Notes for an essay on diversity and counselling for the counselling diploma:
From a person-centred perspective, diversity is something to be recognised yet not recognised. Let me explain my thoughts. A client arrives in the counselling room for the first time:
1. In a wheel chair
2. Dressed unkempt
3. Looking decidedly unhappy
Focusing on diversity could lead to all sorts of misconceptions.
The wheel chair means disability. But, what sort? Permanent or temporary? Has the client a permanent disability, being unable to use their legs? Or have they had an accident, which resulted in breaking one or both legs, leaving them temporarily unable to walk? I need to have unconditional positive regard for this client. Focusing on diversity could lead me to initially make presumptions regarding the wheel chair.
Being dressed unkempt I could assume the client has little money. Linking with the wheel chair I could wrongly assume he is unable to work, being on various government benefits.
Looking decidedly unhappy may lead to me thinking he is depressed. When, it could be they have (Bells Palsy? … Not sure of correct term) being not able to control their facial muscles. Otherwise they may be smiling.
Admittedly these are perhaps extreme examples. They are used to illustrate the need to be aware of diversity, yet to look beyond it to see and be with the individual.
As a person-centred counsellor my desire is to be with my client in all his diversity and uniqueness. I emphasise “his” diversity. I must recognise any diversity, not how I could assume it is for my client, but how he sees and feels it. I must have empathy for all the client brings, the subtle and the more obvious, the open and the hidden.
Whether the diversity is disability or any other, such as sexual, class, race, culture, age, the principle outlined above is the same. I recognise any diversity or difference of the client, having unconditional positive regard, putting aside any prejudices I may have. Which leads to congruence and self awareness.
As much as we all might like to feel we are not prejudice in any way, because of upbringing, past experiences some will be present. Prejudice is a very emotive word, often used in a negative context. This is perhaps why it can be hard to admit in oneself. Taking the meaning as one who prejudges it is something we are all prone to.
Prejudice can be very damaging in thinking that all (a current thought by some political viewpoints) Muslims either are fanatical terrorists or potential terrorists. Which has no foundation of truth.
Prejudice can also be slightly less innocuous. For example, all Goths only like certain music. They would not wish to be associated with or thought to like classical music. Again, no real evidence for this.
Through self awareness I come to understand and recognise the prejudices I have. I am more able then to put them aside, so less influencing the counselling relationship. This also leads to “edge of awareness”.
More tomorrow. Thoughts welcome.