions, use creative outlets, and ask questions that lead to self-discovery and changes in thought patterns or relationships.

Our approach to counseling needs to take culture into account, while not compromising God’s truth because of cultural dynamics. Counselors must exhibit a balance of truth and love, not judgment or disregard for culture. Studying God’s Word, memorizing Scripture, praying, and sensitively challenging sinful thinking or actions plays a part in any counseling situation.

In everything “if I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor. 13:1). We are all God’s creation. We are not citizens here on earth, but ambassadors for God’s kingdom, sensitively sharing His love, salvation, and healing with our neighbors, near and far.

Erin Rogers received her M.A./BC from DTS in 2005. Since moving back to the U.S. she and her husband John have been living in Garland. Erin works as a client services director at a local crisis pregnancy center. She and John will soon be moving on to their next adventure in Oklahoma City.