Multiculturalism in Psychology

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In modern psychology, the problem of cross-cultural interactions within the framework of psychological counseling and psychotherapy is one of the most popular. Gundel et al. (2020) state that “attention to cultural factors in counseling is critical, and theories have emerged in counseling and psychology to describe competence for working with multicultural clients” (p. 19). The study of cross-cultural aspects of psychotherapeutic interaction helps consultants to be more accurate at its different stages. One of the most important stages refers to the establishment of mutually trusting relationships with the client and in understanding the problems that caused issues in the client’s life. Another crucial phase lies in minimizing culturally conditioned errors (biases) in understanding the client and problematic situations existing in his life.

To achieve success on both stages, multiculturalist competence is required from the counselor. A professional needs to develop the ability for a more complete, accurate self-understanding, including as a member of certain ethnocultural groups. In doing so, they would also improve their capacity to see another person as a representative of all mankind, as well as specific ethnocultural groups. Thus, the purpose of this paper is to analyze the ways of building mutual understanding in multicultural consultative contact.

History of Multicultural Psychology

Multicultural counseling and psychotherapy gained prominence in the 1980s, standing out in psychology as a separate direction, along with the three others – psychoanalysis, behaviorism, and humanistic psychotherapy. The interest shown by psychologists in ethnic, religious, gender, and social factors in counseling is largely associated with the name of Carl Rogers. Rogers was the author of client-centered therapy, which proposed that ethnic values ​​and religious beliefs, gender constructs, and social models of the client are first of all, the sources of their internal conflicts.

The two main goals of cross-cultural research, however, were clearly formulated by Elliot Aronson. The first goal was to determine to what extent any mental phenomenon or process seems to be universal and therefore applicable to explaining the behavior and understanding the functioning of the psyche of all people. All in all, this type of research was aimed at finding common ground between all people, regardless of their culture, upbringing, social structure of society, or geographical living conditions. Aronson’s second goal was to look for differences between people belonging to different cultures, and to see how culture affects the main mental phenomena and processes.

Such a duality of research goals, consisting in the simultaneous search for both similarities and differences, has found methodological expression in two conceptual scientific approaches. They were first proposed in 1950s by the American linguist K. L. Pike and designated as etic- and emic-approaches. Etic-analysis of human behavior is focused on the study of the universal properties of the human psyche, manifested in any culture. Emic-analysis is aimed at finding cross-cultural differences and comparing the mental characteristics of people. From this point, multicultural psychology began rapidly developing its scientific base.

Prejudices and Stereotypes

A person perceives the world through the prism of ideas, attitudes and values ​​that prevail in their native culture. That is, they conceive and plan their actions in accordance with specific, fairly stable cultural images-norms, which become stereotypical for them. The formation and assimilation of stereotypes by a person occurs with the first acts of socialization and inculturation, already in the family circle by communicating with parents. However, during this process, an accumulation of cultural prejudices may also begin, especially if the child is raised in unhealthy, impoverished, or discriminated environment.

Therefore, in the process of interpreting the behavior of representatives of one culture by representatives of another, it largely depends on the persistence of stereotypical ideas on both sides. These are ideas about the way of life, customs, mores, habits – overall, about the system of ethno-cultural properties of certain ethnic group. Such an approach also applies to psychology professionals – despite the continuous studying of human psyche, psychologists are often blinded by their own biases in the communication with client (Soto et al., 2019). In a situation of multicultural contact, counselors try to be guided by their own, often prejudiced or stereotypic, criteria for assessing what is happening with a client belonging to a different ethnic and cultural group.

Stopping ignorance of intercultural differences makes understanding less stereotyped and more unbiased. Underestimation of the specifics of culture, or an attempt to focus only on “universal” patterns leads to a new kind of racism. As a result of the lack of detailed appeals to the problem of cross-cultural specificity of consultative contact, many counselors in real practice continue to be in a state of intolerance and internal “encapsulation”. Multicultural training helps avoid such outcomes by providing tools to enhance and improve one’s understanding of cultural differences and peculiarities.

