Counseling the culturally different

Sue, D.W. & Sue, D. (1990). Counseling the culturally different: Theory and practice. (2nd ed.). New York City: John Wiley & Sons.


The book is divided into three parts: Part I, "Issues and Concepts in Cross-Cultural Counseling"; Part II, "Counseling Specific Populations," and Part III, "Critical Incidents in Cross-Cultural Counseling."

Part I, "Issues and Concepts in Cross-Cultural Counseling," contains eight chapters. The first chapter, "The Politics of Counseling," contends that counseling does not take place in a vacuum and that it often mirrors the state of interracial relationships within a society. Thus, a white counselor who is biased or unfamiliar with the values and lifestyles of minority groups, may mistakenly diagnose a healthy minority individual as unhealthy or deficient. Alternatively, a minority individual, who has experienced some form of racism and/or oppression, may approach even a well-meaning white counselor with suspicion—or not approach at all. And the authors conclude these, among many, as reasons why minority-group individuals under-utilize and/or prematurely terminate counseling therapy.

Chapter 2, "Barriers to Effective Cross-Cultural Counseling," argues that the traditional approach to counseling in western countries, such as the U.S., expects verbal, emotional, and behavioral expressiveness from the client. While this approach might be successful with white middle- and upper-class segments of the population, argue the authors, they can be "antagonistic" to the lower-class and the culturally different immigrants from the Third World and thus can be great barriers to effective cross-cultural counseling.

Chapter 3, "Cross-Cultural Communication/Counseling Styles," begins with the thesis that "communication styles are strongly correlated with race, culture, and ethnicity." And, since communication is an important component of counseling, the counseling style of the counselor must match the communication style of the culturally different client. Otherwise argue the authors, "many difficulties may arise: premature termination of the session, inability to establish rapport, and/or cultural oppression of the client."

Chapter 4, "Sociopolitical Considerations of Mistrust in Cross-Cultural Counseling," contends that minority groups, especially black, are suspicious and mistrustful of white counselors because of the past history of slavery, oppression, discrimination, and racism. "White people are perceived as potential enemies unless proved otherwise," say the authors. "Rightly or not, white counselors are often perceived as symbols of the Establishment." This chapter details some ways to overcome such mistrusts.

Chapter 5, "Racial/Cultural Identity Development," emphasizes that it is wrong to assume that "all Asians are the same, all blacks are the same, all Hispanics are the same, and so forth," because, even with a particular culture, people can be at different stages of development. And the authors go on to show how this can be used by counselors to better understand their culturally different clients.

Chapter 6, "Cross-Cultural Family Counseling," argues that the concept of family differs from one group to another. Whereas western cultures use this term for the "nuclear family" (i.e., those related by blood), minority cultures may use it for an "extended family" which may include aunts, uncles, godparents, neighbors, and even a larger unit like the "tribe" in the American Indian culture. Thus, write the authors, "family approaches that place heavy emphasis on individualism and freedom from the emotional field of the family may cause great harm [to minority individuals]." This chapter provides many ideas that can help western counselors working with minority families.

Chapter 7, "Dimensions of World Views," begins with the authors’ statement that "many minority persons hold world views different from the members of the dominant culture…[and] counselors unaware of the basis for this difference are most likely to impute negative traits to clients." And they go on to argue that the world views of minorities are "very much related to racism and the subordinate position assigned to them in society."

Chapter 8, "The Culturally Skilled Counselor," concludes Part I by (a) stating that different racial groups require approaches (and techniques) that differ from those used with white Anglo-Saxon middle-class, and (b) elaborating on techniques one needs to acquire to be a "culturally skilled" counselor.

Part II, "Counseling Specific Populations," contains four chapters dedicated to specific cultural groups, including American Indians, Asian Americans, African Americans, and Hispanic Americans.

Part III, "Critical Incidents in Cross-Cultural Counseling," contains only one chapter. The eighteen cases presented, representing different types of cultural conflicts, can be used in teaching and/or training workshops. At the end of each case, the authors provide questions to stimulate discussion. In addition, instructions are also given on how to conduct these workshops.



As noted by the authors, "cultural diversity is a fact of life…in the United States." Therefore, the contents of this book are truly important.

David J. Jebaratham

Faith (for Content):