School Counselling Research Paper Sample

Cultural Sensitivity in School Counselling

School counselors have a diverse role to play in the school environment and several areas of competency to master. Primary school counselors manage the psychological health of the students and guide the school management about students’ behavior. Students in schools come from diverse cultures and demonstrate diverse behavior traits, perception, and interpretation of their environments. Culture presents several challenges to students and affects their social, academic, and psychological well-being. The purpose of this study is to explore the multicultural competence of school counselors. The study explores the effect of culture on the academic, social, and psychological well-being of the students and provides a framework to assist the conflicted students and counselors. Culture affects the academic, social, and psychological health of students making it a key area of interest for school counselors.

Culture implies to the pattern of human behavior and includes thoughts, beliefs, communications, actions, values, customs, and institutions based on racial, ethnic, social, and religious groups. Culture is also used to refer to special groups such as Lesbians, gays, and the bisexual. Therefore, every person has a culture that affects their understanding, perception, and interpretation of their environments. The United States is founded by immigrants and it comprises a widely diverse cultural setup presenting key advantages and challenges. A major advantage of cultural diversity is the diversity and uniqueness of ideas. A key challenge of culture is the conflicting ideas, values, beliefs, and behaviors. School counselors must be culturally competent or they should understand the traits and characteristics of diverse cultures. Cultural competency will enable the therapists to create relationships and assist students from diverse cultures. For example, school environments in the United States include students of Hispanic, Asian, Jewish, Native American, African American, and Latino American ethnicities. The students also come from diverse religions mainly Buddhism, Muslims, Jews, and Christianity. Therefore, the students have explicit diverse cultural traits, which causes subsequent behavior and values difference.

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Cultural competency, therefore, refers to cultural sensitivity and understanding as well as ensuring equality and ethical relationships with students from diverse students in the school environment. Cultural barriers prevent students from communication with school counselor, fellow students, and teachers, and that damages their school performance and experience. Personal culture sensitivity is the first step in multicultural competency. School counselors must ensure that personal beliefs and values do not bias their judgments, attitudes, and decisions while dealing with students from diverse cultures.

The notion of cultural barriers, therefore, refers to the social limits created by the difference in cultures mainly between the minor and major groups. Cultural barriers in the school environment include religious stereotypes, biases, communication or language barriers, bullying, social difference, and discrimination based on race, gender, color, sex, and religious background. Cultural barriers result from the rise in immigration in the United States and the explosive growth of mixed racial and ethnic communities (Urban & Orbe, 2010). The diversity affects every aspect of students’ lives, including their beliefs and values and dictates their behavior. The counselor must respect and understand the diversity and avoid imposing personal values and beliefs on the client, which might lead to a broken and ineffective relationship. Cultural sensitivity for school counselors is, therefore, a critical step in managing the psychological health of students in the school environment. Psychological health of students in the school and community environment directly affects their social interactions and academic performances.

Literature Review

In his research, Schmidt (2011) notes that multicultural counselors must cope with the diversity in schools. Schmidt’s (2011) discussion settles on the role of multicultural school counselor’s interaction with Gay, Bisexual, and Lesbians in the school environment. As noted earlier in the definition of culture, any special group with distinctive characteristic forms a culture. Multicultural counseling does not settle the focus primary on race or color but on a variety of cultural factors that affect the well-being of students in their school life. Even though the United States law accepts LGBT, the social attitudes towards the group have not changed to acceptable standards. The social victimization towards LGBT students also spreads to schools and the school environment, leading to bullying and isolation of the students.

Students categorized as gay or lesbian are isolated from the community and fellow students. Such students also lack or fail to seek psychological support due to fear of victimization. The isolation and bullying combined affect the psychological well-being of the students as well as their social interactions and academic performances. Competent multicultural counselors have the responsibility to provide equal standards to the LGBT students without stigmatization based on their sexual orientations. The society is sensitive and discriminative against unique sexual orientations and, in this case, the LGBT. In a study involving University students studying counseling psychology and utilizing questionnaires as a form of data correction, Schmidt (2011) successfully argues that LGBT legal equality does not equate to social acceptance. The study was spread across diverse demographics, including age, race, religions and social classes. The questions explored their knowledge on the interactions with LGBT students and problems they encounter. The study concludes that counselors and the entire school community must be more sensitive to unique cultures. School counselors must also improve their knowledge of LGBT.