Racial/Ethnic Identity Development

Ethnic identity stands as a constituent component of a person’s self-awareness, manifesting itself in acceptance, identification, and knowledge of their ethnicity. The ethnic identity of a person can acquire various forms of expression in their life depending on their environment, upbringing, and social circle (Claus-Ehlers et al., 2019). According to Chung et al.’s (2018) study, “each ethnic group representative has unique experiences based on his or her race and gender, however, there are also commonalities among them” (p. 235). Positive ethnic identity is usually associated with the formation of a positive attitude towards a person’s ethnic group. A person with such an identity is quite prolific with their cultural experiences. A multiculturally competent professional is usually capable of a tolerant and understanding approach towards other ethnic groups, recognizing the importance of the ethnic factor in their work and treating it with respect and accuracy. Nowadays, as the cultural diversity of the world grows and extends to almost all aspects of society, it is quite recommended for a counselor to recognize and implement the ethical aspect specifically into their work.

Acculturation and Biculturalism

Acculturation is the process and result of the mutual influence of cultures, and for the first time, the problem of acculturation was raised by English ethnographers in the second half of the 19th century. Since they were not yet free from the idea of ​​ethnocentrism, they began to use the term “acculturation” to refer to the process of assimilation or transfer of elements of one culture to another. Currently, the mutual influence of dominant and non-dominant ethnocultural groups is being studied by sociologists and psychologists worldwide.

Researchers identify two types of acculturation: social and psychological. Social acculturation is the change that occurs in culture and society as a result of contact between cultural groups. Psychological acculturation, on the other hand, occurs in the psyche of a particular person as a result of contact with representatives of another culture. Thus, acculturation affects those psychological phenomena that occur to people when they come into prolonged direct contact with representatives of other cultures, changing their patterns of behavior.

Meanwhile, biculturalism is a concept that reflects the situation of a person included in two ethno-cultural contexts at the same time. To bicultural people often belong migrants of different generations, people from mixed families, and representatives of ethnic and cultural minority groups in multinational states. Thus, a bicultural identity is a form of self-identification with two ethnic and cultural groups, manifested at the level of experience, ideas. and behavior. It is worth noting that both biculturization and acculturation can cause acculturation stress, which is a reaction that exceeds a person’s ability to cope with life events associated with intercultural contacts. Often these reactions mean an increase in the level of depression associated with a sense of cultural loss, and anxiety from the uncertainty about what is necessary to live in a new society.

Multicultural Competence

The provision of psychological assistance to a client of other cultures is carried out in a situation where the cultural attitudes and values ​​of the client may differ greatly from the dispositions of the consultant. In this case, for effective work, the intercultural competence of the psychologist is necessary (Soto et al., 2021). A multiculturally competent professional must be able to reflect on one’s own attitudes and expectations in relation to other cultural differences. They have to carefully consider the use of methods and techniques that are consistent with life experience, ethno-cultural values, religious beliefs, as well as the client’s gender attitudes.

In consideration of multicultural competence of the therapist, there is also often talk about the spiritual systems of human culture. Specialists in caretaking professions must necessarily include the spiritual aspect in the format of therapeutic interaction, since spirituality is a powerful resource for the growth and development of the individual. Studies point towards religious and spiritual awareness as a source of personal, family, and social well-being. Thus, when organizing and conducting a session, the spiritual factor should be considered as one of the key parts of the human being. Overall, the multicultural competence of the psychologist provides them, on the one hand, with a high level of trust from the client. On the other hand, it also offers a professional approach based on ethnic values, religious beliefs, social constructs, and gender characteristics.

Multicultural Training

The multicultural approach introduces a number of changes into the system of psychological counseling. First of all, counselors need to be trained to develop awareness of the existence and characteristics of cultural differences in understanding, communication, values, ​​and lifestyles of people of different groups (Claus-Ehlers et al., 2019). The ethical imperative “to help the other” in a multicultural perspective transforms into “to be precise and correct.” Thus, multicultural training of a psychologist should include familiarization with the peculiarities of lifestyle, communication patterns, ​​and other specific features of representatives of cultural minorities. It is also crucial to expand the repertoire of skills, strategies, and techniques that can be used in working with culturally different clients.

The proper culture care includes a deep understanding of different social insights from a wide variety of national backgrounds combined with immersive knowledge of the most important traditions and particular qualities of various communities. Kaihlanen et al. (2019) explicitly state that “a lack of cultural understanding increases negative attitudes towards cross-cultural care and also affects healthcare professionals’ perceived preparedness to take care of culturally diverse patients” (p. 2). Counselors have the unique opportunity to witness clients at their most vulnerable moments. Therefore, it is imperative that they understand and respect their culture in order to deliver high quality, compassionate care.

