Towards a psychology of recognition : a critical analysis of contemporary multicultural counseling competency models



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Since the 1970s multiculturalism has emerged as an important area of scholarship within both academic and applied psychology. Scholars have offered a range of theories to assist psychologists in understanding the ways cultural context impacts psychological development and well-being with the aim of moving the field towards an affirming position on psychological differences that depart from the Eurocentric mainstream. One prominent example is the Multiple Dimensions of Counseling Competency (MDCC) by D. W. Sue (2001) which enjoins psychologists and counselors to acquire knowledge, awareness, and skills (KA&S) for five different racial and ethnic groups to promote culturally affirming work in a variety of professional and societal contexts. KA&S approaches like the MDCC remain the primary mode for conceptualizing multicultural competence today. This dissertation begins with a critical analysis of the extant multicultural competency literature which yields three important areas of concern. First, theorists face a dilemma regarding the definition of culture itself. Race and ethnicity receive stronger emphasis in the multicultural discourse which marginalizes other oppressed voices and perpetuates the invisibility of their unique struggles. In turn, attempts to expand the definition of culture to a non-hierarchical approach to all social identities and contexts draws attention away from race, an area already too easily avoided. Currently, no solution has balanced these two poles in the treatment of the word culture. Second, current models draw no limits to cultural relativism leaving questions of intragroup oppression unanswered. Third, models inadequately conceptualize the multiple social and cultural identities within the same person and offer insufficient guidance to professionals when intrapersonal identities conflict. Each of these three concerns is addressed by drawing from interdisciplinary scholarship in anthropology, political philosophy, and social psychology. These answers yield a new model for work with diverse social identities, Recognition Competency Theory (RCT). This new approach to competency with diverse populations has implications for the ways the psychology of oppression is conceptualized, taught, and treated as a focus of professional policy. Strengths of this new model, its relationship to the MDCC, its limitations, and implications for future research are discussed.