The research paper on color-blind theory application in a multicultural environment by Neville, Spanierman, & Doan (2006) also highlights the issue of cultural competence. The study done on human psychology majors highlights the need for improved cultural awareness by psychologists in practice. The study is relevant to the topic as the ability of school counselors to understand students’ behavior and cultural interference depends on their knowledge of the culture. The study involved 130 participants, mainly applied psychology students and a group of mental health workers. The study aimed at realizing the application of race and racial color-blindness into the context of counseling and multicultural competencies. Neville, Spanierman, & Doan (2006) have concluded in the study that there is denial in communities, schools, and psychological field of structural racism in the United States. The denial of the cultural factor leads to less knowledge and strategies to handle the destructive vice. The researchers argue that the color-blind ideology leads to less consideration of the impact of the patient’s culture in counseling (Neville, Spanierman, & Doan, 2006). Although color-blindness or treating all people equally is a good practice, it has a negative effect in a multicultural society. High number of students showing color-blind ideology demonstrated low conceptualization of multicultural factors in counseling.

The study and its findings are relevant to the topic since counselors in the school environment may be tempted to apply a color-blindness theory and disregard color and race. However, color affects a large group of black Americans and leads to racial discrimination. For example, racial profiling targets mainly targets individuals of color. School counselors must consider the impact of color as a cultural effect on the well-being and behavior of the students. African American students may suffer from association with drugs and crime purely based on their skin color. Applying color-blindness in practice alienates and fails to consider the main factors affecting the students’ psychological health.

In their research paper, Mayorga, Furgerson, Cook, & Wardle (2013) note that the perception of being multiculturally competent is different from applying the actual theory into practice. Culture shapes the understanding, perception, interpretation, and behavior of every person. Culture, therefore, can influence the psychological health of individuals. The study aims to examine the need for school counselors to examine their cultural competency including knowledge, skills, and attitudes about multicultural competency. The researchers utilized a quantitative research approach in the study of 134 participants all of whom had taking careers in mental health. The research found that 43% of the respondents had a multicultural training over two years ago. Utilizing a qualitative approach the researchers also found that 90% of the mental health workers described themselves as multiculturally competent. However, 68% did not feel competent to describe the white racial identity and 84% did not feel competent on topics concerning racism. Moreover, 87.1% and 90.6% felt incompetent in the areas of discrimination and stereotypes respectively. Mayorga et al. (2013) conclude that the impact of multicultural competency is overlooked, and counselors need more training.

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The study is relevant to the topic as culture affects school counselors and students equally. Incompetent cultural counselors cannot understand and assist students suffering from cultural factors conflicts such as stereotypes or discriminations. Culture has a strong impact on the academic and social performance of the students and their mental health. Culture defines the behaviors, values, beliefs, and social life of students. School counselors must be cultural competent to understand and assist students facing cultural diversity challenges in the school environment.

In another research of the problem in question, Lee (2005) explores multicultural competency factors relating to students mainly in urban areas. Students in urban areas face far greater challenges than students in local areas do. Rather than presenting a case study, the article by Lee (2005) explores some of the challenges that students face in an urban environment. Such challenges include color discrimination, poverty, crime, transportation challenges, environmental pollution, social class differences, racial profiling, broken communities and families as well as inequalities in access to healthcare and education. The combination of these challenges affects the psychological health of the students and their social behavior (Lee, 2015). The cultural diversity in urban schools also creates a challenge for the students as they recognize themselves according to their cultures and segregate into groups. Lee (2005) highlights that cultural sensitivity is key to linking up with the students and helping them make correct decisions. Lee (2015) concludes that the cultural diversity in urban areas and challenges accompanying it require counselors to think outside the norm and become more sensitive to culture.

The article does not comprise a study, but it will be helpful in exploring the issue of multicultural counseling such as in rural and urban areas. Children in urban areas are more exposed to cultural barriers and subsequent effects on mental health as well as social and academic performance. School counselors serving urban schools must be hypersensitive to cultural differences and they must create free bonds with the students to open up communication flow. Multicultural competency for counselors begins with understanding of personal culture, attitudes, biases, and skills.

William’s research (2010) explores multicultural counseling from a similar idea as the rest of the authors, mainly targeting the knowledge of the counselors. William (2010) notes that with the increasing diversity of the population of United States, schools are in urgent need of competent multicultural counselors. However, the standards for multicultural competency in the United States are not well developed and integrated into the school curriculums in the training of therapists. Multicultural knowledge is not well disseminated by the therapists in practice that makes culture challenge in schools. The Multicultural Counseling and Training Skills Survey Revised (MCCTS-R), is the only poll currently developed to test the cultural competency of counselors (William, 2010). The study, therefore, aims at exploring the perceived multicultural competency skills of the counselors and making the recommendation using the MCCTS-R as a framework.

