How counseling African Americans is different

September 11, 2018


There are a few essentials to achieving success in counseling with African American clientele. Below are some keys to counseling African-Americans most effectively:

1) Be solution-focused.

It’s important that counselors are solution-focused when it comes to counseling African-Americans. In my recent dissertation research with African American counselors, some of the most significant factors were overcoming unrealistic expectations about counseling and retaining African American clients in counseling. For example, African American clients often expect to be in counseling for a shorter period of time or want advice. As a result, counselors may need to be more solution-focused even if this is not the counselor’s preferred counseling style. African Americans more often present to counseling in times of crisis and if we feel our specific problem was not addressed or solution offered, then we may not feel it was effective or useful and not return for the next session.

2) Focus on psychoeducation.

Another key to succeeding in counseling with African American clientele is placing a heavier focus on psychoeducation, especially in the beginning of counseling. For example, explaining the purpose of therapeutic homework assignments, how you help clients change, and explaining certain diagnoses. This is a significant factor because often African Americans have even more reservations. We’re told to be strong and utilize other means of dealing with their issues—such as faith. Therefore, you may need to spend a good bulk of time teaching your African American clients about how the therapeutic process will unfold and ,perhaps more importantly, how it will help them.

3) Offer support in overcoming stigma.

Helping your African American clientele is providing a great degree of support in helping overcome stigma briefly. The decision to pursue counseling can be difficult for many clients, but for African-Americans, there is often more of a stigma. Seeking counseling may conflict with other personal values such as spirituality and faith and being strong. As a result, we may not even want family or friends to know we are in counseling. Reassuring African American clients that you can utilize all forms of support is a strength.

4) Build a strong therapeutic relationship early.

And lastly, it’s extremely important that counselors work on establishing that connection and building a strong therapeutic relationship from the beginning. Building a strong therapeutic relationship early is key to addressing our concerns and fears and overcoming many of these obstacles. Whenever I asked clients about past counseling experiences, they often said they didn’t feel a connection or that the counselor truly cared. While every client will not be a fit, relying on one’s basic counseling skills will likely create an environment conducive to change and healing. These skills include empathizing, listening carefully and thoughtfully, asking open-ended questions, and ultimately keeping your client’s best interest in mind.

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