Recognizing and appreciating cultural diversity is one of the key tasks of professional counselors. Cultural considerations play a crucial role in terms of a patient's willingness and desire to seek help. A counselor or agency that is not culturally competent will be unable to provide the best assistance possible. Cultural assessment tools help counselors and agencies incorporate and achieve cultural competence.
The Necessity for Cultural Competence
The United States is becoming a more diverse country and that trend will continue, according to a 2012 peer-reviewed report by the US2010 Project. If counselors are to respond to the needs of their clientele and reduce social disparities, they must be sensitive to ethnic, racial, religious and other cultural concerns. For example, clients from certain cultural backgrounds might feel that seeking counseling is a sign of weakness; counselors need to know how to handle these situations with professionalism, understanding and respect. Assessment tools help counseling organizations and individual counselors become aware of and develop cultural competency.
Self-assessments are psychometric checklists -- or inventories -- that a counselor can use to evaluate whether she meets the existing criteria for cultural competence. Counselors are asked to honestly reflect and assess whether they feel they possess the necessary awareness and tools to be able to effectively work with clients from diverse cultural backgrounds. For example, the Ethnic Sensitive Inventory includes statements such as "In working with ethnic minority clients, I realize that my own ethnic and class background may influence my effectiveness."
Organizations that employ counselors, such as mental-health-care clinics, nonprofit organizations and community centers, must also be aware of and have a commitment to cultural sensitivity. Assessments help clinic directors and counseling supervisors evaluate whether they meet the organizational standards for cultural competency. For example, the Multiculturally Competent Service System Assessment Guide includes questions that evaluate whether the demographic composition of the program's catchment area has been identified, how the demographic composition of the staff compares with that of the catchment area and whether the organization is able to meet the needs of clients for whom English is not the first language.
Obtaining feedback from clients who use counseling services can help a counselor evaluate his cultural competence or the competence of his agency. Patients might provide ratings on questionnaires that inquire about their level of satisfaction with specific areas of a counselor's or agency's cultural aptitude. For example, the Iowa Cultural Understanding Assessment form includes statements such as "I feel that the staff understands some of the ideas that I, my family, and others from my cultural, racial, or ethnic group might have."
- US2010 Project: Racial and Ethnic Diversity Goes Local -- Charting Change in American Communities Over Three Decades
- National Center for Cultural Competence: Tools and Processes for Self-Assessment
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Improving Cultural Competence -- Appendix C -- Tools for Assessing Cultural Competence
Ashley Miller is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, certified Reiki practitioner, yoga enthusiast and aromatherapist. She has also worked as an employee assistance program counselor and a substance-abuse professional. Miller holds a Master of Social Work and has extensive training in mental health diagnosis, as well as child and adolescent psychotherapy. She also has a bachelor's degree in music.