The value of diversity has been proven over and over again both in healthcare and the broader world of business. Industries with higher levels of representation are more accessible to the general public. They also dependably come up with creative solutions to their problems.
And yet wanting diversity and achieving it are two very different things. Minority representation in counselling is currently minuscule.
In this article, we look at why that needs to change, and how it might happen. Read on to learn more about the importance of diversity in counselling and therapy.
It’s easier for a counsellor to empathise with their patients when they understand where they are coming from. Culture shapes life experience so significantly that it may be difficult for people outside a member group to fully understand all of their patient’s experiences.
Of course, counselling and therapy are sciences, and as such, they try to be as objective as possible – even while dealing with the most subjective element of human experience (the mind). A discerning patient needn’t necessarily quiz a potential counsellor’s life experience before making their decision.
Well, your qualifications are impeccable, but before I make my decision, might you be willing to describe your quinceañera for me?
Because even if the counsellor had a quinceañera, they don’t necessarily have the same life experience as the patient. Maybe they grew up very wealthy while the patient grew up poor. Maybe the opposite was true.
Understanding a patient’s culture gives the counsellor or therapist an easy shorthand they might be able to use, but it can’t replace quality care.
The perception of accessibility
Getting mental health care is significantly less stigmatized than it used to be. People now are more comfortable than ever talking about their struggles with stress, anxiety, depression, and so on. This cultural shift has helped take down one of the biggest historic barriers to care.
However, the question of accessibility may still be prevalent for minority groups. Sure, there is nothing wrong with getting mental health care, but do I really want to get it from someone that seems completely different from me?
When the therapist looks completely different from everyone you’ve ever had a meaningful relationship with, it can be difficult to make the necessary connection with them. It’s especially hard to approach them for the first time.
Diversity in counselling and healthcare, in general, makes the industry more approachable for everyone.
Diversity of opinion
Obviously, a person’s race or even cultural experiences do not guarantee anything about their mindset or opinion. However, it is fair to say that experience shapes the way people think. It follows that when an industry is shaped primarily by people from a certain background, other perspectives are not being adequately represented.
This has been proven time and time again in the business world. Companies that prioritize diversifying their leadership are associated with higher levels of creativity, probability, and overall morale. While healthcare is different from other industries – the goal theoretically being patient outcomes over profit – the results of diverse leadership may well follow the same trajectory.
That’s all fine, you think, but you surely aren’t suggesting that only Black counsellors should treat Black people? Should only White counsellors treat White people? And so on?
No. That would be a monstrous suggestion. Diversity initiatives certainly should never suggest the superiority of any racial group. Counselling, like all jobs, should be done by those most qualified to do it.
Diversity in counselling can result in all of the benefits we described, but there is also a psychological benefit simply to the existence of diversity in mental health care.
This benefit is harder to quantify, but perhaps just as important as anything described to this point. Diversity in counselling, healthcare, and other key industries indicates to the population that everyone is welcome, and everyone can follow their ideal career path if they are willing to put in the work.
It says all that, huh?
Well. Not in so many words. But yes, that is the essence of representation. When one person does something, it makes it that much easier for members of their social group to do the same.
It’s also worth noting that people often wind up serving members of their community anyway. Sometimes it’s for good reasons: they want to. Other times the reasons are more complicated.
The newly minted counsellor goes back to their old neighbourhood to set up an office. Because American communities are often geographically segregated, they wind up serving members of their racial group by default.
Complicated, but also a step toward progress. Counsellors, regardless of their racial/religious/gender/sexual background are not responsible for fixing discrimination in real estate. Their job isn’t to fix discrimination at all. It’s to be an excellent counsellor for anyone and everyone who walks through their door.
Barriers to entry
None of this is to say that the journey toward more equitable representation in psychology will be easy. While minority representation has increased recently in the field, it is still primarily dominated by white men and women.
Representation often begets representation. To emphasise, it’s easier for people to decide to do something when they see others they view as being like them doing it.
To that end, diversity initiatives at the university level may help broaden the range of people who enter the mental health field. Scholarships and even simple outreach can go a long way toward improving representation within the industry for years to come.
Ellen Diamond, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.
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