Culturally Competent Counselling: Embracing Diversity In Mental Health


Mental health is an essential aspect of one’s overall well-being. It is a critical component of our ability to lead productive and fulfilling lives, maintain stable relationships, and cope with both minor and major stress factors. Unfortunately, for many individuals living in Australia, mental health concerns are still stigmatised or taboo topics that remain largely unaddressed.

To make matters worse, certain cultural groups face additional barriers when it comes to accessing adequate mental healthcare. These include language barriers, the stigma associated with seeking help from professionals outside their community, and limited access to available resources due to socio-economic status or geographical location, amongst others. Inadequate attention paid by service providers towards such differences can result in sub-standard treatment leading to poorer outcomes for patients. There may also be a lack of experienced and reliable mental health providers with a master of counselling degree, which can further exacerbate the challenges.

Therefore, it becomes imperative that counsellors gain the knowledge necessary to provide culturally competent care, which takes into consideration the patient’s unique circumstances, including the level of acculturation, whilst respecting their values and beliefs.

What Is Cultural Competence?

As defined by The American Psychological Association (APA), “cultural competence refers to a counsellor’s capacity or ability to work effectively with clients/barriers despite different social norms”. Nursing professions, in particular, subscribe that Intercultural Nursing requires understanding similarities as well as differences between cultural contexts.

Culturally Competent Counselling: Embracing Diversity In Mental Health

While what constitutes “culturally competent” counselling will vary depending on individual circumstances, there are a few broad principles that govern the effective application and success of counselling.

  1. Strong Interpersonal Skills

This involves caring communication, attentive behaviour, empathy, active listening, trustworthiness, and acceptance, among others.

  1. Cultural Knowledge And Awareness

Counsellors must learn applicable information on different cultures to be aware of any conceivable bias because of their own varying backgrounds. This can be done by studying verbal communication styles, cultural practices, customs, traditions, and ethnocentrism.

  1. Flexibility Regarding Application Of Suggested Interventions

Mainstream treatment approaches may not always be well received by clients if incompatible with their beliefs/values. This highlights the need to incorporate clinical practices that resonate with a client’s cultural background. Additionally, clinicians should provide room for adapting to different treatment models depending on varying circumstances or client preferences.

Why Is Cultural Competence Important In Counselling?

Studies have found that the successful implementation of counselling interventions depends greatly on counsellors’ ability to take into account cultural context, values, and traditions unique to their patients’ lives and experiences. They must also acknowledge any barriers which might impact effective communication/contact, potentially leading to negative outcomes.

Depressed woman having a counseling session
Culturally Competent Counselling: Embracing Diversity In Mental Health

By creating an empowering relationship with demographic groups such as ethnic minorities, refugees, or those practising certain faiths, counsellors can pave the way for more openness, encouraging patients to share information on deeper/underlying factors. This goes a long way towards ensuring patients receive quality psychological support that empowers them and enables better decision-making and choices.

How Can Counsellors Develop Cultural Competency?

Developing one’s own skills/resources is an ongoing process that requires conscious effort and willingness to continuously expand knowledge and understanding. There are multiple ways to do this:

  1. Education & Training

Specific programs aimed at enhancing the intercultural skills of practitioners have been developed recently. Some of the current programs in Australia include:

  • APNA Best Practice Guideline – Working with diverse cultures (General)
  • ACCRM – Acculturation profile (as part of Refugee Health Assessment services)
  • Speech pathologists’ educational resources for recommendations/tips aimed at supporting conversation exchange

A migrating population is made up of several different cultures, highlighting opportunities as well as challenges. This is why it is important to foster cultural fluency while inculcating effective cross-cultural communication skills to make healthcare inclusive.

  1. Opportunities For Cultural Exchange

Clinicians could take advantage of opportunities in their respective locations to participate in community events showcasing cultural groups or interacting with individuals from varied backgrounds. Utilising such experiences and working towards better empathic engagement may ultimately lead to more worthy therapeutic outcomes.

  1. Self-Reflection And Evaluation

Regularly evaluating one’s own behavioural responses before/after patient encounters helps identify problematic areas, therefore improving relational rapport with all clients across varying cultures. Awareness of any unconscious bias might also trigger the necessary steps, which would increase the effectiveness of therapy sessions.


Culturally competent counselling equates to the incorporation of intercultural knowledge with interpersonal communication abilities whilst providing a flexible approach to evidence-based interventions. There is a significant shift toward talking freely and openly about mental health issues nowadays, and impressive progress has been made. However, the importance of minority-related ethnocultural considerations can never be overemphasised. To foster true inclusivity and optimal quality of services, not just policies but tangible action must be instituted at every level of health delivery. That would ensure that people feel heard, safe, understood, and respected throughout the treatment, which is critical to improving psychological well-being.

- Advertisement -