Counselor Know Thyself: Developing Self-Awareness within the Multicultural Competence Counseling Model

Written by Dr. Misty M. Ginicola

It almost seems counterintuitive to begin a journey to establish competence in working with others by concentrating on oneself. But the first component of counseling multicultural competence requires just that: to be self-aware. As a counselor, we are in a profession that must assess normality and conceptualize people’s lives and behaviors. Although this requires assessment of the client, it also requires that we are acutely aware of the lens through which we use to view the world: our own schema or worldview. We view clients through our own sense of normality, and of a sense of right and wrong, as a result of our own experiences and culture.

The model begins with asking counselors to be aware of their own attitudes and beliefs. Counselors need to examine how their attitudes, values, beliefs, and biases impact their worldview, and potentially their counseling work. For example, a counselor who highly values education may be challenged by a client who does not value the role of education or the graduate degree that the counselor worked very hard to obtain. While some biases need to be actively challenged and addressed, not all biases will be alterable. Even if it was possible, it is not preferable for the counselor to get rid of all of their biases; if you have values, you have biases. Counselors need only to be aware of these biases, so they do not impose them on a client, projecting their own values and seeing pathology when there are only cultural differences.

The new model also asks counselors to be aware of their own social identities and statuses, and how power, privilege, oppression, and marginalization impact their worldview. These are not always comfortable explorations; thinking of oneself as privileged is not something that most people want to explore or admit. But, we all carry layers of both privilege and marginalization. For example, growing up with healthcare (a socio-economic status indicator) affords one privileges in multiple areas of life; a child with quality healthcare will not only benefit physically, but also potentially perform better in school if they are able to take care of health care issues (from major health issue to a toothache) and have a higher quality of life. Conversely, a child growing up with a disability has a marginalized status; they will experience additional hardship, minority stress, and disadvantages of which able-bodied persons may be completely unaware.

The new model also asks that counselors gain knowledge surrounding how privilege and marginalization impact worldview, as well as how these statuses are linked to specific societal advantages and disadvantages. This involves specific multicultural counseling skills. Counselors need to think reflectively and critically about their own assumptions and biases; being honest regarding where they hold privilege and marginalized identities. It also requires the ability to communicate about privilege and marginalization with others in an effective (non-defensive) manner. It also means to be able to analyze and apply how these statuses impact your client. For example, if you are working with a client who identifies as transgender, if you are a cisgender (non-transgender) person, you are aware that your worldview is very different. Research indicates that transgender people experience an incredible amount of marginalization and hostility from even those closest to them, their friends and family. This prejudice is reflected in transgender persons’ suicide rates, which are 10 times the national average. Regardless of other areas of difference, you, as the cisgender counselor, may have not had to think about issues of gender identity, attempt to mutilate your genitals or body (a common experience for a child with gender dysphoria), and/or feel so hated that you would rather end your life than live as the sex you were designated at birth. Part of developing knowledge and skills has to do with understanding the role of minority stress: that when someone experiences oppression, discrimination, prejudice, and continual bias, it creates stressful conditions that readily lead to negative physical, mental health, and behavioral problems.

Finally, counselors must take action to actively build their self awareness; they must find professional development opportunities, attending trainings on topics such as marginalization and privilege. Counselors need to seek out information about marginalized persons’ experiences and listen with an open mind and heart. They must also connect to minority communities, to empathize with their lives and experiences. There are several things that you can do right now to build your multicultural awareness.

1. Explore your own Biases by taking the Implicit Association Test at:

2. Explore your own areas of privilege and marginalization with the Power and Privilege Checklist

3. Watch the TED talk with Dr. Myers on facing your biases
Next month, we will start exploring Client Worldview on our next stop on the journey towards multicultural competence.

You can find the 2015 American Counseling Association Multicultural and Social Justice Counseling Competencies at: