Question: Mauritius is considered to be a culturally diverse society with different cultures living in harmony together. According to you, is there a need for multicultural counselling competencies when providing for counselling? Answer: The significance for counsellors is that developing and maintaining multicultural counselling skills is imperative if counsellors are to provide adequate assistance to the clients they are charged with serving. Counsellors and counsellor educators “…need to be aware and recognized their cultural encapsulation and work to overcome it” (Vinson & Neimeyer, 2000, p. 77). Most providers are trained only in delivering services to the majority population. Counsellors are unaware of the life experiences of the ethnic minority patient (Duran & Duran, 1995, p8). Counselling theories and practices are based on values that are adopted from European models. These dominant theories that are the basis of counsellor training and practice, include all of the major assessment tools, according to Duran and Duran (l995), perpetuating colonialism and the domination of people with different worldviews.

However, there is a growing awareness of the changing multicultural basis of the Mauritian society and of a more holistic and non-eurocentric counselling approaches need to be adopted by practitioners. While there is “increased attention to diversity and multiculturalism in the counselling profession” (Walden, Herlihy & Ashton, 2003, p. 109), there is still much to be done to move counselling towards a “post-colonial” approach. In other words, moving the counselling profession towards more openness to diversity and a greater acceptance of other worldviews and culturally different counselling practices.

Helms and Cook (1999) state that ultimately, the outcomes of the counselling process are the result of what both, counsellor and client bring to session, which to a large extent, is influenced by racial or cultural factors. Helms and Cook (1999) outline four main components: ·        The input of psychological, race, and cultural reactions of clients and counsellors; ·        The social role involving counsellor skills and theoretical orientation and client reactions, preferences, and expectations; ·        Process variables including racial matching and identity levels; and ·        The utcome phase which is marked by distal and psychological factors such as attrition, service utilization, symptom remission, racial development, and cultural congruence. In their cross-cultural Competencies Model Sue, Arrendondo & McDavis (l993) explain what makes a multicultural counsellor. This model is multidimensional, divided into three domains: attitudes/beliefs, knowledge, and skills. It is based on the counsellor’s awareness of his/her personal cultural values and biases and the client's worldview in order to develop culturally appropriate intervention strategies.

Counsellor Awareness of Assumptions, Biases and Values Attitudes and Beliefs The starting point of multicultural counselling is within the counsellor in that to be effective in working with people who come from different cultures, one must become aware of one’s values, biases and beliefs. A counsellor should be aware and sensitive to one’s cultural heritage. That means recognizing that differences exist and that if one is to practice within the Mauritian culture, it is important to value and respect such differences.

Along with one’s cultural background, there are experiences that are coloured by attitudes from the majority community reflecting not only values, but also biases that have influenced one’s psychological processes. Knowing that psychological processes are determined to a great degree by culture, counsellors need to identify how cultural experiences limit counselling competencies. The counsellor needs to be comfortable with acknowledging and discussing cultural, ethnic, and racial differences. Resulting to this is that there may exist significant differences in terms of beliefs between counsellors and their clients (e. . collective versus individual orientations). Knowledge Among the many characteristics that counsellors must have in order to be competent, three attributes top the list: It is fundamental that counsellors have specific knowledge about their own racial and cultural heritage and recognize how this can personally and professionally affect their personal and professional definitions and biases of normality-abnormality and the process of counselling. Counsellors must have knowledge about and understanding of how oppression, racism, discrimination, and stereotyping affect them personally and professionally.

Competent counsellors must be able to acknowledge their own racist attitudes, beliefs, and feelings. Counsellors should possess knowledge and be aware of their social impact upon others. This means knowing how their communication style may be at odds with or facilitate the counselling process with clients. Part of this is being able to anticipate how one's communication style impacts others. Skills One fundamental commitment from counsellors should be the constant pursuit to understand themselves as racial and cultural beings and actively seeking a non-racist identity.

