Multicultural Counseling

Close up of leaves with water droplets on them. Multicultural people face unique challenges in today's society. Our multicultural therapists understand these challenges from a deeply personal place and can help you navigate the ups and downs through multicultural counseling in Chicago.

What does Multicultural Counseling mean?

Multicultural counseling means using therapy to address many aspects of identity. This includes race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, generation, and class. Culturally competent counseling happens when a counselor has had experience working with people from many different backgrounds. They have also sought out training to counsel individuals from diverse groups. Multicultural counseling may happen when a counselor from a specific cultural group can draw from their own background and experiences. This is so they are able to relate to clients from similar backgrounds to their own. In both cases, culturally competent Multicultural Counseling can improve client outcomes. 

Why is Multicultural Counseling so Important?

For much of the history of the Western Psychology movement, our ways of trying to help people were mostly geared towards a small group of individuals who could afford to pay for counseling services out of pocket. Also, for those who were less stigmatized by the idea of reaching out for mental health help. Recently, seeking counseling services has become much more common, accepted, and accessible to members of many different groups. 

Because more people than ever are seeking out counseling services, there is increased need for culturally competent multicultural counseling services. Access to quality mental health treatment is important for everyone! At Shift Counseling, PC, we are excited to be able to offer culturally affirming services to the community. 

Our counselors at Shift Counseling, PC take the time to listen, assess, and understand their client’s worldview. Taking this time to grasp a client’s cultural identity can help multicultural counselors meet the needs of their diverse clients. Even when drawing from their own experiences of diversity, it is always essential that the counselor keeps an open mind. It is important that they are accurately assessing client responses to various interventions. Lastly are they making appropriate adjustments to their methods in order to improve client outcomes. 

Our culturally competent counselors avoid making assumptions about their clients based on their backgrounds. They know that no culture is all encompassing. Even within distinct cultural groups, members of these groups often have differing viewpoints. A culturally competent counselor will  remain open minded. This ensures that the counselor is truly seeing the individual sitting before them. Culturally competent counselors keep an open mind instead of relying on stereotypes to inform their view of their clients. 

Leaves on a bush covered in water droplets. Multicultural individuals are faced with challenges from society and within their culture. It can be a difficult road to walk. Learn to balance your embrace your culture while growing individually with multicultural counseling in Chicago.

So What Populations are Served by Shift Counseling, PC?

As an insurance based practice, Shift Counseling, PC is able to offer services to a wide swath of the population. This includes people who historically may not have been able to access services.  We see people from different age groups, genders, races, religions, sexual orientations, classes, and immigration statuses. In addition, we see people with different occupational backgrounds including construction workers, corporate professionals, small business owners, transportation professionals, tradesmen, teachers, nurses, administration professionals, stay at home parents, etc. 

We also have chosen to operate in a location that is in a culturally diverse area. We are near individuals of many different backgrounds. When hiring new employees, we look for counselors that have a passion for providing quality services. Cultural competence is also something we keep in mind. We are proud to have counselors who represent the South Asian/Muslim community and the Hispanic/Latino/x community. In addition, we aspire to offer inclusive, affirming services to everyone.

Can Evidence-Based Methods be used Effectively in Multicultural Counseling?

At Shift Counseling, PC, we ground our work in evidence-based interventions such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Mindfulness, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR Therapy)The quickest way to explain evidence-based treatment is to say that these are counseling methods that have been studied in multiple trials and have shown proven results.

Multicultural counseling using evidence- based methods is possible when diverse clinicians are trained in evidence-based interventions. Counselors with knowledge of different cultures are able to adjust the framework of evidence-based treatments. This is so these interventions make sense to the clients they serve. 

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Saima Shaik, LPC, on Multicultural Counseling:

Picture of Saima. Having a multicultural therapist that understands your unique perspective in the world can be hugely beneficial. We offer multicultural counseling services at our Chicago based location.

Understanding My Own Multicultural Identity

As a therapist, understanding my own cultural identity is an important part of the work that I do as a Multicultural counselor. I am a member of the South Asian community, and I am Muslim. Although I love working with clients from many different backgrounds, I understand that some clients seek me out specifically because of my cultural identity. I am really excited about the fact that seeking counseling is becoming less taboo in Asian/South Asian/Muslim communities.

Doing my own cultural identity work has helped me become more authentic and genuine as a counselor. Through my own experiences of doing work around my cultural identity, I have learned things that allow me to help clients who are struggling in this area. I feel prepared to help provide a roadmap to clients who might be feeling stuck in their journey towards understanding their own identity.

