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A critical analysis of the Multicultural Counseling Competencies: implications for the practice of mental health counseling. (Practice).

The authors discuss the implications of adopting the Multicultural Counseling Competencies created by the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development (Arredondo et al., 1996) for members of the American Mental Health Counseling Association and other counseling practitioners. At the present time, there is no evidence that those who master the Competencies are, or will be, any better counselors than those who do not. More empirical data need to be collected before the Competencies are required of practicing counselors or implemented in counselor education programs.


In 1996, the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development (AMCD) published its Operationalization of the Multicultural Counseling Competencies (Arredondo et al., 1996). These multicultural counseling competencies are the latest in a 20-year effort to operationalize the work of counselors in the area of diversity-sensitive counseling (Sue, Arredondo, & McDavis, 1992; Sue et al., 1982). Throughout the present article, the term Competencies refers to the Operationalization of the Multicultural Counseling Competencies (Arredondo et al., 1996). Proponents of the Competencies are advocating that they be adopted by the American Counseling Association (ACA), each of ACA's divisions, the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), the American Psychological Association (APA), and a variety of other professional entities.

Identity politics and multicultural counseling share many goals and strategies. Much of the present rationale for multicultural counseling (e.g., Atkinson, Morten, & Sue, 1989) has been predicated upon some variant of the following, often-cited prediction (Sue & Sue, 1999, p. 8): "Projections indicate that persons of color will constitute a numerical majority somewhere between the years 2030 and 2050." Therefore, this line of reasoning goes, counseling interventions should be developed that correspond with the racial or ethnic characteristics of specific racial groups. According to Etzioni (2001, p. 6) such a position is inadvertently racist because "to argue that all or most members of a given social group behave the way some do is the definition of prejudice."

Were the Competencies adopted by various professional bodies, there could be significant implications for mental health counselors. One reason that mental health counselors will be so prominently affected relates to the specific clientele with whom they work on a daily basis. Minority group members (Survey of Community Mental Health, 1994) and women make up a disproportionate number of the clients seen in settings where mental health counselors are likely to work (e.g., mental health centers and other publicly funded agencies). Moreover, even if working in independent practice, mental health counselors are likely to treat less affluent clients than psychologists or psychiatrists. Less affluent clients are also more likely to be women (University of Michigan News Release, 1997) or members of minority groups.

The purpose of this article is to provide a critical analysis of the Competencies, not only in terms of their face and empirical validity, but also in terms of what their adoption could mean for the practicing mental health professional. Implicit in this analysis is a profound commitment to inclusiveness. As previously stated (Weinrach & Thomas, 1996):
 Designating only a few minority groups as worthy of the profession's
 attention is (a) profoundly demeaning to those minorities not included, (b)
 a gross distortion and denial of the realities that many disenfranchised
 clients experience every day, (c) blatantly incompatible with the very
 essence of the counseling profession, and (d) antithetical to why many of
 us entered this helping profession in the first place. To the extent that
 any (italics in original) client population is excluded from the dialogue,
 we are all diminished. (p. 474)

With this analysis, it is hoped that members of the American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA) will make an informed decision about the extent to which they believe that compliance with the Competencies will enhance the quality of the counseling services they provide--and by extension, whether the Competencies should be immediately adopted, rejected, or subjected to further refinement. Subscribing to the need to address the cultural distinctiveness of all clients is not mutually exclusive to rejecting the Competencies.


What are the cause or causes of mental disturbance? In order for any mental health counselor to conceptualize a client's concern, he or she must have first come to a tentative conclusion about the etiology of mental disturbance. At one end of the spectrum is the view that human disturbance is largely caused by internal processes over which the client presumably has at least some control. Dryden (1999, unpaginated) in expanding upon Epictetus' famous dictum, stated: "People are disturbed not by things but by their rigid (italics in original) and extreme (italics in original) views of things." At the other end of the spectrum is the belief, which is advocated by multicultural counseling experts and others, that external or environmental forces, such as racism and oppression, largely cause clients' emotional disturbance. Daniels, Arredondo, and D'Andrea (2001, May; 2001, July) have suggested that the definition of mental health itself should be determined by one's cultural and/or racial background.

