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DarbyKoogler Mar 17, 2023

Cultural Competence and Cultural Humility

As a Counselor in Training (CIT), I think about and work to strengthen different competencies all of the time. But a number of weeks ago, when a friend called everyone invested in mental health “to create a safe space for first-generation Asian immigrant to open up and get help before it’s too late;” my thoughts shifted from competency to humility. As in, competence in some areas of life is desirable for obvious reasons, but as far as cultural competence (CC) in counseling goes, cultural humility (CH) is preferable. Competency is knowing whereas humility is approaching with gentle, genuine curiosity.

For example, a CC training suggested that in the workplace, some may be reluctant to provide feedback; especially withholding from senior colleagues. The solution was that reluctant employees should be informed of (cultural) workplace norms and encouraged to take part. Suppose the CC training had taken another approach by stating that there are cultural differences that affect everything from body language and lunchtime to performance and feedback. Then, what if the CC training took a step towards CH through encouraging trainees to broach cultural differences with kindness and respect; seeking not only to introduce the cultural norm, but ultimately allow CH to guide an empathetic, receiving posture regarding learning about uniquely individual people and cultures.

CH as an essential mental health counseling posture is classic; as the saying goes: “Pride goes before the fall;” and ancient Eastern wisdom takes haughtiness (a.k.a. pride) and humility a step further: “Haughtiness goes before destruction; humility precedes honor” (Proverbs 18:12). No one wants destruction and counselors strive to honor clients; one way counselors honor clients is through cultural humility. The pathway to CH and honoring others begins with self-knowledge of bias. This is followed by receptive authenticity and treated tenderly. For example, if a counselor reflects upon their culture, routines, and social circles and identifies a monocultural lifestyle, the counselor pursuing CH may consider ways to diversify cultural interactions as a next step.

CH fosters positive cultural interactions for the well-being, justice, and equity of interpersonal relationships, the therapeutic alliance, and society. CH reaches across social and cultural bounds, impacting all clients from active help-seekers to vulnerable and marginalized people. For counselors, CH is a crucial competency.

How’s your CH competency going? If you like, please share examples of things that have fostered your growth and competence in CH.

Darby J. Koogler is a graduate counseling intern, writer, former teacher, and hopeful international school counselor.

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