Cultural Limitations to Group Counseling
School counselors have several responsibilities in the school environment including the promotion of careers, academic progression and personal and social aspects of the students’ lives. School counselors working in cooperation with the stakeholders collaborate to ensure a progressive school environment. School counselors have to be competent in several areas. The key area among them in terms of the school environment is cultural competency. Cultural diversity is a critical aspect of schools as children belong to diverse cultures leading to a collision of values, morals and behaviors. School counselors must be cultural competent and understand the influence of culture on student’s behavior, attitudes and school performance.
School counselors employ several therapy methods in culturally diverse schools mainly group therapy. Group therapy refers to the establishment of support groups enabling counselors to assist as many students as possible simultaneously. Culture is the main factor hindering the success of groups. School counselors require multiple skills to handle the multiple challenges faced by students in schools. The majority of problems in schools are related to the diversity or the different backgrounds of the students shaping their behaviors and perceptions. School counselors must be culturally competent to break cultural barriers during group therapy and in the extended school environment. The paper explores several issues relating to group counseling and culture including group formation and conflict management in the group, behavior, and perception. The role of a counselor in a group including leadership and creation of solutions to cultural forces affecting group therapy.
Types of Culture and Cultural Factors in Groups
Culture refers to the way of life or characteristics of a group including behaviors, symbols, morals, codes, ceremonies, traditions, language, religion, music, social habits, technology, and art. Culture refers to the insignificant and often ignored details that provide an identity to a group of people and shape images. Culture can also be divided into two categories, one of which is the reflection of the group’s heritage, religious affiliation, history, demographic affiliation and national origin. Secondly, culture also defines a social problem affecting some people and creating unity within the threatened group.
Culture Influence on Behavior
Culture is one of the most powerful factors affecting the behavior, perception and interpretation of ideas. Culture determines the formation of social networks and also interaction with the environment. Counselors must understand that every human being has a distinctive culture that forms his or her identity. In the formation of a group, a school counselor combines multiple cultures and attempts to sync them to work towards a common objective. The greatest challenge for school counselors is cultural competency and the task of offering support to groups with divergent ideas and interpretations of the environment.
Culture shapes the behaviors, perception and interpretation of individuals through training of values, morals and beliefs such as religion. Matsumoto notes the human beings possess inherent features of animals and are greatly vulnerable to their environments. Human beings also survive by taking advantage of the social groups in their environments. Groups try to find a solution to the environmental problems such as poverty, security, interaction and reproduction. Groups, therefore, end up shaping the ways of how people behave, think, interpret and react to different situations. On the other hand, groups form communities and subsequent culture, primarily a collection of values, beliefs and traditional practices.
The main advantage of group counseling over individual counseling is that a school counselor can work with multiple students at a time. Group counseling enables counselors to reach out to a greater number of students. Group counseling is an effective way of solving personal, academic, social and emotional needs. Groups enable students to communicate more easily with peers, teachers, school administration and parents. Groups also enable the counselor to learn more about the school environment.
Group Formation and Subsequent Cultural Issues
The formation of a school counseling group is a five stage process as observed in the formation of any other type of group. The group must go through the four stages that are forming or orientation, storming or power struggle, performing and adjourning. All these stages have distinctive characteristics. This essay will further explore the first two of them due to their vulnerability to cultural collision.
Forming or Orientation Stage
Forming or orientation is the first stage in the formation of a group being marked by the first introductory meetings. The initial group formation includes discussion of basic group factors including functions, focus, confidentiality, trust and setting of group rules. The stage of formation establishes the group foundation in a school and its characteristics.