Satel (Lamb, 2001), described the three basic tenets of multicultural counseling and therapy:
 (1) The therapist, [or] counselor assumes that the most important aspect of
 a patient's psychological landscape is his or her membership in an
 oppressed group; (2) Whatever distress this patient is suffering from is
 inevitably due to his or her bumping up against racism, sexism or some sort
 of oppressive force; and (3) That for the patient to get better, he or she
 will have to engage in some form of social activism, which only makes sense
 of course, if you believe that it is the environment that is largely
 responsible for your psychic distress. That's [the environment] got to be
 the thing that you seek to change.

Presumably, a mental health counselor who subscribes to an internal-processes causation model would employ very different counseling strategies and outcome goals than one who subscribes to an external or environmental causation model. It is against this backdrop that an analysis of the implications of the Multicultural Counseling Competencies for mental health counselors is presented.


An extraordinarily large literature base is available in the area of competency-based education. In fact, more than 1,500 literature sources were identified for "competency-based education" using both the ERIC and PsycINFO databases for the past 10 years. Recently, Kerka (1998) summarized the myths and realities associated with the practice of competency-based education in a monograph published by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education. Among the positive aspects was the idea that competency-based education and training improves the correspondence between education and training and workplace requirements.

Opponents, on the other hand, considered competency-based education to be excessively reductionistic, narrow, and rigid as well as theoretically, empirically, and pedagogically unsound. Although the practice of creating behavioral competencies for counselors is fairly well grounded in the counseling literature (e.g., Beutler, Machado, & Neufeldt, 1994; Ivey, 1994), there are some major problems with the content and organization of the AMCD Competencies.

As of August, 2001, the only empirical study reported in the ERIC and PsycINFO databases on the AMCD Competencies, per se, was conducted by Holcomb-McCoy (2000) and then it was based upon the 1992 version (Sue, Arredondo, & McDavis); not the most reent version (Arrondondo et al., 1996). In this study 151 members of ACA were surveyed regarding their proficiency in meeting 32 competencies derived from AMCD's Competencies (e.g., I can discuss my own ethnic/cultural heritage, I can give examples of how stereotypic beliefs about culturally different persons impact the counseling relationship, and I can help clients determine whether a problem stems from racism or biases in others.). Participants were asked to assess and report on three areas for each of the 32 statements: (a) self-perceived competence, (b) adequacy of training received concerning the specific competency, and (c) types of training received. A principal components factor analysis with an oblimin rotation was applied to these data. Results indicated five underlying factors: awareness, knowledge, definitions of terms, racial identity development, and skills. All responses were self-reported.

Although the Holcomb-McCoy study contains a number of methodological limitations (e.g., self-reported attainment of the competencies, insufficient subject-to-item ratio to assure reliable factor analysis findings), the study is a commendable first step in attempting to validate the Competencies. One must wonder, however, if it is wise to advocate the adoption of the Competencies by virtually all professional counseling organizations based on such a miniscule amount of empirical data supporting their validity.


No analysis of the Competencies would be complete without addressing the underlying assumptions and beliefs about race that appear to have influenced the content of the Competencies and their apparent purpose to advocate primarily for African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and Latinos. In fact, many of the Competencies appear to be rooted in what Sleeper (1997, p. 4) refers to as racialism:
 Liberal racism ... assumes that racial differences are so profound that
 they are almost primordial. The term "racialism" is sometimes used to
 denote this belief that racial differences are essential to our
 understandings of ourselves and society.... But the fascination with racial
 differences that prevents many liberals from treating any person with a
 nonwhite racial physiognomy as someone much like themselves only begets
 policies and programs that reinforce nineteenth-century assumptions about
 race that are patently racist. (p. 4)

The Competencies' emphasis on race is an outmoded notion. Race does not provide an adequate explanation of the human condition. Attempts to invoke race as such have been correctly labeled as racist and inadvertently contribute to America's preoccupation with the pigmentation of a person's skin.