Shared Cultural Backgrounds

One reason why people seek out a counselor from a similar cultural background is shared cultural references. This understanding happens spontaneously sometimes because we may have grown up with similar experiences or references. There is sometimes an understanding between us that cannot be taught. It’s that moment when someone knows what you mean without having to  ask or be told.

I like to ask plenty of questions when getting to know clients. This is so I can give clients the stage to explain how they see themselves, culturally. Giving lots of space for the assessment of identity at the onset of treatment helps prevent the counselor making assumptions. I understand the importance of getting this valuable information from the client first hand. I also feel that awareness of my own background, and how I am perceived can help prevent disconnects with clients. 

Common Multicultural Challenges

Common challenges in our community include: Issues in parent-child relationships, issues with setting boundaries. Issues dealing with the burden of the expectations of your community or dealing with stigma about seeking mental health treatment. There are also issues of perfectionism, fear of failure, fear of disappointing parents or other authority figures. I see people experiencing racism or harassment in their school or work environments. I see a lot of people stuck in cycles of toxic productivity, not being able to take a break, and subsequent burnout.

Another common issue I see people struggling with is societal timelines, personal timelines, and pressure to meet milestones. Some people are living off a timeline that was created for them by someone else, and there may be a lack of support from the community if an expected timeline hasn’t been met. I help multicultural individuals learn to accept that this is their own journey and help them learn to validate themselves.

First Generation Americans

I also work with a lot of people who are first generation Americans, regardless of their cultural background. These are people who are straddling two worlds that often can conflict each other, and they may be feeling lost. Sometimes there are different narratives coming from different layers of their identity: their religion, their cultural identity, their generation,  and their gender. It can all feel pretty overwhelming.

Often multicultural individuals also bear the burden of being unique in their environment. They may recognize that they are in a unique position.  They may look different, their beliefs or worldview may be different, their talents may be different. There is both a power and a vulnerability here. They may feel like they are going at it alone.

Common Mental Health Concerns

Common clinical presentations I notice include: generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, difficulty with sleep, racing thoughts, muscle tension, headaches, depression, OCD, perfectionism, toxic productivity, fatigue, and getting sick often. All of the pressure creates anxiety which sometimes leads to collapse.

Up close shot of green leaves. Mental health can carry a stigma within some cultures that make it difficult to seek out help. Our multicultural therapists understand these challenges and are here to offer multicultural therapy in Chicago that breaks the cycle of stigmas. Learn more here.

Individuals facing all of this pressure often experience a lot of anxiety. They may recognize the problems but also understand that there is not a lot in their control to change. Learning self compassion, and how to be patient with one’s self in the face of all these challenges is a way through.

Cycle Breakers in the Multicultural Community

One way that I help people is by showing them what is in their control and what is not. In many communities, there is a history of intergenerational trauma. Younger generations may see the impact of these issues in a way that previous generations may not have understood them. In some cultures mental abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse may have been normalized. Due to growing up in a different environment than our ancestors did, first generation Americans have a different perspective. This can help us question unhealthy relationship patterns and seek healthier ways of connecting to each other.  

People of younger generations are now considered “cycle breakers.” While this can be exciting and freeing as we see different possibilities for ourselves than our ancestors did, being a cycle breaker can also be quite a burden. There can be immense pressure to change things for the better, but the weight of that can be overwhelming. People can feel like they are taking reforming their communities on their own shoulders. They may feel like the black sheep among other members of the community who may not value the changes they seek.

Understanding and Appreciating Your Culture

In addition to helping people identify the changes they seek, I also think it is important to do the work of identifying positives of your own culture: what to honor, what do you want to continue, in addition to what you might want to leave behind. There is a lot to be grateful for. Every culture has valuable lessons, values, rituals, and wisdom.  We want to continue living our culture but it can be freeing to know that we can make choices about what parts we want to bring forward.

It can be hard to find a balance and learn to practice self-care in the face of all of these challenges. Individuals from diverse backgrounds can feel like they are drowning under all of the pressure. They may feel like they are failing if they don’t “fix” everything, or if they do start working on making changes, they may be rejected by others in their community.

The Stages of Progress

When seeking help and talking through challenges with a multicultural counselor, there are often stages of progress. The first is self-awareness, the second is self-acceptance, and finally comes self-compassion. Learning that self-compassion means that you no longer have to fight a war on two fronts: Fighting yourself and the outside world at the same time is nearly impossible and often leads to anxiety, depression, and sometimes collapse. 

When you find compassion for yourself, and learn to pick and choose which battles outside of yourself that you are willing to fight, suddenly everything starts to feel manageable. This self-compassion combined with improved coping skills learned from evidence-based counseling techniques come together to produce a sense of relief.  Now you are set up for success and ready to thrive in the face of challenges. You may begin to experience improved motivation, decreased sense of powerlessness, decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety, and a kinder inner world. You come to understand that everything is temporary, are better able to understand your place in the world, and learn to let things pass at times. 