The study sampled school psychologists across three districts with diverse levels of accreditation starting with a degree. The study involved 300 participants, even though the actual number needed was 169 participants. A mixed research approach was utilized in the study and questioners from the MCCTS-R were used to test the perceived multicultural competency if the group. The study had found that school counselor’s confidentiality perceived themselves competent in multicultural terminologies and skills. However, school counselors were least knowledgeable in racial identities development and knowledge. William (2010) concludes that school counselors and the counseling curriculum must increase cultural knowledge acquisition. The study also recommends an increase in training, workshops, and materials to expose school counselors to cultural diversity knowledge.

The study is relevant to the topic and it covers the issue of multicultural competency by school counselors in depth. Culture is the biggest challenge that schools in the United States face where racial tension is the main challenge. As noted earlier, culture affects behavior, values, and perception of students. A student’s behavior, values, and beliefs can be explained from a cultural perspective and pinned to social behavior and academic performance. It is critical for the counselors to be culturally competent and keep up with trends and diverging cultures in the school environment.

The American Counseling Association lays out ethical codes that govern the conduct of the counselor towards the patients. The code explores several key areas of the relations between therapist and patients as well as the limits. The ACA code covers areas including counseling relationship, confidentiality, resolving conflicts, privacy, privileged communication, professional responsibility and patient evaluation, assessment and interpretation of data (ACA Code of Ethics, 2006). A key area of interest in the ACA Code of Ethics (2006) is the guidelines involving privacy, respect, and confidentiality of information. The code states that therapists must respect the cultural meanings of patients and ensure privacy and confidentiality of shared meanings regardless of their personal opinions.

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The article by the American Counseling Association is not a research paper but it is an equally important and relevant part of studying students’ culture and counselors’ cultural competency. Competent Cultural counselors must adhere to a certain code of ethics. This code must ensure that patients feel assured of data confidentiality in a counseling session involving a patient and counselor from diverse cultures. Multicultural competency in school environment includes cultural sensitivity and respect to cultural diversity. It also includes the knowledge of handling different cultures and their terminologies. The ACA code of ethics is, therefore, an aspect of multicultural competency and provides the counselors with a legal and ethical framework in practice.

In his research, Holcomb-McCoy (2005) highlights that counselors rank themselves competent in cultural terminologies but less competent in multicultural knowledge. The study involved 209 school counselors all accredited by the American Counseling Association. The purpose of the study was to use the Multicultural Counseling Competence and Training Survey-Revised tool to measure the multicultural skills, knowledge, and competence of the therapists. The results of the study were interpreted purely in the perception of the counselors of their multicultural competency skills.

A mixed research method was utilized in the study, including questionnaires from the Multicultural Counseling Competence and Training Survey-Revised (MCCT-R) to test counselor’s perceptions. The study found that professional counselors indicated low confidence in all areas of multicultural competency. The areas include knowledge, awareness, and terminologies. Professional counselors considered themselves competent in the multicultural awareness and terminologies and less competent in multicultural knowledge mainly involving racial identity (Holcomb-McCoy, 2005). Similar results are found by William (2010) in his analysis of perceptions of counselors of their multicultural skills. Holcomb-McCoy (2005) concludes that school counselors’ multicultural skills rank lower than their perceived understanding or knowledge. Considering the cultural diversity of the school environments, school counselors must strive to increase their knowledge of diverse cultures mainly in terms of race and traditions.

The study by Holcomb-McCoy (2005) is relevant to the topic since school counselors’ perception of their skills in multicultural counseling fails to reflect on their actual knowledge when tested. The disparities mean that school counselors do not understand students’ culture and its impact on behavior, mental health, academic performance, and social interactions. The Multicultural Counseling Competence and Training Survey-Revised (MCCT-R) is the only widely accepted tool in testing the multicultural knowledge and competency of professional counselors. The tool and recommendation provided by Holcomb-McCoy (2005) will be critical in developing the actual research paper and testing personal knowledge on students’ culture.

In his research, Matsumoto (2007) notes that human behavior results from three main factors that are basic human nature, culture or social roles, and identity. The interesting part of the study by Matsumoto (2007) is the fact that using social roles, culture shapes a person’s values, beliefs, norms, interpretation, and subsequent behavior. Human nature and identity are aspects of culture, and they develop because of exposure to a cultural style or traits.