Clemmont E. Vontress (as cited in Jackson, 1998, pp. 8, 29), who has been writing and lecturing on diversity-sensitive counseling for more than 30 years, contended that:
 Although the multicultural competencies are well intentioned, they appear
 to be confrontational and suggestive of racial hostilities of the sixties.
 Moreover, they are based on the views of a selective group of professionals
 expressing a specific point of view. In summary, the competencies are
 unrealistic, unattainable, and discouraging to counselors of all ethnic
 backgrounds who strive to be effective counselors to all clients regardless
 of their cultural heritage.

Perhaps the most incisive assessment of the Competencies to date was also offered by Vontress (personal communication, October 21, 1998):
 After reviewing the multicultural competencies and reflecting on my life
 work in the field of multicultural counseling, [ have concluded that the
 Competencies are restricted in their development to the four national
 minority groups: African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and
 Latino Americans as if culture is owned by just these groups ... The
 writers of the multicultural Competencies seem to take a racio-ethnic view
 of culture with an emphasis on differences which bring people apart rather
 than on similarities which bring people together.


The Operationalization of the Multicultural Counseling Competencies (Arredondo et al., 1996) is 44 pages long. It is divided into three sections. The first section includes introductory and historical information as well as a comprehensive explanation of Arredondo and Glauner's (1992) Dimensions of Personal Identity Model (Arredondo, 1994). The second section, which is about 21 pages long, contains the actual multicultural counseling competencies, strategies to achieve the competencies and objectives, and references. The third section includes two bibliographies, definitions, and a self-assessment.

In the first section, under the heading "Preparation of the Existing Document" (Arredondo et al., 1996, p. 3), the Dimensions of Personal Identity Model (Arredondo & Glauner, 1992) is explained. This model "provides a reference point for recognizing the complexity of all persons" (Arredondo et al., 1996, p. 3). The following is a summary of its three dimensions:
 * A Dimension includes: Age, Culture, Ethnicity, Gender, Language, Physical
 Disability, Race, Sexual Orientation, and Social Class.

 * B Dimension includes: Educational Background, Geographic Location,
 Income, Marital Status, Religion, Work Experience, Citizenship Status,
 Military Experience, and Hobbies/Recreational Interests.

 * C Dimension includes: Historical Moments/Eras.

The Dimensions of Personal Identity Model is elegant in that age, culture, ethnicity, gender, language, physical disability, race, sexual orientation, and social class enjoy a parallel status within the model. It is also reassuring to note the recognition that individuals are often assigned to the various categories. Self-definition is not always an option, and as the authors state, "in reality everyone is a `multicultural person.'" These latter points as well as others are subsequently contradicted, however.

The second section, which is the heart of the document, is further subdivided into standards and their explanatory corresponding statements. The standards and explanatory statements are organized into three categories: Counselor Awareness of Own Cultural Values and Biases; Counselor Awareness of Client's Worldview; and, Culturally Appropriate Intervention Strategies. The standards are typically very brief and succinct, whereas the explanatory statements, which accompany each standard, are considerably longer.

As noted earlier, the Competencies are inherently contradictory. In one paragraph, clients are classified accordingly to Dimensions A, B, and C. Later in the same introduction, a distinction is made between "multicultural" which is limited to ethnicity, race, and culture and "diversity" which refers to age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and physical ability or disability (Arredondo et al., 1996). The standards and explanatory statements correspond, for the most part, to the populations that fall within the "multicultural" category and ignore the populations that fall within the "diversity" category. Reading the standards alone would lead the reader to believe that Arredondo et al. (1996) were only concerned with minority group members. Minority groups are limited to "those who are identified as such by the federal government because they are members of a group that is numerically less than that of other groups in the total population. In the United States, individuals are categorized as minorities based on their ethnic/racial group identity" (Arredondo et al., 1996, p. 40).

The standards ignore the concepts found in the Dimensions of Personal Identity Model, as the reader is referred to them only once. The explanatory statements include several references to the A, B and C Dimensions. The 31 standards, for the most part, are limited to addressing issues of ethnicity, race, and culture. The following populations are never addressed in the standards: age, disability, gender, or sexual orientation. Heterosexualism and sexism are each mentioned once. Yet race/racism/racial are mentioned 15 times. The almost exclusive emphasis on ethnicity, race, and culture is reflected in the document's name--the Operationalization of the Multicultural Counseling Competencies. In their present format, the Competencies lack internal consistency and send two contradictory messages to the profession.

