Cultural Diversity and Dealing with ‘Difference’

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Rightly and increasingly, ‘cultural competence’ is recognised to be important in all interactions. Neuroscientific findings also show that we are ‘wired’ to notice difference, whether this is consciously registered or not (Brown, 2009). Yet acknowledging the reality of diversity is easier than actively engaging with it. Ignorance about ways of life which are unfamiliar, confusion about the relative impact of culture in light of individual differences, and the unease which is generated by the notion of ‘political correctness’ combine to make cultural competence an elusive goal rather than an everyday practice.

I both counsel and conduct seminars with reference to the dynamics of cultural diversity. Because social influences are integral to well-being (both individual and collective) my focus is on attuning to the role of culture in ourselves, as the most effective way of engaging with it in others. This perspective is in contrast to previous notions of cultural ‘expertise’, and offers opportunities for ways in which cultural influences in our lives can be explored both directly and indirectly.

Diversity also comes in many forms. It includes ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age and other markers of ‘difference’. My aim is to assist understanding of cultural and other forms of diversity in the context of individual difference/s. This involves recognition of the impact of cultural influences in our `private’ as well as ‘public’ lives. It also entails identification of ways in which the effects of culture can be negotiated both interpersonally (‘micro’) and at broader social (group and `macro’) levels.


Brown, L.S. Cultural Competence in Trauma Therapy (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2009).
Stavropoulos, P. `Looking to Ourselves: the culturally-attuned counsellor’, The CAPA Quarterly (Issue 3, 2009) pp.22-24.
Toporek, R. et al Handbook of Social Justice in Counseling Psychology: Leadership, Vision and Action (CA: Sage, 2006).