In the contemporary context, a counselor encounters clients from diverse backgrounds and cultures. In this regard, it can be challenging to establish clear communication and build therapeutic relationships. Multicultural competence plays a pivotal role in understanding and addressing different individuals’ needs for a successful therapy process. In other words, the therapist’s counseling style should match the client’s communication style to prevent numerous difficulties. According to Sue et al. (2019), they include “premature termination of the session, inability to establish rapport, and cultural oppression to the client” (p. 183). Multicultural counseling requires additional competence and the therapist’s understanding of the behaviors, beliefs, and values of people from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds. This paper aims to discuss how the communication styles of diverse clients may differ from my own as a counselor.
Communication styles of people differ based on their personality, life experiences, background, culture, beliefs, and values. Generally, communication includes both verbal and non-verbal elements, such as words, body language, facial expressions, eye contact, and gestures. Clients’ communication styles from diverse cultures may vary from mine in numerous aspects. For example, language differences can affect the way non-native English speakers pronounce words, build sentences, use intonation, and convey messages (Sue et al., 2019). Furthermore, literacy and vocabulary levels, as well as word choice of my clients, impact their communication styles regardless of the fact whether English is their native language or not. Differences in language use across cultures can lead to misunderstandings and create a significant challenge to establishing effective communication.
Another example includes the use of body language and gestures. As Broeder (2021) states, low- or high-context cultures can be distinguished based on “the use of context to infuse information and meaning into communication” (p. 14). My clients from diverse backgrounds can prefer or avoid certain non-verbal cues, such as expressive body language. For instance, people from Latin American and Southern European cultures tend to stand close and use gestures actively, while individuals from Middle Eastern and Asian countries maintain distance (Broeder, 2021). Some individuals can be indirect and more reserved based on their cultural characteristics, which affect their communication style. This aspect is critical for therapeutic outcomes since the therapist must be able to pay attention to non-verbal cues to understand what clients feel and think.
Furthermore, facial expressions and the level of eye contact can differ in low- and high-context cultures. For example, Hispanics and Asian-Americans do not always look at others directly during a conversation, while Blacks can maintain prolonged direct eye contact while speaking (Sue et al., 2019). While facial expressions are common and integral to the communication process, they are not universal. In this regard, people from high-context cultures use eye movements and facial expressions more actively than individuals from low-contact cultures who primarily rely on verbal messages (Broeder, 2021). Finally, the communication styles of different clients define their expectations of the therapist and a safe environment where they can share their concerns. For example, diverse clients can interpret continuous eye contact and repetitive verbal tracking as either invasive or encouraging.
To conclude, cultural competence is essential for a counselor to establish trustful relationships with diverse clients. Social and cultural upbringing, personality, life experiences, beliefs, and values define the unique communication styles of individuals. Being aware of the difference and paying attention to clients’ cultural backgrounds can help build trustful relationships, establish clear communication, and achieve counseling goals. Multicultural competence is pivotal for a therapist to understand and address different individuals’ therapeutic needs.
Broeder, P. (2021). Informed communication in high context and low context cultures. Journal of Education, Innovation, and Communication, 3(1), 13-24. Web.
Sue, D. W., Sue, D., Neville, H. A., & Smith, L. (2019). Counseling the culturally diverse: Theory and practice (8th ed.). John Wiley & Sons.