When providing mental health services to individuals, couples and families of diverse backgrounds, mental health counselors should consider the impact that diversity sensitivity has on the quality of the services rendered. This week, Xiomara A. Sosa, the Executive Creator of the National Hispanic Mental Health Professionals Network, breaks down the ways in which diversity sensitivity impacts the effectiveness of couples and family counseling.
Impact on Couples and Families
Diversity has a significant impact on the effectiveness of counseling with couples and families and on the quality of services that counselors offer them. The impact that diversity has on couples and families becomes evident in how counselors are able to appropriately perceive those relationships within their specific context. Seeing those relationships within the contexts of their specific diversity allows counselors to recognize the strong influence that it has on them as individuals as well as on their relationships with one another. Couples and families live within societies where their gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, among other diverse factors, influence their world view. Ignoring this would amount to ineffective interventions and unethical counseling practices (Thomlison, 2010).
Impact on Counselors
Diversity also has a direct impact on counselors because it necessitates that they increase their attention to contextual issues in their practice directly related to many different diversity factors. For example, counselors must pay attention to power differences between the sexes and cultures as well as in spirituality and religion. They must also remain crystal clear about their ethical duty to remain non-judgmental towards non-traditional couples and families that include sexual and gender minorities. Counselors view these issues as metaframeworks, which unifies gender, culture, and other diversity factors (Thomlison, 2010).
One issue related to diversity that may have an impact on a couple’s counseling session is gender identity. A couple that has one partner struggling with issues of gender identity can present with issues that are very different from those of traditional couples. It is important that the counselor have the awareness, knowledge, and cultural competency necessary to provide the appropriate counseling required for the couple and to prevent further distress for them (Thomlison, 2010).
Sexual Orientation and Gender Expression
Other diversity issues in counseling include sexual orientation and gender expression. For example, a family seeking counseling as a result of a child coming out as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, or questioning can present unique challenges. This requires that the counselor be culturally competent in providing appropriate counseling. It also requires that he or she not allow personal biases, including religious and culture based prejudice or beliefs, to interfere with the appropriate, healthy, and ethically founded response that is mandatory when working in the helping professions. Using affirmative therapy in this instance would be an appropriate, ethical and empirically founded technique rather than using reparative therapy, which is not. It would be vital for the counselor to approach the sessions mindfully to avoid further distressing the family (Thomlison, 2010).
Ethical Counseling Practice
Counselors must address diversity in their practice when providing services to couples and families. Contextual issues have an impact in the lives of individuals in negative and positive ways. It is important that counselors address diversity issues in their practice and that they recognize that ignoring these components is unethical as mental health professionals (Thomlison, 2010).
Thomlison, B. (2010). Family Assessment Handbook: An Introductory Practice Guide to Family Assessment (3rd ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Brooks/Cole.