Errors of Omission

Because the very standards designed to combat racism are ignoring other culturally distinct groups, a closer look is in order. The distinction between "multicultural" and "diversity," represents the single most serious flaw in the Competencies. According to Arredondo et al. (1996):
 In this revision of the Multicultural Counseling Competencies, a
 distinction is also made between the terms multicultural and diversity.
 Multiculturalism puts the focus on ethnicity, race and culture. Diversity
 refers to other individual, people differences including age, gender,
 sexual orientation, religion, physical ability or disability and other
 characteristics by which someone may prefer to self-define. (p. 2)

There are several profound limitations to the distinction made above. First, and probably most disturbing of all, is the suggestion that those populations that Arredondo et al. (1996) have relegated to the "diversity" category were placed there because diversity refers to other characteristics by which someone may prefer to self-define. This statement is patently inaccurate, since the criterion of self-definition suggests choice. Although, technically speaking, religion may be considered a choice, for many people it is not seen that way. Surely, Arredondo et al. (1996) are not suggesting that age is a matter of choice. The failure of the Competencies to be inclusive is a deficit not easily overcome or ignored.

Moreover, how one is defined and treated by others is just as important as how one chooses to define oneself. For example, ask any Jew who is aboard a hijacked airplane over the Middle East if the terrorists care how the passenger defines himself or herself (Weinrach, 1990; Weinrach & Thomas, 1998). Or, ask any African American who has been targeted by a shopkeeper for close surveillance while in a store. How others perceive an individual may have profound and, at times, tragic effects upon that individual's self-definition.

The notion that the process by which minority group members develop a sense of who they are is derived, in part, from the stereotypical views held by members of the majority is well established. Atkinson et al. (1989, p. 23) speculated that "since the majority of stereotypes about minorities are negative, an inferior sense of self-esteem may develop." Self-definition matters far less than Arredondo et al. (1996) proposed, precisely because of the impact the majority's stereotypical thinking has on the self-concepts of women and minority group members. Even if the distinction were accurate, why should the counseling needs of those who "may prefer to self-define" be excluded from the Competencies?

Second, in bifurcating the population into two distinct groups (multicultural vs. diversity), the Competencies have clearly failed to demonstrate an equal commitment to articulating counseling competencies for a full range of client populations, despite the fact that counselors are morally and ethically obligated to treat all clients without discriminating on the basis of client demographic characteristics. By focusing only on issues of ethnicity, race, and culture, the Competencies fail to acknowledge other important interactions such as those between race and gender. One can address client issues based solely upon race only if race is viewed as the determining factor in each client's life and the source of virtually every concern that might be presented. Third, even if one were to accept this distinction, the list of populations subsumed under diversity is glaringly incomplete. Its disclaimer "includes, but is not limited to" aside, the inclusion of social class would have broadened the agenda to include poor Whites, among others.

The failure of the Competencies to include the counseling needs of women, those with disabilities, and other client populations in the multicultural category is unfortunate (Weinrach & Thomas, 1996), especially since they espouse the notion that "in reality everyone is a `multicultural person'" (Arredondo et al., 1996, p. 8). At the bottom of the hierarchy are those individuals possessing "people differences including age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, physical ability and disability and other characteristics by which someone may prefer to self-define" and on the top are those whose inclusion is based upon "ethnicity, race and culture" (Arredondo et al., 1996, p. 2).

Errors of Commission

Errors of commission were also made. Some standards or explanatory statements should be revised or deleted. The following is included so as to demonstrate the superficial nature of some of the standards. Diversity-sensitive counseling experts are quick to point to the phenomenon of drivers locking their cars' doors when approached by an African-American teenager as proof of the existence of negative stereotypes and racism. Parenthetically, few would suggest that Whites are the only ones who lock their car doors. The standard that relates to this stereotype states: "Recognize their stereotyped reactions to people different than themselves. (e.g., silently articulating their awareness of a negative stereotypical reaction, `I noticed that I locked my car doors when that African American teenager walked by')" (Arredondo et al., 1996, p. 19).

