Consumers' Perceptions of Cultural Competence in the Counseling Relationship: A Phenomenological Study
Stuart, Carolyn L.
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Consumers of mental health services are recognized as experts due to their rich lived experiences. Because of their expert status, they are expected to play a vital role in the re-shaping of mental health systems by determining what culturally competent services look like and how services are provided to culturally diverse populations. Therefore, it is essential that the consumersâ voices, choices and roles in transforming the mental health system are included in assessing the cultural competence of mental health counselors (New Freedom Commission, 2003). There is a significant gap in the literature regarding the consumersâ unique perspective (Pope-Davis et al., 2002). There is a need for both qualitative studies and studies that focus on consumers to gain a deeper, richer insight of the consumersâ perspective (Rubin & Rubin, 1995). A qualitative phenomenological design was used to give voice to three participants regarding their perceptions of cultural competence in the counseling relationship. Phenomenological interviews were used to explore in depth and with diversity the participantsâ subjective meaning of the lived experience (Denzin & Lincoln, 2003). Constant comparative research methods were used to analyze the data. Four themes naturally emerged from the data. Theme 1) Defining Cultural Competence was discussed as being inclusive of all differences; not focusing solely on race or ethnicity, including more than recognizing obvious differences, and counselorsâ willingness to raise and engage in the issue of culture. Theme 2) Counselor Attitude participants voiced that counselorsâ attitude plays a significant role in whether certain topics are broached and how much is shared about the topic. They reported what counselors convey through their attitude and interactions as being more important than what they convey verbally. Theme 3) The Counseling Relationship was discussed in regard to the importance of counseling relationships that fosters an environment of safety where sharing information and teaching and learning is reciprocal between counselor and consumer and Theme 4) Counselor Attributes were found to be more important than counseling techniques and theories. The findings are presented in a discussion of themes with narratives developed about each case.
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