International Developments in Counseling

Historically, interest in international psychology dates back to professional affiliations created in Paris over a century ago at the First International Congress of Psychology. Since then, a variety of organizations continue to support the professional interests of psychology worldwide (e.g., the American Psychological Association’s [APA’s] Division 17— International Special Interests Group, and Division 52—International Psychology). From a discipline-specific standpoint, the field of counseling psychology brings several significant strengths to the field of international psychology, including its traditional emphases on mental health, vocational assessment, and prevention, to name but a few. These strengths, in combination with its longstanding commitment to multiculturalism and diversity, suggest that counseling psychology may be uniquely suited to meet challenges facing the field of international psychology today.

Current Growth within the Field

Globalization

Current growth within the field has, by and large, been fostered by the rapid and expansive impact of economic and technological globalization. This expansion is of particular interest at present, as the impact of globalization transforms both personal and professional roles in a variety of cultural arenas. The potential benefits of increasing the international scope of counseling psychology are myriad and include creating a worldwide forum for examining whether accepted traditional psychological paradigms and practices are generalizable to other cultures. Globalization also allows for an expansion of our current understanding of human strengths and resiliency as they relate to cultural context and provides a much-needed opportunity for incorporating diverse international multicultural perspectives within the profession.

Opportunities and Risks

While an expansion of international psychology offers many new opportunities for cross-cultural collaboration, it also presents several risks. Chief among these is the need to guard against the wholesale exportation of professional ideologies as they relate to practice, education, and research. As training programs, research methodologies, and journal publications based in the United States still account for the greatest proportion of counseling activities worldwide, several significant concerns are worth noting. Many methodologies, theories, and practices derived from current systems may, at best, ignore important and significant cross-cultural differences when transplanted to new cultures, and at worst, they may extend ethnocentric biases regarding human behavior to local psychologies. Examples of this include an over-reliance on diagnostic systems based on traditional medical models and the exportation of commonly used psychological tests to evaluate behavior. The generalization of Western diagnostic systems to other cultures may be inappropriate in many instances and may not reflect cultural norms for both functional and symptomatic behaviors. The use of psychological tests with individuals for whom their use has not been validated through the construction of appropriate norm groups, or that have been translated without evaluating their appropriate equivalency, may lead to misdiagnosis or an assignment of problems where none exist. A wholesale exportation of current models and methodologies also limits opportunities to expand our knowledge base in valuable ways that have the potential to validate (or invalidate) important concepts and practices through cross-cultural collaboration. Opening the field to alternative methodologies may increase understanding of how biases inherent in traditional systems operate when applied both to one’s own and to other cultures.

The expansion of international counseling, by its very nature, has produced a unique set of circumstances that challenge traditional notions of psychological health as they relate to counseling practices. The by-products of globalization, which include socioeconomic conditions such as immigration, economic displacement, and international conflicts, have created a new generation of individuals with human problems for which traditional treatment methodologies may be of limited use. These conditions require the competent professional to be creative in new and innovative ways that may be inconsistent with traditional notions of training and educational practices. Modern conceptualizations of identity and psychological health are changing rapidly as classical notions of identity are displaced along with individuals and cultural traditions. Our understanding of the particular determinants of behavior is very much influenced by whether or not a particular culture embraces an individualist versus collectivist view of identity. While an individualist focus can be essential for understanding certain behaviors, it often ignores context and underestimates the complexity of the many sociocultural determinants of behavior. Nor can the impact of social policies on the global community or issues of social justice be ignored, as they profoundly influence how we choose to localize the causes and, ultimately, the treatment of psychological problems.

