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Counselling Theory and Practice:- Aspects of Diversity

Aspects of Diversity

Ethical & Professional

Issues in Counselling

Presentation & Exercises

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© 2010 - Peter Creagh, Trainer, Supervisor and BACP Registered Counsellor UKRC
Counselling Theory and Practice:- Aspects of Diversity

ASPECTS OF DIVERSITY :- Difference NOT Difficulty

Welcome to this very brief note which is part of a series used on a Masters in Counselling in
Organisations. These notes support a session , that is part presentation and part experiential. It
deals with a complex subject and one that can, for many, seem both challenging and
contentious. However, it is an extremely important topic for professionals who work in trans-
cultural settings where they use their knowledge, expertise and skills to help others. The following
two quotations, set over 2000 years apart, one from the West, the other from the East, may help
to set this training in its context.

We are all like Islands

Connected at the deep
Henry James

The one who sees the difference

( diversity)
but fails to recognise the underlying unity
wanders on from death to death
Hinduism( Gita and Upanishads)

These quotes emphasise that if we merely see ‘the difference’ and fail to see our common
humanity, then we see:

Difference as an inherent DIFFICULTY.

Rather than:

Diversity, with its underlying unity,

as an OPPORTUNITY for both growth and variety

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© 2010 - Peter Creagh, Trainer, Supervisor and BACP Registered Counsellor UKRC
Counselling Theory and Practice:- Aspects of Diversity

In this handout and session we will:

Explore and identify the wider context of diversity.

Outline the cultural continuum of helping approaches

Explore both dealing and working with diversity and some misconceptions and
Barriers in this area.

Briefly look at Race, Ethnicity and Culture

Look at the Cultural Triangle and how we can develop Cultural Awareness

Western V non- Western Approaches

The ‘Iceberg’ Concept of Culture

Diversity in a wider context.

One common error is to begin to see the topic of diversity as ONLY concerning obvious
issues like race, ethnicity and culture. The dangers/mistake of this approach is that it can
too easily put it ‘out there’, and lead us to feel ‘it’s not my issue’. Living and relating in
society brings us daily into contact with difference and diversity. The Cosmos itself
contains remarkable diversity and our wonderful, but endangered Blue Planet, is full of
diversity. We have diversity of climate, landscape, flora, fauna, animal and human beings.

The following exercise is designed to begin to redress this and to set diversity in its wider
context. We are all unique human beings and bring our uniqueness to the ‘banquet table’
of our diverse society.

An Brief Exercise now follows

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© 2010 - Peter Creagh, Trainer, Supervisor and BACP Registered Counsellor UKRC
Counselling Theory and Practice:- Aspects of Diversity

Cultural and social norms have a great influence on how people attempt to solve
problems. It also impinges upon how we seek and use professional assistance and help.
Differences exist between societies and cultures and this must be taken into account in
any attempt to approach any relationship in a trans-cultural context. The majority of
current approaches to helping are heavily influenced by a white, mainly male, middle-
class, formally educated Western approach. These do not necessarily find an immediate
resonance with other groups, whether defined by race, ethnicity or culture. For the
purpose of this note the term ‘Western ‘ mainly denotes Europe, North America and
Australasia. The Non- Western denotes the remainder of the world and the aboriginal
peoples of the world.

The Continuum of Helping Approaches

It is useful to outline the continuum of approaches in trans- cultural professional work and
this is shown in the figure below:


Helping as a generic Focuses on the culture

activity transcends specific and stresses
culture the uniqueness of each
▼ ▼


Requires both Universal

and Culture Specific

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© 2010 - Peter Creagh, Trainer, Supervisor and BACP Registered Counsellor UKRC
Counselling Theory and Practice:- Aspects of Diversity

Aspects of Diversity and Common Misconceptions & Blocks

Before exploring the whole issue of trans-cultural helping it is important to outline several
aspects concerning diversity. Many, such as Lago (1996), D’Ardenne & Mahtani (1999)
and Britt – Krause (1998) agree that ‘definitions’ are extremely important and many of
these are culturally ‘laden’. However the following are some points that should aid our
reflections in this vitally important area.

Dealing With Diversity. The following points need to be considered:

The term DIVERSITY ( rather than difference) is an over-simplification of the COMPLEX

nature of human uniqueness

Most Professional Approaches in the UK are heavily influenced by a mainly male, white
(middle class) and western approach

Focusing on ‘relationships‘ and having a ‘respectful curiosity’ about individuals and

peoples is a good starting point.

Helpers require an understanding of how contemporary society works in relation to race,

the exercise of power, discrimination, stereotyping and ( some knowledge of) the history
between different groups etc.