There are four reasons why locking one's car doors is a poor example of a racial stereotype for inclusion in the Competencies and therefore should be deleted. First, the example obscures the point that stereotyping may sometimes be both helpful and unavoidable (Thomas & Weinrach, in press). A better example would be more specific to the job of a counselor and might include the inappropriate use of racial stereotypes in making assumptions about an individual's academic potential based upon the color of his or her skin. Second, the standard is based upon self-talk, not overt behavior. Inappropriate stereotyping is probably more easily attacked and repudiated at the behavioral level than at the sub-vocal level.

Third, this standard flies in the face of common sense and empirical reality. Residents and tourists to the United States have learned to be wary of car jacking, assault, burglary, and murder. Data on crimes committed and those who are victimized (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1996) would suggest that everyone should drive with their doors locked. Fourth, according to Maslow's (1943) needs hierarchy, before needs for esteem and self-actualization can be fulfilled, safety needs must be met. Even if locking one's car doors could be established as being rooted in racism (as well it might be), most people would prefer to be safe and called a racist than jeopardize their perceived safety needs and be called a nonracist. Nothing is served by using an example that creates cognitive dissonance for counselors.

Other standards appear to be an attempt to impose a social activist political agenda on the counseling profession. For example:
 Culturally skilled counselors become actively involved with minority
 individuals outside the counseling setting (e.g., community events, social
 and political functions, celebrations, friendships, neighborhood groups,
 and so forth) so that their perspective of minorities is more than an
 academic or helping exercise. (Arredondo et al., 1996, p. 23)

This standard represents a simplistic solution to the complex issue of how counselors might successfully navigate their way through cultures other than their own. Diversity-sensitive counseling is too important to be reduced to a checklist requiring attending five experiences within the past 3 years, as the explanatory statements suggest (Arredondo et al., 1996, p. 23).

As desirable a goal as cultural awareness is, there are some potentially serious drawbacks to be considered. The value of having friends from many backgrounds notwithstanding, the authors of the Competencies have no right to dictate how counselors live their private as opposed to their professional lives. One does not surrender one's right to associate with whomever one wishes, or avoid whomever one wishes, in one's private life as a function of becoming a professional counselor. Do counselors who are members of minority groups have the same obligation to befriend a member of the majority culture? Imagine what it might feel like being the object of a friendship rooted in fulfilling a Competency standard.

Theoretically, a gentile counselor could meet this particular standard by participating in any five of the following Jewish events during a 3-year period: watch a bris (circumcision); attend Sabbath services; eat inside a succah (booth); install a mezzuza on the doorpost of a Jewish family's home; make a draydel out of clay (a toy top); observe the Jewish dietary laws (keeping kosher); organize a community seder (Passover service and dinner); raise funds for Tay Sachs disease research; or visit Auschwitz--and still not have the slightest idea what it feels like to be a Jew or how to deal with Jewish identity issues. The same can be said for many of the examples given in the standards and their accompanying explanatory statements.

There is a certain invasive, synthetic, and hollow ring to this standard as well. It fails to recognize and respect the fragile insider-outsider relationship between members of minority groups and those who are not members. Although such cross-cultural experiences have been recommended previously (e.g., Heinrich, Corbine, & Thomas, 1990), and would appear to have face validity, one does not necessarily connect and establish rapport with a person from a different culture by attending or even participating in their rituals or religious rites. The nuances of culture are too complex to absorb as a part-time observer. Outsiders and cultural voyeurs are not necessarily welcome in what are often events intended for insiders only.


A major problem with the Competencies is the process by which they were created. For one thing, the Competencies have been so long in the making that they are already obsolete in some places. For another, there appears to be a lack of empirical data establishing the validity of the Competencies, even though there may be a robust literature enumerating what some diversity-sensitive counseling experts speculate may work. At the present time, there is no direct evidence that those who master the Competencies are, or will be, any better counselors than those who do not. Nor is there evidence that: (a) multiple raters would conclude that the same counselors had actually achieved the stated Competencies, (b) the same counselors would be consistent in the attainment of the Competencies from one sitting to the next, (c) Competencies achieved in simulated situations would generalize to real-life situations, or (d) the Competencies, generally, have any construct relationship to what counselors actually do in multicultural counseling settings.

