Counsellor and Practicum Supervisor Critical Incidents in the Development of Multicultural and Social Justice Competency

Collins, S., Arthur, N., & Brown, C.

Cultural influences on the identities of clients and counsellors and how those identities intersect have significant effect on the counselling process. The experiences and worldviews of clients from diverse cultural backgrounds influence presenting concerns, case conceptualization, and intervention strategies. Clients with non-dominant identities (ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability, socioeconomic status, age, or religion) more often encounter experiences of social injustice, including discrimination and cultural oppression that significantly impact psychosocial wellbeing. With increased globalization and cultural diversity in many countries, there is a call for increased attention to these challenges. Counsellors are expected to engage in social justice action, with or on behalf of clients, to effect change in organizations, communities, or broader social systems. To prepare counsellors for these challenges, graduate counsellor education programs must incorporate competency development in both multicultural counselling and social justice. However, research is lacking on the effectiveness of current curriculum and the application of learning to practice contexts. The existing literature suggests that counsellors are not fully prepared to meet these complex challenges, particularly in the area of social justice. The purpose of this study was to examine how well selected counsellor education programs in Canada are preparing counsellors for both multicultural counselling and social justice. Most research has focused on curriculum content; less attention has been paid to how that content is taught and the efficacy of those learning processes in facilitating competency. The critical incident technique was used to solicit examples of effective and less effective learning processes from both practicum supervisors and counsellors in the field. Twenty-five practicum supervisors from two graduate programs and 48 counsellors from national and provincial counselling organizations participated in the study through an online survey, a portion of those provided the detailed critical incidents discussed in this paper. The qualitative data was analyzed to isolate, cluster, and relate emergent concepts. A critical psychology lens facilitated contextualization of the data in context of full transcripts and the power structures within education, the profession, and society to examine both overt and covert meanings. Several themes emerged from the detailed analysis of these critical incidents. The strongest theme was the lack of graduate multicultural education and, even more absent, a focus on social justice. This gap in learning was itself a critical incident, particularly as participants encountered the demands of culturally diverse work environments. For many, their competency evolved posteducation through self-study and direct contact with diverse populations and, in some cases, through observations of cultural oppression in their work contexts. Those who had graduate multicultural counselling coursework highlighted critical readings, experiential learning activities, exposure to cultural diversity (sometimes through instructors and peers), open discussions, and opportunities to engage in direct service or applied practice. A statement by one participant reflects the conclusion that combining theory and practice optimizes learning: “I think that we need to engage fully in experiences which help us understand others at a deeper level, and this does not occur through reading some book on cultural differences.” Recommendations for teaching and educational practices will be highlighted.



APA citation

  • Collins, S., Arthur, N., & Brown, C. (2013). Counsellor and Practicum Supervisor Critical Incidents in the Development of Multicultural and Social Justice Competency. International Journal of Social Sciences, II(2), 16–32.

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