There are just as many definitions of diversity, as there are people. Cultural Diversity in counseling is recognizing, appreciating, and utilizing the unique talents and contributions of all individuals. Considering cultural diversity in a counseling session is broader than just considering race and gender, as it considers many of the ways people differ from each other.
Not only are age, and gender considered when considering diversity, but race, language, and cultural backgrounds are reviewed. When we are able to accept differences in people, we gain the tendency to accept people, and, appreciate these differences.
Diversity affects and is affected by each person in a session, the counselor and the client. Admit it or not, each of us has prejudices or biases; it's only human nature. As humans, we are constantly reviewing, evaluating and judging. Therefore in counseling, it is vital to recognize our own biases, and prejudices as being our own, based on our own backgrounds, and frame of reference.
There are four key elements that need to be understood, in order for counseling to be effective. They are:
Knowledge: How much information does the counselor know about others from diverse backgrounds? In some areas of the world, people greet a new person with affectionate gestures such as hugs, warm handshakes, and a smile. In some countries, these gestures are considered rude, and a person wouldn't approach somebody, upon initial meeting, with a hug or a smile, until they get to know them. How much knowledge you have about backgrounds that are different from your own, is an important consideration in thinking about cultural diversity in counseling.
Understanding: Understanding refers to how much an individual comprehends how others feel and why they behave as they do. If you look somebody in the eye, and they don't return the gesture, you may consider this rude, when in fact it's a reflection of culture that says that it's rude to look somebody in the eye.
Awareness: This refers to how much an individual respects and values others diverse characteristics and behaviors. This includes respect and tolerance of others differences. Tolerance is a follow-through from empathy, and refers to how accepting one is, of others who are different. When one is tolerant of differences, they can accept the idea that all people should be allowed to exhibit their cultural background and tendencies, through their behavior.
Behavior: How effective is a person able to interact with another who differs from himself or herself?
Recognizing and appreciating differences in people of all ages, races, and backgrounds is a key element to effective counseling with culturally diverse populations. Counseling a diverse population, requires that people gain a personal awareness of individual biases and stereotypes, and, work to understand and accept these differences. Knowledge, understanding, awareness and behavioral interactions, are the key elements needed, for successful counseling sessions with diverse populations.