The authors (Arredondo et al., 1996) were apparently satisfied with what would normally be an important, yet inadequate, first step in the development of counselor competencies. That is, members of AMCD's Professional Standards and Certification Committee appear, after an extended period of brainstorming and reviewing earlier versions of the Competencies, to have developed this document. A better idea, of course, would be to have the initial pool of competencies identified by a broad range of academicians, practitioners, administrators, and clients. However, had even an established procedure such as the Delphi method (Dalkey, 1969; Linstone & Turoff, 1975) been used to generate a comprehensive list of competencies, this step would still be only the first of many that would be required to develop a valid set of competencies. The presentation of the Competencies to the counseling profession as a fait-accompli demonstrated disregard, not only for appropriate research methods, but also for the potential value of practitioner input, and may account for some of the considerable resistance the Competencies have thus far encountered

Stephen G. Weinrach, Ph.D., is a professor of Counseling and Human Relations at Villanova University, Villanova, PA, and a fellow of the Albert Ellis Institute in New York. Kenneth R. Thomas, Ed. D., is a professor of Rehabilitation Psychology in the Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education and director, Educational and Psychological Training Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Email:


Just as counselors typically modify their approach to working with clients on the basis of client age, developmental level, intellect, and gender, counselors should continue to take into consideration the extent that a client's culture has on the treatment of specific issues for which the client is seeking help. At a minimum, the Competencies inform the profession of the potential impact of cultural distinctiveness on client social context. Counselors are accustomed to accommodating ambiguity in their professional lives, so living with segments of the Competencies that are conceptually outdated and rooted in antiquated notions of race, may not necessarily dictate their outright rejection. Practitioners are also accustomed to reconciling the pragmatic needs of working with clients with the demands made of them by ivory-tower experts.

Were AMHCA to endorse the Competencies, there would be a significant impact on the education and subsequent certification and licensing of mental health counselors. The adoption of the Competencies by CACREP will almost certainly influence the development and emphasis of the counselor education curriculum beyond that which is already required. The licensing and certification processes for mental health counselors could be affected by whatever criteria are applied in the area of multicultural counseling competencies to secure or maintain state licensure or professional certification.

Nowhere in the Competencies have counselors been called upon to assess the potential risks perpetuated in the name of multiculturalism. Although some groups are becoming increasing assimilated, others are retreating into their own very insular communal lifestyles. Multiculturalism, like any political or social ideology, when taken to its outermost limit, can threaten the well-being of individuals and society. Forced clitoral mutilation, euphemistically referred to as female circumcision, is just one example of a cultural tradition that is currently practiced occasionally in the United States and by contemporary American standards is considered abusive (Etzioni, 2001). Practitioners have long known that sometimes they may have to intentionally violate a professional standard so as to protect a client from physical or emotional harm. Satel (2000) has enumerated several examples of the misapplication of multicultural counseling principles to the treatment of clients in a variety of mental health clinical settings, the counselor preparation program curriculum, and the content of ACA convention sessions. Perhaps, exaggerating the significance of ethnicity, race, and culture while minimizing potentially more important psychological causal factors is the greatest risk to client welfare.

Although social activism is an important societal function, it poses certain risks for the counseling profession. It is one thing when counselors advocate for change in their host institutions but quite another when they spend their time on the job lobbying state legislators for increased welfare benefits for the poor or lead removal projects for urban housing. As desirable and necessary as making changes upstream are, if counselors do not work downstream, who will? Does anyone really believe that the need to provide direct services to clients will be reduced substantially by working upstream? Were counselors to stop counseling, the void would be filled by other, and possibly less well-educated, mental health professionals.

As of November 1, 2001, AMHCA has not endorsed the Competencies (personal communication, Mark Hamilton, November 1, 2001), so that those who are only members of AMHCA are not obligated to follow them. However, the Competencies have been endorsed by six other ACA divisions and two APA divisions (Arredondo, personal communication, October 20, 1999; S. Nisenoff, personal communication, August 17, 1999). AMHCA members who also hold membership in any of those divisions of ACA or APA presumably are obligated to follow the Competencies as a function of their dual membership.

