When introducing myself to new clients, it sounds like ‘Hi and welcome to your first session. My name is Franziska and I’m a transcultural counsellor.’ – Wait, what does that mean?
Transcultural counsellors in Malta have graduated from a 2-year full-time Master program in ‘Transcultural Counselling’ at the University of Malta which included training by lecturers from a US university. Before graduating 650 hours of practical client work have taken place.
There are many different models and definitions of counselling as well as many different therapeutic approaches. Based on the definition of the British Association for Counselling (1977) in a counselling situation there is a counsellor involved and a client. The client is provided with the opportunity to explore, discover, and clarify ways of living more resourcefully and towards greater well-being in a secure atmosphere.
So, in case counsellor and client have different cultural backgrounds, the counselling situation automatically becomes transcultural – ‘trans’ is chosen instead of ‘cross’ or ‘inter’ to emphasise that it is an active and reciprocal process. The therapeutic relationship is based on working across, through and beyond the counsellor’s and client’s cultural differences.
A transcultural counsellor understands that clients from different cultures might already face many struggles in daily life and therefore need to be met halfway. Specific knowledge about cultures and skills are needed in transcultural counselling to actively reduce cultural differences and reflect on cultural beliefs and prejudices. ‘Transcultural’ emphasises the common experiences of a counsellor and the client(s) who share the awareness that their values, assumptions, and practices are not absolute.
This sound all very theoretical. In reality, it means that the counsellor creates a safe and comfortable atmosphere during the counselling sessions considering their own and the client’s cultural background. Some relevant questions for the transcultural counsellor to consider are for example:
- How to greet each other in the beginning of the session and how to say goodbye in a culturally appropriate way?
- Is it okay to hold eye contact or considered disrespectful?
- What is the understanding of self and community, has socialisation taken place in a collectivist or individualistic culture?
- What is the understanding of time and boundaries?
- In which way are feelings expressed if they are expressed?
- What about the use of (verbal and non-verbal) language, is there a shared one and if yes, is it the first language, is there a language barrier?
Apart from these questions there are other factors to take into consideration in a transcultural counselling setting that might not necessarily come to mind when hearing the word ‘culture’:
What is the social status, sexual orientation, religion, gender, age, … of counsellor and client(s) in the room?
Transcultural counselling is an ongoing challenge: a transcultural counsellor can only work effectively if they know themselves very well, are honest about negativity and continually reflect on their practice with the aim to stay sensitive to diversity. This is particularly important in the 21st century in which humans of all kinds of different cultural backgrounds are coming together due to globalization.
In short, a transcultural counsellor is a counsellor who first and foremost emphasizes cultural sensitivity and awareness in their practice.
If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.
Franziska Richter is a transcultural counsellor with Willingness Team, offering counselling sessions to individuals and couples. She is particularly interested in trauma, addictions, migration, sexuality, and eating disorders.
d’Ardenne, Patricia; Mahtani, Aruna (1989). Transcultural Counselling in Action. Counselling in Action. London: Sage Publications.
Lago, C. (2011). The handbook of transcultural counselling and psychotherapy. Maidenhead: McGraw Hill/Open University Press. Chicago (Author-Date, 15th ed.).