Helpers require a personal awareness of where they stand in relation to these issues

Misconceptions or Blocks to Exploring Diversity The whole area of diversity, its

importance and its inherent challenges presents us with a choice. Either we see diversity
as one of great potential, richness and variety or we see it as something we need to resist
and therefore experience anxiety and difficulty. Consequently, many are reluctant to
engage in dialogue around diversity. This reluctance is based on a variety of reasons.
Lago (1998) outlines the following common misconceptions or blocks that prevent
discussion and exploration of diversity in all its aspects. These are:

We are all one people with the same thoughts, feelings and needs.

It’s dangerous and divisive to emphasise difference all the time. This will only further
divide society and create animosity between groups.

I have trained to be empathic and accepting, respectful and genuine. I resent the
suggestion that I may be insensitive to other groups.

I am tolerant and open-minded. I never oppress people

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© 2010 - Peter Creagh, Trainer, Supervisor and BACP Registered Counsellor UKRC
Counselling Theory and Practice:- Aspects of Diversity

Let’s face it, minority groups must learn to fit in with society. I’m only helping them to do
this as; after all, it’s in their best interests.

If you are a good professional you automatically value others and take account of their
culture. You don’t need special training in cultural competence to do this.

There now follows a complementary exercise/ discussion (time permitting)


There is both a professional and moral obligation for those in the helping professions to
deepen their self-awareness and widen their understanding and knowledge of peoples
of different race- culture and ethnicity. Today there is a greater emphasis on good race
relations and on equal opportunities and most professionals agree on the need for
regulation and professional development in these areas. However, there is an inherent
danger in all this of either leaving it all to regulation and the law or merely paying lip
service to these ideas and projecting the responsibility either out onto society or merely
acknowledging it at the intellectual level. Ishpriya Mataji (2000) not only recognises this
but goes on to emphasise:

‘.. That if it only remains at the level of the intellect, and then it remains at the level
of slogans and good statements. We have to get down to the level of the emotions,
the feelings and the response within ourselves’

It is helpful if we establish clear definitions and understanding of terms such as race,

culture and ethnicity. Only then can we begin to develop a greater awareness of the
underlying value, beliefs and attitudes that underpin our understanding of, and approach
to, difference and diversity. It can determine whether we either perceive and create
difficulties or celebrate and enjoy meaningful and diverse relationships.


So often language and its 'hidden' meanings can erect barriers between peoples and
emphasise the difference and difficulty rather than the richness of he diversity. In Chapter
1 of Palmer and Laungani (1999), Lawson, Whitehead and Luthra stress the sensitivity of
language in this area. They point out that the term 'ethnic minority’ can be seen as
‘insensitive by people living in areas where the term is statistically incorrect and
inappropriately implies being outside the mainstream and hence of less social

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© 2010 - Peter Creagh, Trainer, Supervisor and BACP Registered Counsellor UKRC
Counselling Theory and Practice:- Aspects of Diversity

They suggest that the terms race, culture and ethnicity often overlap but that race in
particular can have a negative connotation related to its connection with 'racism' The
following brief definitions of the three terms are adapted from D'Ardenne & Mahtani (
1999) as is the accompanying figure.

Race: Primarily inherited physical and biological characteristics.

Culture: Culture involves sociology and anthropology. It results from a sharing of a

common history, practices, beliefs, attitudes and values by (one or more) racial, regional
or religious/faith groups.

Ethnicity: Ethnicity mainly denotes common origin but can overlap with both race and
culture. It denotes a sense of belonging and group identity and can often transcend

Characterised by Determined by Perceived as

Genetic ancestry
‘Race’ Physical giving rise to Permanent
Appearance shared physical ( Genetic and
and many Biological )
Behaviour, Attitude Family, Society, Changeable
Culture and expressed History, Religion, ( assimilation and
practices and Upbringing and acculturation)
beliefs often Choice
Social Pressure
Ethnicity Sense of belonging and connections Partially
and Group Identity with culture (see Changeable
Psychological need

Adapted from Fernando 1991 as used by D’Ardenne & Mahtani (1999)

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© 2010 - Peter Creagh, Trainer, Supervisor and BACP Registered Counsellor UKRC
Counselling Theory and Practice:- Aspects of Diversity


The earlier quotation from Ishpriya Mataji (2000) poses an extremely important question.
How can we begin to move our focus from the area of the intellectual agreement into that
of personal change? Here we are faced with personal choices and development which
could lead to more effective Trans –cultural inter-personal relationships. According to
Adams (1995) developing a real cultural competency involves an integration of different
aspects involving culture. These are knowledge – awareness and sensitivity. The first
of these is primarily a cognitive and intellectual exercise. However, the latter two involve
developing sensitivity towards diversity and some emotional and psychological changes
in attitudes and values. This integration is shown in the following figure:

Cultural Knowledge Cultural Awareness

(Religion, history, values etc) (Internal changes of attitudes

Cultural Sensitivity
(Acknowledging the diversity but recognising the unity /similarity)

Competency in Relationships – The Cultural Triangle

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© 2010 - Peter Creagh, Trainer, Supervisor and BACP Registered Counsellor UKRC
Counselling Theory and Practice:- Aspects of Diversity

Western : Non-Western Aspects of the Relationship. When dealing with Cultural

and Spiritual Aspects in ANY helping relationship it is important to understand and
consider the following :

• Western Approaches are based on a Dualistic vision of reality. People are

seen as mind ( psyche ) and body and often valued in that order.