A key barrier that counselors must overcome in the formation of the group is cultural diversity and the divergent behavior characteristics of group members. Group formation is a collision stage marked by arguments and misunderstandings as the students interpret situations differently. Counselors serve as group leaders and must develop groups that yield pragmatic results for the members. Culture defines the way people think and interpret situations. In a school counseling group, the students are likely to disagree on basic factors such as rules, place, time and mode of contribution. Cultural barriers may limit the ability of students to share information and work for the effectiveness of the group. For example, students from conservative cultures may feel intimidated by the liberal and direct American style of communication. Asian culture upholds family unity and secrecy making it difficult for Asian students to share personal feelings in a group. In the same way, Muslims are victims of the terrorist stereotypes that intimidate their participation in activities such as group therapy sessions. Cultural factors such as religion and family values may also limit the extent of information sharing in the group.
The counselors must first overcome internal factors in the group and ensure tolerance of divergent views. Tolerance to divergent opinions is critical to information sharing within a group. An effective way to overcome such barriers is to mandate all students to contribute to each session and also listen to divergent views without interrupting. Multicultural competency in counseling begins with the counselor preventing personal biases from achieving effective results in communication. School counselors must possess cultural competence and such skills as self-awareness, cultural sensitivity and knowledge of divergent cultural views.
Transition or Storming
At this stage, the group members are more understanding of divergent views, while the cultural sensitivity of a group has increased. The stage marks a kind of power struggle as each culture attempts to establish legitimacy and dominance. At this stage, the group members are more mature, trustworthy acquiring group communication skills. Counselor’s role as the group’s leader is further witnessed at this stage. Although the group is more mature, understanding of views in an attempt to develop cultural identity creates a collision of ideas, values and beliefs. Group members at this stage may explicit several characteristics including resistance, conflict, anxiety, monopoly, defensiveness, socializing and challenging of group leadership and other group members. The counselor at this stage must cement his or her authority and also provide progress directions to the group.
Performance and Adjournment Stages
The performance stage in group formation is marked by maturity and focuses on the objectives of the group. Characteristics of the stage include honesty, disclosure, commitment, feedback and trust, and group cohesion. Corey and Corey highlight that this stage is the most critical in the formation of the group as it marks group productivity and changing behavior and perceptions of its members. The stage is less stressful to a counselor as students are more sensitive to divergent views and cultural differences. The last stage is marked by the closure of the group. The group members acquire critical skills leading to behavior changes and allowing the group to practice the learned skills.
Cultural Limitations to Group Counseling
As indicated in the discussion, culture is the most powerful aspect shaping students’, teachers’ and community’s behaviors, perceptions and reactions. Culture forms the foundation for various identities. Group therapy enables counselors to offer assistance to a greater number of students at a time. Group therapy also improves the school environment by sensitizing students on diverse cultural values and opening up communication channels. Multicultural group therapy also makes students more tolerant to divergent views and other students especially those belonging to minority cultures.
Several aspects of culture limiting the effectiveness of group therapy include language, racial discrimination, religion, stereotypes, family values, traditional values and color and minority groups’ challenges such as discrimination.
Language is a key cultural concern in group counseling. Language is not only related to the communication style but also to the mode of interpretation, understanding and reaction to communication. The language is also related to the tone and speed of communication. Students from diverse cultures uphold diverse types of communication. For example, conservative cultures may feel intimidated by loud and aggressive speaking students. The tone and style of communication is a major difference between the Asian and Native Americans. Asians are more conservative and respectful in communication and avoid loud tone and aggressive arguing or interceptions in communication. Native Americans are loud and aggressive in presenting ideas and usually dominate in the discussions. The difference in language may intimidate conservative students in group dialogs preventing them from expressing ideas or opinions. Counselors have to ensure that all students get an equal opportunity to express ideas and mandate all participants to listen without abrupt interference.
Furthermore, language is a barrier mainly among students from non-English speaking countries. For example, the United States hosts more than eleven million immigrants of Hispanic, African and Asian descent. English is not their native language. The language limitation creates certain challenges as the students can not contribute effectively to the group sessions. Insensitive school counselor’s ignorance of language as a cultural limitation puts students at a disadvantage in a group. Sensitivity and understanding of individual member’s cultures and limitations are critical to group therapy.