The study by Matsumoto (2007) highlights human behavior as a development due to exposure to a certain type of environment. Identities and personalities are, therefore, aspects of culture that shape human behavior rather than factors parallel to culture that influence human behavior. As noted earlier and in Matsumoto’s (2007) argument, culture is a diverse term and it reflects on race, color, religion, values, and even groups with special attributes such as the LGBT.

The study by Matsumoto (2007) exposes therapist to a diversified type of approach and adds more elements to determinants of human behavior. An approach focused on understanding students’ culture to develop multicultural skills is critical to the study topic. The study is, therefore, relevant to the topic as it offers an external perspective of culture as a primary factor, influencing students’ behavior.


The study explores multicultural competency skills of counselors dealing with the diversity of the school environment.


The study will consider data input from sixty individuals. The study will involve three groups, thus three samples of data that are twenty high school students, twenty high school teachers with past training on multi-cultural issues, and twenty professional practicing counselors. The purpose of the three samples is to analyze culture understanding and effect from three different angles and create a recommendation that reflects all involved parties. Twenty high schools will provide an understanding of the impact of culture in an actual environment that counselors fail to capture in a simulation. The high school students are at the adolescent stage that makes them more vulnerable to cultural stimuli in their environments. The students also demonstrate emotional responses to problems in their environments. The students’ age does not have a gap of more than three years, and they have a clear understanding of culture and aspects of culture in their environment. The students must also reflect cultural diversity as experienced in the school environment, including different religions, values, beliefs, color, race, and special groups such as LGBT. The high school sample must also be gender balanced with no gender occupying more than 70% of the total sample number.

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Twenty teachers or school staff will be sourced from two schools and have a past training on cultural issues. The survey will be on the voluntary basis, and data captured will reflect on personal opinions of each teacher. The experience must be more than two years, and the age gap is not limited to greater encouragement for older teachers to participate. The demographic composition of the study must be balanced with respect to age, color, race, religion, and social class. The professional counselors must be registered with the American Counselors Association and demonstrate at least one year experience. Other factors such as age, race, color, social class, and religion will reflect that of the second group. The group is critical to the study as it will enable comparison of data from the experienced group to that of teaching staff and finally to that of high school students as the target subjects of the study.

Apparatus and Materials

The study will utilize interviews and questionnaires for the two groups comprising the high school students and teachers. The study will employ the Multicultural Counseling Competence and Training Survey-Revised (MCCT-R) by Holcomb-McCoy to measure the perception of professional counselors on their grip on multicultural counseling knowledge. Two different sets of questionnaires will be used for the high school students and the teachers with each focused on target data required from the participants. The questionnaire for the students will test their basic knowledge of culture, cultural affiliations, and problematic factors that they encounter in their environments. The questionnaire will test the teachers’ knowledge of diverse cultures, their beliefs, values and noted challenges as well as their subsequent impact on students’ behavior. For example, teachers must have noted that African American students react negatively to racial profiling. The teachers must then work to destroy racial discrimination in the school environment.

Research Design

An exploratory research approach will be utilized in the ethnographic study where the researcher will attempt to find a relationship or similarity in the data. The study aims to capture large volumes of data from the variables. Therefore, the study will utilize a mixed research approach comprising both the qualitative and quantitative data methods. The qualitative research approach will mainly be used when dealing with high school students. Qualitative research allows space for a wide and unstructured data that is expected from the high school sample. I will use a qualitative research approach for the two senior groups that are the high school teachers and the professional and practicing therapists. Data from the two groups is expected to be structured and organized, making to possible to draw meaningful patterns and make conclusions.


I will conduct free and open interviews with the high school students to test their cultural knowledge and understand of the impact of culture on their lives. To ensure clarity of responses, I will employ questionnaires to test the individual knowledge of the students and cultural interference visible in their environments. Permission will be obtained from parents and all relevant authorities before conducting the research. The data from the three samples will be corrected each at a time. The interviews will be open ended and let the students express their opinions and values openly.

Questionnaire questions for the High school students (examples)

  1. What is culture and what factors do you think constitute your culture?
  2. Do you think color, race, religion, social class or sexual orientation affect the way society, people or the community treat or act towards you? Provide examples of scenarios.
  3. Do you understand the terms racial profiling and stereotypes and can you provide examples of common examples visible in your environment.
  4. Define the cultural background of your friends and people you socialize with. Do you think individuals from different cultures understand your cultural challenges?

The teachers will take a similar type of open-ended questionnaire, however, with increased questions focusing on curriculum exploration of cultural competency and personal knowledge of the impact of culture on their students.

