There is no doubt that the counsellor needs to be aware of the complexity of culture (Pedersen & Ivey, 1993). Culture results from the interaction of a number of variables including ethnographic, demographic, socio-economic, and relational factors. Within a culture, people develop patterns of behaviours based on a number of assumptions they have learned either directly, observationally or vicariously (Mitchell & Krumboltz, 1996). People also develop a cultural identity by examining the similarities and differences perceived between themselves and other individuals or groups. Cultural identity is based on personal preference; it is not determined by racial characteristics. It is often in part determined by language preferences, religion, lifestyle or birthplace, and may be modified by the individual life experiences and exposures (Mitchell & Krumboltz, 1996).
There is a danger that if the counsellor minimise cultural differences, they are likely to impose the majority group's similarities upon the minority group and uphold one group as being more important than the other. On the other hand, over-emphasising the differences may result in difficulty finding common ground upon which to build a therapeutic counselling relationship.
The ideal would be to maintain a balance by recognising the importance of these similarities and differences and striving to understand them with a view to building good communication within the one to one counselling relationship (Pedersen, 1994).
Without cultural awareness, the counsellor may get the information their processing wrong and that may limit them by not giving the client fair and equitable counselling service. The limited information is likely to influence the counsellor judgment, inferences, and interpretations. For example, according to Sodowsky, Kuo-Jackson & Loya (1997) many first generation Asians tend to show little or no affect in a counselling interview but may have such symptoms as headaches or other physiological difficulties. In the cultural value system of British Chinese’s passivity rather than assertiveness is holy and calmness rather than verbal articulation is a sign of wisdom and self-effacement rather than confrontation is a model of refinement (Ching and Prosen, 1980). Since humility and modesty are valued in such a way, it may be difficult for the counsellor to draw out a response from Asian clients during counselling. Being reserved reinforces silence and withdrawal as appropriate ways of dealing with conflict which may be interpreted as resistance by the inexpert counsellor. Eye contact is one aspect of the communication model that can be misinterpreted in Chinese clients. While the Western therapist would interpret a Chinese client evading eye contact as a sign of untruthfulness or low self-esteem, the Chinese client might merely be acting polite or out of respect for the therapist. Good decision making in the English context is likely to be characterised by individual responsibility, while in Asian cultures good decision-making may be characterised by keeping the best interests of the family as the decision criteria (Ching and Prosen, 1980). Africans place great value on the family, especially their children, who are seen as a gift from God, and in social relationships, with a greater emphasis on the community and their place in it. In this context the resolution of social conflict becomes important so that peace is restored to the community, while personal conduct becomes secondary (McFadden and Gbekobov, 1984). Counsellors need to be aware of the assumptions of western pattern of behavioural assessment and consider constraints such as racial and ethnic identity,...