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Culture And Counselling Essay, Research Paper

Culture may be defined in a broad and narrow context. The broad definition includes demographic variables ( age, gender), status variables ( social, educational, economic) and affiliations ( formal and informal), as well as ethnographic variables, such as ethnicity, nationality, language. Narrow definition of culture is limited to the terms of ethnicity and nationality, which are important for individual and familial identity, but the concept of culture in Counselling usually goes beyond national and ethnic boundaries. It interprets culture in a broader aspect, it aims to go beyond its more obvious and verifiable symbols toward the more subjective perspectives its members hold. Counselling deals with the subjective aspect of culture, which refers to the internalised feeling, attitudes, opinions and assumptions that members of a particular culture hold, as well as with the objective, which involves visible aspects, that are culturally adopted and determined and can be identified by both persons within and outside a given culture.

There are different perspectives, however, , which put stress on various aspects of culture and try to identify its boundaries and its substitutes. Some regard culture as separate entity from demographic factors, some point out acculturation as one of the obstacles, which makes culture difficult to identify, some show how an intimate and meaningful relationship between a counsellor and a culturally different client to be established. In this essay I will be discussing what the different concepts of understanding of culture in Counselling are, by examining different authors and perspectives and evaluating their strengths and weaknesses.

Herskovits ( 1948 cited in Serpell 1978 ) defines culture as the part of the environment, which is created or shaped by human beings. Triandis ( 1972 in Pedersen 1994) focused on the culture ‘in our heads’ , which is composed of the shared experiences and knowledge of a self-perpetuating and continuous human group, which is part and parcel of the personal reality. Triandis, Bontemplo, Leung & Hui (1990 cited in Pedersen 1994) distinguished between demographic, cultural and personal constructs. Cultural constructs they identified as being shared by group of people, who live in the same geographical location at the same time, speak the same dialect and shared the same norms, roles, values and ways to describe experience. Demographic constructs deal with the same topics, but when shared by a particular demographic group within a culture, such as men and women, young and old. Personal constructs belong to another category of individual differences and cannot be meaningfully interpreted with references to the cultural and demographic membership. Each of the three constructs are closely related with the others, but they should be examined independently. Counselling in this case should take into account cultural and demographic differences, but work on a personal level. Contrary to this view stands Hofstede( 1986, 1992 cited in Pedersen 1996) who described three factors or dimensions that constitute and influence culture. The first concept is individualism-collectivism- a person experiences himself as a self-contained unique entity, striving to attain his or her own goals and to realize his or her own aspirations. In a collectivist environment a person finds himself part of social network of life-lasting relationships, from which he or she cannot or does not want to be removed. This ambiguity leads to change in the expression of attitudes and values in the social arena. Power construct is a construct that refers to the gap that separates superiors from subordinates and is assessed on the acceptance versus rejection of inequality in status, income and power. The third concept is the masculinity-femininity on the basis of a differentiation of occupational gender roles. In broader terms, masculine cultures are orientated toward performance, production and achievement, feminine cultures emphasize caring and value aspirations toward the less substantial goals of comfort, security and happiness. This perspective shows the subjective part of culture and deals with human beings on e deeper level, pointing out that when trying to understand culture, all the constructs mentioned above should also be taken into account before drawing conclusions.

The distinction between culture as a system with an existence on its own versus culture as a set of conditions outlined by Berry, Poortinga, Segall and Dasen ( 1992 cited in Pedersen 1996 ) is useful to understanding the dynamic nature of the concept as well as its many dimensions, including gender, social institutions ( family, school, peer groups ,church, political groups) can be observed as mediators of the culture’s symbolic meanings, such as values, expectations and attitudes. Multiculturalism seems to capture together the unique interaction among many different variables that together form cultural diversity.

There is some confusion however concerning the distinction between terms, such as cultural identity, ethnic identity and racial identity. Some authors approached the construct of identity by means of the associated concept of acculturation ( Padilla 1980 cited in Ponteroto et al 1996 ) , some from social cognitive perspective ( Knight, Bernal, Gazza & Cotta 1993 cited in Woolfe R. 1996). Olmedo ( 1979 cited in Ho 1995) advocated a psychometric perspective to the measurement of acculturation. Three main categories of items have been used in the construction of scales for measuring individual acculturation : linguistic( language proficiency) , sociocultural ( status and mobility, degree of urbanization, family size ) and psychological ( cultural values orientation, knowledge, values, attitudes ). The question of cultural identity and how this term becomes flexible once a person has left a particular country or even talking about different generations in terms of changing values and patterns, shows the main difficulty when trying to stereotype a particular culture, which is the concept of development within the culture itself, which leads to constant ongoing changes of the concept of one’s culture as well as of the concept of culture itself.