Questions for the teacher (examples)

  1. Define your understanding of cultures and examples of culture in your class.
  2. Do you think culture impacts student behavior and can your provide examples?
  3. Do you find your cultural values and beliefs in a collision with divergent cultures? How do you assist or handle students affected by cultural barriers?

As noted in the study above, the professional counselors’ study will take the Multicultural Counseling Competence and Training Survey-Revised (MCCT-R) by Holcomb-McCoy. The tool is widely acceptable and it creates an awareness of the professional’s perception of their multicultural skills and their actual knowledge. Holcomb-Coy (2005) notes that school counselors’ multicultural skills rank lower than their perceived understanding or knowledge of multi-cultural issues.

Data Analyses and Interpretation

The examination of the data from the three samples in the study will utilize a multivariate analyzes of variance (Manovas). The method will be utilized to test the difference in understanding of multi-cultural skills, knowledge, and issues in the study.

Findings and Application

It is expected that the three samples in the research paper will produce similar but distinctive results due to the difference in cultural knowledge. Therefore, high school students are likely to encounter challenges with cultural terminologies but they should have some knowledge of the cultural issues in the community. The students will likely demonstrate knowledge of understanding of cultural factors, including racial discrimination, profiling, and the difference created by race to access to healthcare, education, and even housing. The students are also likely to create a link between cultural differences and factors such as crime and poverty. In addition, they will accept their environments, including the school failures to consider and appreciate cultural diversity. Students from diverse cultural backgrounds will also demonstrate discrimination and segregation from fellow students from different cultures and with different characteristics such as the LGBT and disabled students. The students are also likely to deny that cultural values, beliefs, and experiences affect their behavior, social interactions, and academic performance.

The challenge that students will face is to create a cultural appreciation and awareness and ensure sensitivity. I will use the data to organize cultural sensitivity and awareness workshops and programs that educate students on their cultures and the need to respect divergent cultures and individuals with unique characteristics. The data provided by the research will be used to demand inclusion of culture sensitivity programs into the school environment curriculum.

Moreover, having this data, I will work on creating culture groups in the school where students from diverse cultures and with diverse personalities meet to share and discuss cultural and personal values. Creating a platform for the students to meet and share personal values is key to breaking the cultural barriers in the school environment.

The next set of data is expected from the teaching staff and the professional or practicing therapists. The data obtained from the two groups is expected to be similar because the two groups face similar challenges in theoretical and practical applications. As stated by Holcomb-Coy (2005) the mental health specialists are expected to have limited understanding of multicultural issues compared to their perceived knowledge of the topic and application in the school environment. Therefore, it can be expected that their knowledge of multi-cultural issues in the school environment will be limited. Limited cultural knowledge means that the counselors lack the skills to assist students with behavior or academic challenges related to the cultural barriers in their environments.

Second, a gap is expected between teaching and professional counselors training in the field. Practicing counselors are expected to have experienced more cultural barriers in their line of work, hence more knowledge and ease of finding solutions. I will utilize the data to improve personal multi-cultural skills, including training and interaction with different cultures. Limited multi-cultural training of school staff translates to cultural conflict and tension in the school environment. The workshops will aim to help the teaching staff understand the link between culture and students’ behavior and corresponding academic performance. The majority of school administrators fail to recognize culture as a factor in problematic student behavior. Students tend to demonstrate negative behavior when under stress from their environment or experiencing tensions due to factors in their cultures such as poverty and crime. I will utilize the results to introduce cultural training sessions for the school staff. Culture knowledge is critical for maintaining a healthy school environment and improving the academic performance of students.


In conclusion, culture refers to the race, color, values, social class, beliefs, traditions, group orientation, and religion or any unique trait that makes the identity of a person. Culture is, therefore, not limited to race or color, but it explores unique characteristics that separate a group from the rest of the community. Culture defines and influences the behavior of students in the school environment. Culture also affects the psychological health of students and their subsequent school performance. The problematic behavior demonstrated by the students can be traced to negative stimuli in their cultures such as racial discrimination, poverty, and crime.

School counselors must be culturally competent to offer psychological guidance to their students as well as guidance to the school administrators in management of students’ behavior. Students fail to understand cultural terminologies; however, they have knowledge of the cultural conflicts in their environments. School counselors and school teaching staff usually declare themselves competent on cultural issues. However, the perceived knowledge is different from the applied knowledge. School counselors must increase cultural knowledge and earn legitimate cultural competency. School counselors must be multiculturally competent to handle the culture diversity in the school environment. It is also the responsibility of the counselors to train the school staff on cultural sensitivity and advise parents and school administrators on policies relation to the cultural school environment.

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