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  • Writer's pictureMona Ray

Counselling, Diversity & Identity

Counselling and Equality; We Are All Different but The Same.

'If you, as a therapist, understand the simple truth that you are more than your body, background, culture, race and nationality, and you, as a client, understand that you are more than your body, mind, background, culture, sex, nationality, and race then we have a better chance to understand each other. Then, your therapist can focus on you as an eternal living entity that suffers and seek help, and you as the client can see your therapist as a willing helping eternal entity.'

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Key legal aspects of anti-discriminatory practice

People should be protected from discrimination at their workplace and in broader society regardless of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and belief, sex, and sexual orientation. Still, we should be aware that discrimination based on diversity exists in society; e.g., 40 % of full-time employees have experienced discrimination due to one of the above aspects. This is why you and your therapist must be aware of your rights.

If we understand that simple truth, we can know that a mother who lost her child suffers, grieves, and experiences the same pain as any other mother, regardless of race, culture, and religion. If you have backache, you share it the same way irrespective of the above; if you are depressed, you are depressed regardless of your nation, religion, race etc. Race, sex, age, culture, and nationality are all labels we wear daily. Thus why do you not try to go beyond that and be just yourself, be equal and accept differences not as hatred but as an ability to learn from diversity?

How does diversity impact the counselling relationship?

The UK is a diverse country that aims to encourage citizens to value their communities and treasure diversity. Diversity relates to age, gender, race, religion, ability (physical and mental), sexuality and socio-economic class. Those diversities influence the way a therapist approach clients.

Thus, dealing with vulnerable clients is a great responsibility, and therapists should be aware of their prejudices, basis, and judgments and work on themselves to put aside negative or unhelpful frames of thought while in a helping relationship. Also, self-education, self-actualisation, and continued work on personal skills and knowledge should be present to avoid misunderstanding, misconception, and potential harm resulting from those situations. Therefore, one thing in a culture may be considered good manners or customs while in another, the opposite. For example, suppose your client is a Somali man refugee. He is matched with a European female therapist who has a different dress code to his culture and his way of seeing women. In that case, it may be stressful for the man or at least not helpful. Thus, there is the possibility of losing an opportunity to help and gradual integration. Of course, there are also individual differences. For example, one Somali man may think and respond differently to another one. Still, being aware of cultural differences may help in planning and delivering therapy that will be more effective and helpful. I read a book by Hirsi Ali, a Somali refugee in the Netherlands who worked as an interpreter helping her fellow citizens. She adapted to the European culture, including how she dressed up, and because of that, she faced criticism from Somali men. I am far away from judging, but this shows how cultural differences may impact the helping relationship due to cultural differences.

Forgive me for using a particular Somali refugee. I closely relate to Hirsi's Ali books, and I am far from judging either side; your life, culture, and values are as important as mine or any other person's. I want to look deeper into the relationships between a therapist and a client. If, as a therapist, then you should understand the simple truth that you are more than your body, background, culture, race and nationality, and you, as a client, should know that you are more than your body, mind, environment, culture, sex, ethnicity, and race. Then we have a better chance to understand each other. Thus, your therapist can focus on you as an eternal living entity that suffers and seek help, and you can see your therapist as a willing, helping eternal entity that wants to help you.

This is just one example, but this may apply to other diversities based on nationality, religion, culture, and language differences. Even if a person speaks good English may still address issues or translate them too directly from their first language to English, which may not express or have no sense to the therapists and the other way round. Thus, knowledge, acceptance, and awareness of differences are essential in helping relationships.

Another example is when your client is Spanish, Spanish people are very open and affectionate, and English people are more reserved; thus, there may be a misunderstanding too. While studying sociology, I read a story about a Spanish guy who worked with an English guy who offered Spanish guy to drop him off at home after work. The Spanish guy assumed that was an invitation to his house when the English guy only provided the lift. Thus, the cultural differences created a misunderstanding. Therefore, being aware and honest can help apply healthy boundaries, which is helpful in a helping relationship and, in general, in any everyday interaction.

Ask questions and learn about differences may be enriching and helpful for both sides. Still, the responsibility is placed on the therapist.

Address differences and diversity as part of counselling skills practice.

Cultural sensitivity and multicultural awareness are the keys to providing the best possible help for vulnerable clients of diverse cultural backgrounds. Still, it may pose challenges for a therapist to understand and help a client with a different background, and it may not be easy to confide in a therapist with a diverse background.

Thus, therapists should not advise or impose their own beliefs and political, cultural, and social values on clients. At the same time, the therapist should not reject their values but put them aside during counselling sessions.

Self-education and applying all core counselling skills is the key to any successful helping relationship regardless of race, nationality, sex, age, socio-economic status, religion etc. Moreover, therapists should better understand their clients' backgrounds, races, cultures, beliefs, and religions. Definitively every client should be treated as equal and with respect.

We are all people. We experience happiness, joy and distress, pain and suffering similarly. A loving mother will suffer the same pain after losing her child regardless of race, religion, or geographical placement. Abuse is abuse, and pain is pain; all human beings experience similarly, although the expression and customs around those may be diverse, thus focusing on common ground while accepting and addressing differences and working with the client to enable them to overcome their problems should be the core of any therapy.

Matching a counsellor with a similar background to the client's or at least matching a counsellor more knowledgeable about a client's culture may be helpful. Diversity training, employing therapists from diverse backgrounds, and finding common ground may also be beneficial. The diversity between people does not change the core of any living being, which is your true identity, you inside the body, the ethereal, eternal living being.

Here you can find confidential and professional help.

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