Does Language Affect Counselling Within Diverse Cultures?

Language is a powerful tool. It can shape the way we think and how we interact with others. In many cultures, language is closely associated with race, religion and gender, making it even more important to consider when providing counselling to members of diverse cultural backgrounds. Counselling involves communicating to get insights into us and the world around us. This places significant importance on the language we use to communicate. Our languages mark our identities as belonging to a linguistic and social group, with certain associated norms and values. Language is therefore not just associated with an objective way of conveying meaning but also carries social meaning, connotations, and a profound psychological significance for an individual member of a group. However, does language really have an effect on the way therapists interact with clients from different cultures?

What is counselling?

Counselling is a process that involves talking with a trained counsellor to explore your thoughts, feelings and behaviours. It can help you to understand yourself better and make changes in your life.

Counselling can be helpful for people who are experiencing difficulties in their lives, such as relationship problems, anxiety, depression, stress, bereavement or low self-esteem. It can also be helpful for people who want to make positive changes in their lives, such as quitting smoking or improving their work-life balance.

The counselling process is confidential, which means that what you say will not be shared with anyone outside of the counselling session unless you give your permission. This confidentiality allows you to feel safe enough to explore sensitive issues in your life.

The different types of counselling

There are different types of counselling that can be used to help people within diverse cultures. The type of counselling that is used will depend on the specific needs of the individual and the cultural context within which they live.

Some of the different types of counselling that can be used to help people within diverse cultures include:

-Cognitive behavioural therapy: This type of therapy focuses on helping people to change their negative thoughts and behaviours. It can be used to help people with a range of issues, including anxiety, depression, and addiction.

-Interpersonal therapy: This type of therapy focuses on helping people to improve their relationships with others. It can be used to help people with a range of issues, including communication problems, conflict resolution, and grief.

-Solution-focused therapy: This type of therapy focuses on helping people to identify and achieve their goals. It can be used to help people with a range of issues, including career planning, stress management, and life transitions.

Does language affect counselling within diverse cultures?

Many people are not aware of the effect that language can have on counselling within diverse cultures. It is important to be aware of this so that you can provide the best possible service to your clients.

There are many different ways that language can affect counselling. For example, if you are not familiar with the client’s first language, there may be some words or concepts that are difficult to translate. This can lead to misunderstandings and make it difficult to provide effective counselling.

Another way that language can affect counselling is through the use of jargon. Jargon is a type of language that is specific to a particular field or profession. Counsellors need to be careful when using jargon as it can often be misunderstood by clients from diverse backgrounds.

Finally, the way in which language is used can also affect counselling. For example, some words may have different meanings in different cultures. This can lead to confusion and make it difficult to communicate effectively.

It is important to be aware of the ways in which language can affect counselling so that you can provide the best possible service to your clients.

The advantages and disadvantages of counselling within diverse cultures

When counselling individuals from diverse cultures, language can be a barrier to effective communication. If the counsellor and client do not share a common language, the counsellor may need to rely on interpreters to facilitate the counselling session. This can result in a loss of meaning and context, as well as create opportunities for misunderstanding.

However, there are also advantages to counselling within diverse cultures. By engaging with clients from different cultural backgrounds, counsellors can learn about new perspectives and worldviews. This can broaden their understanding of human experience and make them more culturally competent practitioners. Additionally, counselling within diverse cultures can help reduce barriers between people of different backgrounds and promote social cohesion.


If therapeutic alliance is key to effective therapeutic outcomes, mental health professionals need to work at building culturally sensitive working relationship with their clients.

To do so there need to develop multi-cultural competencies as part of core professional competencies.  These competencies for therapists, counsellors, psychologists among other mental professionals include:

  • Self-Awareness of personal assumptions and biases an ability to acknowledge that vulnerability and discomfort.
  • Creating a safe, non-judgmental, open stance to multilingualism,
  • Understanding that Psychology as a field is limited and suffers from embedded Western ideologies that do not always support the people it seeks to heal.
  • Acknowledge how language and its nuances thereof can limit the counselling processes and therapist-client relationship and where possible refer the client to where there can be supported in ways that suits their needs.
  • In instances were both client and professional speak English or the dominant language relatively well, if it is not the mother tongue of the client it should not be assumed it is their preferred language of communication.

In conclusion, language can be a major barrier to successful counselling within diverse cultures. It is important for counsellors to be aware of the cultural and linguistic differences that exist between their clients so they can create an effective therapeutic relationship. By taking the time to develop cross-cultural understanding, counsellors will gain deeper insight into the needs of their diverse clients and ensure more successful outcomes in their therapy sessions.