• This approach affects how people view themselves and has resulted in many
‘labels’ for feelings and symptoms. These are generally of an academic and
cognitive nature.

• Non-Western Cultures – dominated by Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, Sikhism,

Tribal Religions in Africa, Australasia and South America etc have a holistic
approach to life and conceive of body- psyche – spirit as a unity.

The consequences of the preceding points are :

* A holistic approach generally has no labels like Depression, Anxiety, Stress .

These are mainly western scientific / rational concepts.

NOTE:- It is interesting and perhaps very informative, that many cultures DO

NOT have a word for DEPRESSION. Yet the World Health Organisation
Predicts that by 2020, depression will be the single biggest health issue
in the West

• Holistic approaches may present with pain, upset stomach etc.

• Therefore in helping people from a non- western culture our standard

‘symptoms’ MAY NOT make sense to a mainly holistic people

• Basic approaches and understanding may need to be modified and

cultural/spiritual aspects may need to be considered. This may prove
more challenging to the professional helper than to the client.

There now follows a complementary exercise

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© 2010 - Peter Creagh, Trainer, Supervisor and BACP Registered Counsellor UKRC
Counselling Theory and Practice:- Aspects of Diversity

The ‘iceberg’ Conception of Culture & Potential Barriers to Communication

Lago (1996) refers to an interesting study by the ‘American Field Services’ that led to the
concept of an ‘iceberg’ conception of culture and awareness. It offers the opportunity to
reflect on the conscious and unconscious aspects of culture which we as individuals
possess. The list of comments can be adapted to many settings and contexts and provide
individuals with a base-point from which to ascertain their awareness of culture and its
effect on their inter-personal style.

Aspects of Culture • language

we are/may be • customs
consciously • manners
aware of • history
• literature
▲ • folklore
( music, story, dance)

Aspects of Culture • Communication style

we are likely • Role expectations
to be less • Non-verbal communications
aware of • Patterns of relationships

• work & learning styles

• how tasks are assigned
• order of priorities
• what motivates people

• attitudes towards words/language

• attitudes towards commitments
• concerns for efficiency
• negotiation styles

• attitudes towards authority

• tempo of work
• perceptions of professionalism
• pace people move from formal
to informal

The Iceberg Conception of the Nature of Culture

(Adapted from American Field Services (p 14)) See Lago & Thompson (1996)

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© 2010 - Peter Creagh, Trainer, Supervisor and BACP Registered Counsellor UKRC
Counselling Theory and Practice:- Aspects of Diversity


These notes, complemented by a presentation and experiential exercises, have

introduced the important issue of diversity. Diversity, as it states, is very wide. It occurs in
nature. Every thing and every being is unique and has a purpose. We need to see
diversity as an exciting challenge rather than a laborious difficulty. These notes
concentrated mainly on the obvious diversity facing our increasingly multi-cultural society
and focused on the trans-cultural aspects of helping. Readers are urged to deepen their
own awareness of this issue in both their professional and personal lives.


Adams, D ( Ed) Health Issues for Women of Colour - London , SAGE

( 1995) A Cultural Diversity Perspective
Britt-Krause, Therapy Across Culture London, SAGE
D’Ardenne Transcultural Counselling in Action London, SAGE
&Mahtani ( 1999)

Fuster,JM(1991) Personal Counselling Bombay, Better

Yourself Books
Heron, J(2001) Helping The Client London, SAGE

Ishpriya, Mataji ( Celebrating Diversity – Audio International Satsang

2000) Recording of a Workshop at Colton Association ( Die
Hills School , Wolverhampton, Quelle – Austria )
Lago , C & Race, Culture and Counselling London, SAGE
Thompson, J(
1996 )
Nelson-Jones,R Essential Counselling & Therapy London, SAGE
(2002) Skills

Palmer & Counselling in a Multicultural Society London SAGE

( Eds) ( 1999)

Pederson,P Hidden Messages in Culture London, SAGE

(2000) Centered Counselling

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© 2010 - Peter Creagh, Trainer, Supervisor and BACP Registered Counsellor UKRC