Cross-Cultural Counseling is an approach that emphasizes the importance of adapting to the client’s culture, values and context. This is particularly important when assisting a person in crisis, since the person may be unable to make this adjustment themselves.

Ulf Lidman has been training counselors and therapists in Cross-Cultural Counseling for several decades. This includes extensive experience helping people who work with refugees, particularly unaccompanied minors.

Cross-Cultural Counseling is not only about bridging cultures, but also about working across subcultures within cultures. Examples of groups with subcultures include the homeless population, gangs, religious affiliations, and LGBTQ communities.

Rethinking Western methods and techniques

Many of the counseling methods and techniques used today have been developed for an individualistic, Western society. These methods, however, cannot be directly applied to people who come from different kinds cultures, such as those that are more collectivistic.

While in Western culture the individual may be seen as the most important part of society, in other cultures relationships between people may be seen as the most important. This difference can have a big impact on the counseling process.

In Western counseling, we assume that a person is going to use talking as their main way of dealing with a personal crisis,” Ulf says. “In many cultures, though, people don’t talk themselves better through counseling. They might deal with their crisis through finding harmony in their psychosocial network, rather than focusing on individual well being.”

Helping people in crisis across cultures and subcultures

Cross-Cultural Counseling is a key part of assisting people in crisis from other cultures or subcultures. Some cultures have different ideas about what depression and anxiety mean, or might not have words for these conditions. Even the concept of “mental health” can have completely different meanings in Africa and the Middle East compared to the US and Europe.

When practicing Cross-Cultural Counseling, we have to understand the conventions and value systems of the person’s culture,” Ulf says. “Also, cultures might have different relationships with religion than we have in the West, and we have to bring an understanding of the religious issues that come with that.”

Preparation is the key to success

Ulf believes that Cross-Cultural Counseling starts long before you meet the person you are assisting. It is about doing your homework about their culture or subculture so you understand how they interpret crisis reactions and symptoms in their own context.

“It is incredibly important to become culturally competent and learn how to package your crisis intervention for each particular context,” Ulf says. “You also need to identify agents within each culture who can be actively involved in the crisis processing.”

The next step for your organization

If Western methods and techniques don’t always work, what does? You can learn more about how to succeed with Cross-Cultural Counseling in a course designed for your organization’s specific needs. Click here for more information:

Course:Cross-Cultural Counseling


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