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Noel Cordova, LCPC, CADC on Multicultural counseling:

Photo of Noel. Don't be afraid to break the cycle of stigma surrounding mental health within your culture. We offer multicultural counseling services that break through barriers in order to address culturally specific needs and concerns. Learn more here.

Like all of the staff at Shift Counseling, PC, I enjoy working with people from many different backgrounds. As a therapist, because of my own background, I have a specialty for working with the Hispanic/Latino/x population and also male clients. I hear from a lot of my clients that it is very important for them to find someone they can connect with, culturally, someone who understands where they are coming from. In our culture, family bonds are very important, even when family relationships may be complicated.

Complicated Family Dynamics

Sometimes in Hispanic/Latino/x households, discipline can be harsh but it can also be done with love. At times, members of our community fear that if we talk about our experiences, there could be consequences from those who do not understand our culture. There is fear that if people focus on the wrong part of our story, we won’t get the help that we need. It is very important for my Hispanic/Latino/x clients to find someone to talk to who understands the context of family dynamics in our culture. This makes it easier to open up and feel safe.   

It is very important for multicultural counselors to be able to recommend interventions that actually make sense for the way family dynamics work in our culture. Cutting people out of our lives, even if they are toxic, especially if they are older family members, doesn’t always work for us. As a multicultural counselor, I understand complicated family dynamics, and the need to take care of other family members. I can help people learn to set boundaries to protect themselves without completely severing connections with family members.

Bilingual Mlticultural Counseling

I work with adolescents, young adults, and mature adults (ages 13-65)so I see the impact of cultural issues throughout the lifespan. Also, I work with people of different immigration statuses. I understand that even members of the same cultural group can have very different experiences. 

I also see a lot of individuals who are suffering from complex trauma. Because I am a bilingual multicultural counselor who is also EMDR trained, I am in a unique position to be able to help Hispanic/Latino/x clients heal from trauma.

I have also found that translating my forms into Spanish or having our sessions in Spanish is very helpful to my clients who grew up with English as their second language. Allowing people to speak about childhood experiences in their primary language makes it easier to access authentic memories and emotions.

Emotional issues are very complex and the understanding between clinician and client is often improved by the client being able to express themselves in their native language. Clients often report feeling affirmed by being able to express themselves in their native language with someone who understands their culture. 

Learning to Be Vulnerable Within Ones Culture

Being vulnerable can be very hard for people who have always had to be strong, and who have learned to take adversity by persevering, and who may have never had an opportunity to speak about their experiences. A lot of times people think their strength comes from being able to just keep going no matter what, and they are really afraid of what could happen if they let go and admit how heavy their burdens are. 

What I see with many of my clients is that the hardest part is admitting to themselves and others that their feelings matter. Once they start to open up about their struggles and can understand that it is possible for someone to understand them, to care, and to offer help, it often becomes clear that they have a lot of resiliency and strengths to utilize towards their own recovery. Realizing they don’t have to be strong all the time and that they are allowed to have feelings is often the biggest treatment challenge.

In our culture, many people their worth as being defined by their ability to work hard, provide, and keep going. Learning how to admit vulnerability to ourselves and others is the piece that we were not taught. But, the power of validation goes a long way here. Once you can get past their tough outer shell, I can help clients admit that they have needs too, and help them learn to balance utilizing their strengths with improved self-care. 

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What are expected outcomes of Culturally Competent/Multicultural Counseling?

Sometimes, struggles with cultural identity can be contributing factors to symptoms of mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. When a client is able to work with a counselor who either shares their background or affirms their background, it can become safe to address cultural issues in therapy. Then as cultural issues are validated and effective treatment strategies are utilized, clients often experience relief and a reduction of their most distressing symptoms.


Begin Multicultural Counseling in Chicago

Getting started with a multicultural therapist is easy. Our North Riverside, IL counseling practice is convenient to multiple areas of Chicagoland including Riverside, La Grange Park, Brookfield, Broadview, and more. If you’re ready to begin, simply follow these steps:

  1. Reach out to schedule an initial therapy consultation.
  2. Begin working with a skilled,multicultural therapist.
  3. Take back your life and thrive!

Other Services Offered in Chicago, IL

Shift Counseling, PC specializes in treating young adults with mental health concerns with a variety of techniques.In addition to Multicultural Counseling, we offer PTSD and Trauma Therapy, Young Adult Focused Therapy, Anxiety Therapy, Adjustment Disorder Therapy, and Depression Therapy online or in person.

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