However, in most of the counselling literature, culture is generally synonymous with race and ethnicity. Other possible cultural dimensions, such as religion, gender, or social class are usually ignored. Dimensions, such as disability, sexual orientation and age often are addressed apart from culture. Traditionally, cultural, demographic and personal factors have been distinguished from each other, and gender as a demographic factor is associated with specific values, beliefs and assumptions shared by a specific segment of a culture. In a global society, the boundaries of language and geography as criteria for definition of culture are quite weak. However, some authors still speculate and distinguish culture of gender. As Segal and Dasen (1990) claimed that gender differences are enculturated in young children through the process of different socialization, making them part of either men’s and female’s world, which are complex social systems with specific values constituting culture of their own. Gender roles, on the other hand, are claimed to be biologically determined by some authors, such as Pearsons and Bowlby, so those are possible evidence why gender is still examined as a dimension outside culture.

Pedersen(1991 cited I Pedersen 1994) presented the possibility of a new generic multicultural theory, a ‘fourth force’ which goes well together with the psychodynamic, the behavioural and the humanistic explanations of human behaviour. It explains behaviour in terms of individual differences as well as those aspects that are shared across cultures by the human race and that bind persons to one another regardless of their differentness. Pederson supported the position that multiculturalism should refer to a broad definition of culture that includes demographic, ethnographic, status and affiliation dimensions, in which case there would be a theory, which can be followed and used in all counselling relationships.

There are three different types of responses to cross-cultural counselling. According to Berry ( 1969) one should start with training, experience and sensitivity they have accumulated with their within-cultural clientele and then to extent and modify their interventions in culturally different counselling encounters. The second outlook is a careful conceptual analysis of a culture’s values and practices, including its therapeutic interventions, and eventual incorporation of these components into modern counselling techniques. The third approach focuses on identifying cultural obstacles to effective and helpful intervention. Once the barriers are identified, they can be removed and a culturally appropriate solution may be proposed. Yet none of those techniques bears in mind culture as being a different dimension with its own rules and values and none of them does actually consider the difficulties that may be encountered in defining and stating cultural boundaries as well as removing them. Cultural awareness in this case is helpful, but the fact that cultural differences are sometimes hard to be distinguished from demographic or personal ones makes them difficult to be accurately identified. Egan ( 1998 ) shows a model, which undergoes cultural boundaries, which regards cultural differences in the context of assumptions, beliefs and norms. He claimed that in order a counsellor to be efficient, he or she should understand the different needs and the idea of balance in a particular culture, to understand the specific nuances related to demographic factors, but mainly to respect that behind their shared humanity, clients differ from one another in many aspects and diversity and individual culture should be praised.

Definitions of culture unit as a group of people living in the same geographical area and sharing the same language or dialect seems to be useful for investigations at the group or population level. However, this approach reduces culture to a status of a nominal variable, which is rather limited. First, categorical assignment presumes that each subject belong to one and only cultural unit. This presumption is untenable in cases of fully bicultural or multicultural individuals. Second, subcultural variations, arising from potent factors, such as age, gender and socioeconomic class are ignored ( Ho, 1989 cited in Ho 1995 ). More fundamentally, within group individual differences in the extent to which culture is internalized cannot be dealt with. Third, culture is treated as uni-dimensional variable , consequently, the multidimensional variable of cultural process is not taken into account.

As Counselling addresses personal differences, in the framework of cultural and demographic variations, it deals with culture in a broader aspect. In other terms, culture is accepted as a term, which lacks spatial dimensions and it is difficult to be spotted as well as defined. Cultural awareness is important, but culture should be regarded as a difference rather than an obstacle and assumptions should not be drawn. As culture is a flexible concept which is constantly changing in a broader as well as in a narrower context, it is difficult to define, whether a particular fragment of one’s personality is culturally determined, demographically adopted or just a personal characteristic.


1. Egan G. ( 1998) The Skilled Helper, Brooks/Cole Publishing Company:USA

2. Ho Y.H.D. Internalized Culture, Culturocentrism and Transcendence, The Counselling Psychologist, Vol.23, 1, January 95, p.4-24

3. Pedersen B. (1994) A Handbook for Developing of Multicultural Awareness, American Counselling Association: USA

4. Pedersen B. et al. (1996) ( ed.) Counselling Across Cultures, Sage Publications Inc.: USA

5. Ponteroto J. et al.( 1995) (ed.) Handbook of Multicultural Counselling, Sage Publications Inc.: USA

6. Serpell R. ( 1976) Culture’s Influence on Behaviour, Richard Clay Ltd.: UK

7. Woolfe R. & Dryden W. ( 1996) (ed.) Handbook of Counselling Psychology, Sage Publications: UK

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