Were ACA to adopt the Competencies, its Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice (1995) would likely be amended so as to require its members to comply with the Competencies. Thus, a member's failure to follow the Competencies could be considered an ethical violation. (An ACA member presently can be expelled from the Association for violating its Code of Ethics.) There is already a body of literature that equates ethical conduct with displaying multicultural counseling skills (Herlihy, Sue, Forester-Miller, Lee, & Corey, 1996; Pedersen, 1995, 1997). Arguably, this situation already exists for members of those ACA and APA divisions that have endorsed the Competencies. Kovacs (Saeman & Thomas, 2001) warned his APA colleagues that by formally adopting guidelines such as those devoted to multicultural counseling, mental health professionals are likely to increase their risk of malpractice claims by clients who believed that their issues of cultural diversity were inadequately addressed.

It would be inappropriate for the Compentencies to be universally adopted because there is a lack of consensus regarding their need, a paucity of research to support the efficacy of their use in improving the practice of counseling, and a dearth of information about how to implement them, either in the classroom or in the field. Moreover, even if adopted, the Competencies would exist more on paper than in actually modifying the behavior of counselors and students. Ultimately, each practitioner will decide for herself or himself, on the basis of the realities of those clients with whom they work, whether the Competencies make sense; facilitate client growth; and are worth the effort. Until the counseling profession reconciles the inconsistencies inherent in the Competencies and the flaws in their underlying philosophy (of the primordial nature of race), practitioners must live with considerable ambiguity. Trying to mandate a uniform code for multicultural behavior and social activism on the counseling profession based upon the Competencies makes about as much sense as trying to legislate a uniform moral code on the American public.


Those who have criticized the Competencies have risked being labeled racist by some of the Competencies most outspoken advocates (D'Andrea & Daniels, 1997). The charge of racism represents a closed or circular system of logic. It goes something like this: Surely you agree with the need to endorse the 1996 version of the Competencies. If you do not, the only plausible reason for opposing their endorsement would be rooted in racist attitudes. Therefore, if you disagree, you must be a racist. If you deny being a racist (denial), or are not in touch with any racist motives (repression), that only proves that you are a racist. Supporting the Competencies is the only way you could prove that you are not really a racist. This line of reasoning only works if White remorse can be successfully invoked. According to Sleeper (1997, p. 62), "those who condemn whites the most flamboyantly tend to be those who know that they can count on a deep reservoir of white remorse and goodwill." Attributing nefarious motives and behaviors may be intended to discredit critics and possibly intimidate them. After all, who wants to be labeled a racist or an oppressor? In the long run, this strategy serves to restrict open professional dialogue, inhibit research, and generate continued resistance. The future of providing high-quality counseling services to culturally distinct clients is bright as new models of conceptualizing human similarities and differences emerge. The next wave of research will likely focus on unity--not diversity. Kennedy (1997) offered an important insight into what the future might look like:
 The fact that race matters, however, does not mean that ... race must
 continue to matter in the future. Nor does the brute sociological fact that
 race matters dictate what one's response to that fact should be. (p. 64)

Regrettably, for the most part, the Competencies look backward. It is incumbent upon mental health counselors as well as their colleagues in other ACA divisions to look forward and determine, on a case by case basis, the extent to which following any aspects of the Competencies will likely enhance the quality of the counseling services they provide.


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The authors express their appreciation to Ellen Finkelstein, Morris Jackson, Hilda Minkoff, and several other colleagues who wished to remain anonymous for their valuable suggestions on content of an earlier draft although the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those reviewers views. Sylvia Nisenoffi ACA's librarian, and Mark Hamilton, AMHCA's Executive Director, were instrumental in providing valuable information for this article. The authors are grateful to Amber Ablan, Laureen Clemente, Megan Flynn Johnston, Thomas E. Polzin, and Cynthia Cole for their important editorial suggestions and research assistance. Esther Weinrach was instrumental in generating some of the ideas that appear in this article.
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Author:Thomas, Kenneth R.
Publication:Journal of Mental Health Counseling
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2002
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