Learning Journal for Level 3 Counselling Studies
Reflections on Diversity
Today we discussed diversity, identifying and reflecting on diversity within personal relationships and within the group. The topic is more complex than I first thought and goes far beyond the common diversity issues of gender, race, religion, and disability. Diversity runs much deeper than this and also comprises diversity of personalities, experiences, beliefs, and reactions to events. It is important to recognise such diversity if empathic understanding is to be provided to clients. Without recognising diversity, it would be all too easy to impose our own thoughts and feelings onto a client, especially if the client is experiencing something we have experienced. It is human nature to look for similarities and to identify with others; it is at the core of socialisation and is known as ‘homophily’ (Ingram and Morris, 2007). As counsellors, therefore, the challenge comes in identifying difference and being ok with it – working with it, rather than being threatened by it. The counsellor who can’t do this is merely placing more conditions of worth onto the client, which is incongruent with the person-centred concept of unconditional positive regard.
It was interesting to see how group members interpreted the concept of diversity, with the various interpretations illustrating the importance of the concept. It highlighted that most people have experienced some sense of discrimination based on an actual or perceived difference. I used my own experience of diversity within skills practice, which helped me to establish the possible needs of clients attending counselling because of diversity issues. My example was how I have always been ‘different’ to my family and how Christmas really highlighted to me that I will never ‘fit in’ with them. This makes me feel like I don’t even have a family – I don’t belong, I have been rejected, I’m not good enough, and I’m losing out on the joys of having a loving family. These are feelings that clients from diverse groups are likely to experience, whether they have a clearly visible difference (i.e. physical disability) or they just don’t feel like they belong (i.e. family exclusion).
Nevertheless, I remain aware that there will be some diversity issues I might find it difficult to empathise with. For example, one member of the group discussed the impact of having a son with Autism. Since I have never experienced some of the challenges associated with this, such as having people question my mothering skills, I noticed that my efforts to empathise created a feeling of sympathy. I felt for my colleague and wanted a deeper understanding, but found that lack of experience did limit the depth at which I could show empathy. The same applied when someone shared an experience of racial discrimination. As a white female, I have never experienced the discrimination that my Hindu colleague has. In such cases, the skill of active listening becomes paramount if I am to gain empathic understanding and be able to demonstrate unconditional positive regard. Their story, like everyone elses, is unique and only by accepting them from their own frame of reference can I fully appreciate their experience of diversity or discrimination.
Ingram, P. and Morris, M.W. (2007). Do people mix at mixers? Structure, homophily, and “life of the party.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 52: 558-585.