Critical Issues in Professional Development

Professional Collaboration

The creation of a truly international form of counseling psychology will require professional collaboration at many levels to identify and prioritize aims and objectives. Currently, counseling psychology exists as a specialty, by name, in only a handful of countries, although the common practices of counseling psychology, while not formally identified as such, may be subsumed under other disciplines. Thus, efforts at professional collaboration may be easily frustrated by an inability to identify international colleagues or contexts in which to develop projects of mutual interest. Fortunately, a variety of professional organizations (e.g., the International Congress of Applied Psychology and APA’s divisions 52 and 17) and programs (e.g., the Fulbright Scholar program) already exist to promote mutual international interests and development via conferences, exchange programs, and professional research and journal collaboration both here and abroad. Other organizations have also worked to promote specific venues (e.g., journal issues devoted to international articles) that examine the psychological practices and perspectives of other cultures and address issues unique to international counseling psychology.

Ethical Practice

Another critical issue for the international expansion of the profession is defining what constitutes appropriate and ethical modes of practice and how best to determine culturally appropriate standards for a variety of professional helping behaviors (e.g., the appropriateness of meeting clients in their homes or cultural values related to personal space or physical touching). Many contemporary problems and adjustment issues may be ill suited to traditional treatment delivery methods (e.g., talking therapies) and will require innovative treatment strategies and flexible professionals who can develop new methodologies and modes of delivery. Attention must also be given to training and recruitment issues, both at home and abroad, to ensure that the concept of international multiculturalism extends to those who professionals train and to how they train them.

Social Policy and Special Interests

Many proponents of international psychology argue that the psychopathology of the new world order often rests in extreme social conditions, and special attention should be directed to issues of social justice as they relate to the delivery of mental health services. Global conditions have a differential impact on the psychological well-being of vulnerable groups such as women, children, displaced persons, and other marginalized minorities. New types of special populations have also been created by changes in national, economic, and technological boundaries. Populations uprooted by international conflicts and rapid economic changes require innovative strategies that offer support for victims of trauma and interpersonal violence and that provide new venues for reworking intervention efforts related to basic survival issues as well as to psychological health. Acknowledgment of the unique psychosocial forces that impact the mental health of women and children seems especially critical and includes recognition of issues such as interpersonal violence, poverty, employment conditions, child and family care responsibilities, health care, and access to educational opportunities.

The Necessity of Growth

The global forces currently acting at breakneck speeds suggest that implementing a strategic plan for international counseling is not only desirable but absolutely necessary. Globalization has the potential to provoke an identity crisis of sorts not only for the profession but also for how psychological health is viewed worldwide. As traditional values are subsumed by larger world changes, there exists the potential for an absence of consensual validation for standards of “normal” behavior. Counseling psychology has been at the forefront of supporting multiculturalism through its commitment to diversity issues, and an expansion of international counseling efforts is a natural extension of this commitment. As the traditional distinctions between psychological disciplines diminish on a practical level, the question then becomes, how might the technological innovations that have created unprecedented access to a global psychological community have the potential to empower the traditional mission of counseling psychology in significant ways? A failure to move forward in a thoughtful and directed manner at this critical juncture not only incurs the risk of professional stagnation but threatens the growth and the integrity of the discipline as well as its ability to fulfill its mission in a meaningful way. A shift toward a universal multicultural international model that advances the discipline must be based on a flexible worldview that incorporates ethnic diversity as well as diverse multicultural perspectives that can validate and expand our understanding of human growth and potential and provide us with a new way of looking at problems in “normal living.”

References:

  1. Arnett, J. J. (2002). The psychology of globalization. American Psychologist, 57, 774-783.
  2. Chung, R. C. (2005). Women, human rights, and counseling: crossing international boundaries. Journal of Counseling and Development, 83, 262-268.
  3. Gerstein, L., & /Egisdottir, S. (2005). A trip around the world: A counseling travelogue! Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 27, 95-103.
  4. Leong, F. T. L., & Leach, M. M. (2007). Internationalising counseling psychology in the United States: A SWOT analysis. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 56, 165-181.
  5. Leong, S. A. (2003). Ajourney worth traveling: Globalization of counseling psychology. The Counseling Psychologist, 3, 412-419.
  6. Sabourin, M. (2001). International psychology: Is the whole greater than the sum of its parts? Canadian Psychology, 42, 74-81.

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