Because culture has such a huge influence on every aspect of our personalities, it can have a tremendous impact on interactions between counselors and clients. Most importantly, differences in the cultural heritage of the counselor and the client can lead to misunderstandings in the interactions between them. Since counseling is based on a relationship of understanding and trust, such issues that are based on culture can be disastrous.
Culture influences everything that we do. All of our assumptions about what people are like and how they should behave have at least been influenced by the culture in which we have grown up. When we interact with people, we expect them to behave in ways that would be appropriate to the culture in which we, ourselves, have grown up.
When counselors and clients interact with one another, they each expect the other to act in culturally appropriate ways. This becomes a problem if the two are from culturally different backgrounds. Let us think of two possible examples of this. Let us imagine, for example, a counselor who has grown up in the dominant culture of the United States. This counselor has a client who grew up in a non-Western culture. In the client’s culture, it is disrespectful to look someone in the eye. Out of respect, the client does not look at the counselor, but the counselor perceives this to be a sign of evasiveness or shame. As another example, the counselor shares the general Western idea that individualism is natural and collectivism is not. The client believes in the greater importance of the group relative to the individual. This makes it hard for them to interact well because the counselor has one set of goals in mind (getting the client to achieve personal desires) while the client has another set (adapting to group needs).
It is in these types of ways that cultural differences can affect counselor-client interactions. They can cause the counselor and the client to misunderstand one another’s intentions. This can be very bad because it can make it impossible for the two to work together effectively.