Religion is the most powerful cultural factor shaping people's beliefs, values, behavior, and reactions. School counselors must anticipate the challenges relation to religion in an attempt to ease the communication flow and tolerance during group therapy. Dominant world religious groups including Christians, Muslims, Buddhism, and Jews have been in tense relationships due to different and often conflicting teachings. The religious tension and brittle tolerance to divergent views are translated to school children from their families and communities. For example, Muslims consider Christians too liberal in culture and values although the two religions have similar teachings in many regards. For example, both religions uphold moral values and denounce sexual immorality and hate. However, the mode of interpretation of different views by religious leaders and believers creates gaps and suspicious relations between the members of the two groups. In the United States, the Muslims are associated with violence and terrorism, which has damaged the public image of the corresponding religion.
The media has developed the Muslim stereotype creating a negative perception of all Muslims even though most of them are peaceful. Children are highly vulnerable to misinformation provided by the media. In the same way, Jews and Christians have divergent views mainly in relation to family, prayers, values, morals and behavior. Children are taught to follow and obey religious values as practiced by their respective families. The children employ the same values, attitudes and practices in social relations with other students in schools.
Culturally competent school counselors have to understand the power of religion in shaping the values and attitudes of the group. A counselor must also work to neutralize tension between students from diverse family and religious backgrounds to ensure the effectiveness of group therapy. For example, tension between Muslims and Christians in a group overrides the objective of the group. The main objective of school therapy groups is to support students in academic, social and personal struggles. Group therapy requires students to share values, experiences and beliefs and receive advice, criticism and support from peers. Group therapy is not possible in the presence of religious tension and media-created stereotypes.
Limitations from Family, Traditions and Cultural Values
Cultural or family values determine how much students interact and share their views with peers and counselors. School children learn cultural values, morals, beliefs and codes from parents, which is critical in shaping their behaviors and attitudes. The issue of culture or traditional values in school counseling affects both the counselors and the students. First, counselors must rise above personal, cultural and family values so as not to cause harm to the group therapy process. Second, the therapist must be sensitive to the diversity of cultures and values in a group and ensure equal appreciation of each of these aspects. School counselors must also understand the threat that family or traditional values pose to the group session. For example, Asians treat the family as a sacred value, and Asian students tend to abstain from sharing information that may compromise their families. People from diverse cultures also abstain from sharing information with people from other cultures and identify them as strangers.
Race, Color and Social Class Discrimination
Merrill-Washington notes that culture can also lead to social problems such as poverty or minority group isolation. Counselors have to consider the demographic and social composition of the group. For example, minority groups such as African and Hispanic Americans are subject to racial discrimination potentially limiting their contribution and participation in a group. Such students may feel that the group does not address issues key to their lives such as racial and resource discrimination and poverty.
Other Relevant Issues
The style adopted by the school counselor as a group leader also determines the effectiveness of the sessions. The group leader must adopt a participative and supportive role rather than an authoritative and controlling style. Characteristics of participative counselors include balancing, listening, direct communication, acceptance of criticism, sensitivity and flexibility to new ideas. Such style enables the group to overcome cultural barriers.
School counselors must be culturally competent and sensitive. Culture has a power effect on the therapeutic relationship between the counselor and the clients such as a group. Culture is influential in shaping the behavior, perceptions, attitudes and reactions of group members. Success in group formation is heavily dependent on cultural sensitivity expressed by the group leader and the participants. Schools should include cultural studies and sensitivity into the normal curriculum and apply the benefits of cultural diversity to the school environment.
In conclusion, group therapy aims at reaching out to as many students as possible all at once. Culture is a critical factor determining the success of group therapy. Culture refers to the values, beliefs, morals, traditions and practices that form the identity of a group. Culture influences the behavior, attitudes and reactions of students making it a critical area of study for counselors. Culturally competent counselors ensure that groups display the cultural diversity and harness the advantages such as diversity of ideas and experiences. Cultural aspects affecting the success of group therapy sessions include religion, language differences, race, color, stereotypes and family values.