Tag Archives: relativism

ACA Ethical Statement – Multiculturalism

In my opinion, having an awareness of multiculturalism and diversity are a foremost in my mind as being important to our success at developing healthy working relationships with clients.  The word culture appears 8 times in the American Counseling Association (ACA) Code of Ethics.  Specifically, it suggests that “counselors recognize that culture affects the manner in which clients’ problems are defined.  Clients’ socioeconomic and cultural experiences are considered when diagnosing mental disorders.”  (ACA, 2005, p. 19)  Ivey, Ivey & Zalaquett (2010) broadly define multiculturalism and diversity to include “race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, language, spiritual orientation, age, physical ability/disability, socioeconomic status, geographical location, and other factors.”  (Ivey, Ivey, & Zalaquett, 2010, p. 43)  Given this broad contextual definition of culture, and the mandate of the ACA, we can deduce that multiculturalism should be an integral part of every counseling interaction we undertake.

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Some would suggest that the only alternative is functioning as a culturally encapsulated counselor who defines reality according to one set of cultural assumptions, shows insensitivity to cultural variations, makes little effort to accommodate the behavior of others, and resists adaptation and rejects alternatives.  (Corey, Schneider-Corey, & Callanan, 2007, p. 117)  While it is suitable difficult to criticize multiculturalism in moderation, at its extremes I would suggest that multiculturalism can be detrimental.  Specifically, cultural relativism presents a dimension of diversity that, when examined closely, undermines the validity and the usefulness of some multicultural pursuits.  The influential American anthropologist Ruth Benedict, in her seminal work entitled Patterns of Culture (1934), described cultural relativism:

No man ever looks at the world with pristine eyes.  He sees it edited by a definite set of customs and institutions and ways of thinking.  Even in his philosophical probings he cannot go behind these stereotypes…  The life-history of the individual is first and foremost an accommodation to the patterns and standards traditionally handed down in his community.  From the moment of his birth the customs into which he is born shape his experience and behavior.  By the time he can talk, he is the little creature of his culture, and by the time he is grown and able to take part in its activities, its habits are his habits, its beliefs his beliefs, its impossibilities his impossibilities.  Every child that is born into his group will share them with him, and no child born into one on the opposite side of the globe can ever achieve the thousandth part.  (Benedict, 1934, p. 2-3)

To most, that makes sense, and I wager that most would agree with the above statement.  However, consider this.  “If all morality is relative, then what moral objection could one make to the Nazi holocaust, to the economic deprivation of a Latin American underclass, or to a militaristic nation’s unleashing nuclear devastation on others?  And what would be wrong with conducting painful experiments on young children, using them for case studies on the long-term psychological effects of mutilation?  In a world where no moral court of appeals exists, might makes right.  The only appeal can be to power.”  (Holmes, 1984, p. 17, 18)

Making cultures equally valuable makes them equally valueless.  The point, if there is one, is that we need to seek out and obtain a balance between multiculturalism and ethnocentrism.  If we go too far in either extreme, we do so at our own peril.

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American Counseling Association. (2005). ACA code of ethics. Retrieved from http://www.counseling.org/Files/FD.ashx?guid=ab7c1272-71c4-46cf-848c-f98489937dda

Benedict, R. (1934). Patterns of culture. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Corey, G., Schneider-Corey, M., & Callanan, P. (2007). Issues and ethics in the helping professions (8th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Holmes, A. F. (1984). Ethics. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Ivey, A. E., Ivey, M. B., & Zalaquett, C. P. (2010). Intentional interviewing & counseling (7th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Ponton, R. F., & Duba, J. D. (2009, Winter). The ACA code of ethics: Articulating counseling’s professional covenant. Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD, 87(1), 117-121. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.bellevue.edu:80/login?url=http://proquest.umi.com.ezproxy.bellevue.edu/pqdweb?did=1618074141&sid=2&Fmt=2&clientId=4683&RQT=309&VName=PQD