Multicultural Counseling Process and Intervention

The main specificity of multicultural counseling and psychotherapy is the provision of psychological assistance to the client, taking into account the characteristics of their culture. In the process of interaction with the client, the therapist welcomes and approves the client’s connection with their culture, supports their pride in their ethnic, religious, gender, and any other aspect of belonging. When consulting in a multicultural space, a psychologist must be open and able to enter the world of the client. Only then they will see the difference between their own world and the world of the person who asked for help, and able to use the client’s culture as a resource in providing psychological assistance.

A multicultural intervention helps to go beyond the cultural context in which this or that method of counseling was created. It allows to bring into counseling the history of connections, belonging, and cultural identity, which is the most important component of adult subjectivity. It is safe to use, environmentally friendly, and reduces the risk of being “trapped” by cultural misunderstandings. Borge et al. (2020) emphasize that “developing greater multicultural competence is predicated on developing continual awareness and education about issues relevant to marginalized identities” (p. 85). During counseling, it is necessary to take into account the holistic being of the client – not only individual characteristics and dispositions, but also their past and present experience of living in the community. In modern psychology, it is generally accepted that therapeutic work without regard to racial, ethnic, national-cultural, gender, and mental characteristics can lead to a violation of the integrity of the client. Analyzing the culturally specific approach in counseling, it is worth emphasizing that ideas about one’s own “I” are of a local nature. Psychologists should rely on the local “I” and refer to the client’s cultural, family, ethnic heritage, national aesthetic ideals, and the prevailing social environment.

Focus of Multicultural Psychology

The main focus of multicultural psychology lies in an attempt to comprehend the possibilities of counselor-client communication in relation to the peculiarities and contradictions of their life worlds. Unaddressed differences in value systems, ways of understanding, and communication models manifest themselves in communication disorders. From there, conflicts of value orientations emerge, setting the barriers to understanding between professional and client in a counseling situation. Many prescriptions grow out of the cultural environment; ignoring their value and significance can only increase the neurotic conflict. In this case, there is a risk of misunderstanding, up to conflicts with the client. In addition, without multicultural competence, a professional cannot use a powerful source of resources of connections and belongings for personal growth. Multicultural psychology strives to address these issues and resolve them through specific training and competence growth.


Like any other approach, multicultural counseling is not only a value setting or a method of organizing communication; rather, it is a special system of understanding in a consultative dialogue. This is a holistic direction that combines the ideas and techniques of psychoanalytic, behavioral, and humanistic psychology, based on multicultural universal values. Multicultural approach emphasizes that failure awaits both on the path of overemphasizing cultural differences and overemphasizing cultural similarities; success is on the way of simultaneous consideration of both perspectives. If cultural differences are overemphasized, the result is a stereotyped, intolerant, politicized, and antagonistic interpretation. If cultural similarity is overemphasized, the qualities of identity important for culture are neglected and cultural minorities are exploited, disguised as a process of unification and mixing of ethno-cultural groups. Therefore, it is crucial for a psychologist to find a way to understand the cultural experience of people and its connection to psychic processes in a balanced, competent way.


Borge, M., Soto, J. A., Aldemir, T., & Mena, J. A. (2020). Building multicultural competence by fostering collaborative skills. Teaching of Psychology, 49(1), 85-92.

Chung, R. C., Bemak, F., Talleyrand, R. M., & Williams, J. M. (2018). Challenges in promoting race dialogues in psychology training: Race and gender perspectives. The Counseling Psychologist, 46(2), 213-240.

Clauss-Ehlers, C. S., Chiriboga, D. A., Hunter, S. J., Roysircar, G., & Tummala-Narra, P. (2019). Apa Multicultural Guidelines executive summary: Ecological approach to context, identity, and intersectionality. American Psychologist, 74(2), 232-244.

Gundel, B. E., Bartholomew, T. T., & Scheel, M. J. (2020). Culture and care: An illustration of multicultural processes in a counseling dyad. Practice Innovations, 5(1), 19-31.

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