What are the key issues in multi-cultural counselling in South Africa today? | EAPA-SA
Nombuyiselo (Mbuyi) Kahla-Ntshangase is currently employed as EAP Head of Operations at Proactive Health Solutions (PHS). Mbuyi is a qualified social worker with extensive experience in the EAP industry, having successfully developed several EAP programmes in the work place for leading companies.  She is a qualified Fatigue Management Specialist, a qualified HIV and Gender Equity Master Trainer and has successfully implemented peer education programs for various organisations. Early in her career, she worked for the SANDF as a military social worker in a UN peace keeping mission in the DRC. She received an award for her outstanding support and performance service from the UN.  In 2008, Mbuyi joined the University of Fort Hare and became one of the academics who developed a module on the indigenisation of anti-discriminatory social work, concentrating on social work in the South African context and multicultural counselling.

She served as an executive member of EAPA-SA’s Ikhala chapter as Deputy Chairperson from 2012- 2017. She now serves as an additional executive member for the chapter.

With the statement below to frame our thinking, we asked Mbuyi for her insights on multi-cultural counselling in the South African context:

“With the increasing global linkages through technology and interdependent economies, people’s day-to-day lives are affected by interactions with others different from themselves.” (Fukuyama, 1999).  South Africa is a diverse country with numerous cultural groups and as a result, cross cultural contact is an everyday occurrence across our society, and in the business world, including through digital technology such as television and internet. It is therefore of paramount importance that South African counsellors acquire appropriate counselling models to accommodate South Africa’s diverse culture.  South African EAP practitioners, professionals and other mental health professionals need to understand the client’s world view, be familiar with a range of intervention strategies and acquire a variety of skills and techniques to assist individuals, groups, and the community at large who engage in counselling.

Q: What are the key issues and challenges in multicultural counselling in South Africa?

  • South Africa is a very diverse country which presents with both challenges and resources for solving social problems that people present with and therefore incorporating issues of culture, religion and spiritual beliefs in counselling can encourage the client and lead to positive holistic outcomes in the intervention.
  • Cultural differences are real, and they do influence counselling.
  • In order for counselling intervention to be efficient it would need to be culturally sensitive and contextually specific; this is alluded to by Person Centred Approach in which The Person/Client, who she or he is and their perceived identity or self is central to the approach.
  • It is important for the counsellors to be aware of client’s cultural background and understand the client’s worldview, in particular the client’s beliefs in order to:
  1. To understand client’s perception of themselves with their problems and their situation.
  2. To deal with the person as a whole, all their experiences, which include their problems, their situation and environment. (Person Centred Approach)
  • Having to deal with issues of cultural, religious and spiritual differences that are often uncomfortable to confront is a challenge for many counsellors.
  • Counsellors need to prepare for clients who come for counselling having spiritual, religious or cultural concerns that impact on them mentally and otherwise which have brought them to counselling. Ignoring client’s religious, spiritual and cultural beliefs in counselling can reduce counselling efficacy and increase premature termination.
  • Both the counsellor and the client bring a number of cultural variables into the counselling process such as religion, gender, age, ethnic background etc which could create a barrier between counsellor and a client.

Q:  How, ideally, can EAP set about becoming more aware and developing critical consciousness on cross cultural therapeutic interventions in South Africa?

  • Developing a conceptual framework from which to operate to ensure that clients who come from different cultural backgrounds to that of counsellors have access to competent services is
  • We need to develop professional practice based on theories, models, values and processes emanating from relevant and specific knowledge about the society in which we practice in so as to be contextually correct in our practice.
  • Ensure that counsellors have peer supervision groups, workshops, trainings and seminars in which these issues of multicultural counselling can be explored further and get CPD points.

Q:  What are the most important strategies that mental health professionals can and should implement in order to promote more effective multicultural counselling?

  • Self-Awareness- Being aware of their own, stereotypes, prejudices and biases in relation to people from different cultural backgrounds.
  • Counsellors need to be aware of multicultural theory and practice in counselling, and continue developing skills on how to integrate these perspectives and techniques” (Westgate,1996)
  • Counsellors must be open about their limitations in dealing with clients who come for counselling having spiritual, religious or cultural concerns and seek for appropriate supervision.

Q:  What does it mean to become a cross culturally competent counsellor applying the cultural competency model?

It means being able to do an analysis on yourself as a counsellor on cultural awareness, knowledge, sensitivity and competencies in relation to yourself and your clients. For example doing an analysis on cultural awareness would entail looking at who you are as a counsellor-your values, beliefs, customs, stereotypes, etc   while at the same time checking your understanding/awareness of other people’s  values, customs ,traditions, beliefs, biases and stereotypes.

Cultural Knowledge would entail checking/evaluating how different your values, traditions, customs, stereotypes are to those of other people and what additional cultural knowledge, awareness and understanding you need as a counsellor in order to service your clients adequately.

Q:  How accommodating are our workplaces to issues of African spirituality?

  • There is still a long way to go as there are no policies in most workplaces currently to address issues of African spirituality.
  • Even though there are EAP programmes to assist with psychosocial issues that manifest in the workplace, EAP professionals do not have the appropriate knowledge and skills to help employees presenting with such issues that require African spirituality interventions.
  • The stigma and stereotypes around issues of African spirituality make it difficult to address such issues in the workplace.
Proactive Health Solutions

Proactive Health Solutions

PHS is a leading health and wellness solutions provider in South Africa that was founded in 1999. Over the years we have grown into an established “one-stop-shop” and preferred integrated health and wellness service provider with a comprehensive national footprint and ever growing continental presence. Our service delivery is based on a hybrid model that makes optimal use of internal resources augmented by strategic business partnerships. PHS has established operations in all nine South African provinces, with a total staff complement of 140 employees, mainly specialised in health care and business consulting and support skills.​