This means that counsellors should be able to recognize the limits of their competencies and seek consultation, training, and references from more qualified individuals and/or resources. They should seek out educational, consultative, and training experiences to enhance their understanding and effectiveness in working with culturally different populations. Duran and Duran (l995) go further and emphasize that the counsellor should not only learn appropriate strategies, but also “believe and practice these beliefs in his/her personal life if the intervention is to benefit the client” (p. 7). Personal encounters with racism are not part of most counsellors' experiences; therefore, most counsellors do not know how debilitating this can be on one’s view of the world and personality. There is considerable documentation that the effects of racism have negative impact on one's health and psychological well-being. Therefore, counsellors need to be aware of the negative emotional reactions caused by prejudice and stereotyping. This means knowing the political and social aspects of a specific situation and how it relates to visible minority groups.

One attitude that enhances not only multicultural competency, but also communication, is openness to other ideas, cultures, and experiences. This requires taking a non-judgemental position. Counsellor Awareness of Client’s Worldview Attitudes and beliefs Worldview is an aspect of cultural value preferences that frame one’s outlook. Therefore, culturally competent counsellors need to acquire specific knowledge of their clients’ worldview, style, and cultural identity development levels. Some clients may have had horrific experiences in regards to poverty and racism - which might have reinforced their sense of powerlessness.

Counsellors should be aware of how their own preconceived ideas about certain cultural groups influence the client-helper interaction in different ways. Knowledge It is fundamental that counsellors possess knowledge about the group of people they are working with and familiarize themselves with some of the historical, social, and cultural background of their clients. Additionally, counsellors should be aware of how ethnicity, culture, and tradition influence decision-making processes, vocational choices, specific behaviours and integration.

Recognizing how negative experiences impact client development is imperative in the counselling process. Skills Counsellors should become involved with activities and functions outside of the counselling setting. They can act as advocates and advisors in order to get a different perspective and see the client interact in his/her “natural” setting. Participating in community events, social gatherings, traditional celebrations, and other relevant happenings could assist them in broadening and fostering their knowledge, understanding, and utilization of cross-cultural skills.

One effective way of maintaining and enhancing good counselling skills is to read professional journals and to keep abreast of the latest research and theoretical findings on cross-cultural work. An important aspect of understanding changes in one’s profession as a helper is to seek the appropriate professional development that will ensure that competencies are maintained. Culturally Appropriate Approaches Recognizing that clients bring with them different religious and spiritual beliefs may mean that they will have values that will affect counselling outcomes. In fact, these differences may even affect how they express emotional distress.

Clients may see emotions as not being separate from the body or spirit. Because of these differences, counsellors can increase their effectiveness by incorporating indigenous helping practices and the natural helping networks in the minority community. Another important variable in counselling is the relationship between culture and language. Therefore, the counsellor needs to see that bilingualism is an asset and not liability. By and large, counselling training has followed the Eurocentric tradition in counselling theory and practice. These practices conflict with cultural values of other traditions (e. . the reliance of self-disclosure in the Client-Centred approach may go against allegiance to the family). While most counsellors are aware that assessment instruments and techniques may be culturally biased, they need to be aware that in most cases, institutional barriers have been created based on assessment instruments. Diagnostic techniques fit majority culture, but do not necessarily reflect cultural minorities’ values. Traditional counselling methods have emphasized the importance of helping the individual, thus going against the influence of the family and community structures.

Knowing when and how to integrate the family and community into counselling practice will empower culturally different clients and help them seek a collective solution rather than an individual one. A Culturally Sensitive Perspective When working with clients from a different culture, trust is a major issue that needs to be resolved, particularly since those with power have been the instruments of oppression. The most effective way of building trust is to ensure that verbal and non-verbal messages are not only congruent, but also accurate and appropriate.

Conclusion Gaining multicultural counselling competencies can ensure that counsellors are actively involved in combating racism that robs people of their self-respect and of their sense of dignity. It is a means of ensuring a more peaceful and prosperous society in which all people are equal. The kind of prejudice experienced by ethnic and racial minorities, intentional or unintentional, is the essence of the challenge of an open society. The transformation from ignorance to multicultural competence is neither simple nor easy.

The challenges require that we develop a more open approach to communication with others from different cultural groups, possess a willingness to understand, develop empathy toward foreign and alien cultures, and be tolerant of views that differ from our own. If we have the determination to adapt our behaviours and attitudes with the desire to overcome ethnocentrism, we may begin to know the feelings of exhilaration that come when we have made contact with those from other cultures far removed from our own sphere of experience. This willingness to reach out, risk, learn and experience others is a challenge for everyone.