Open to Hope Foundation’s Dr. Heidi Horsley spoke with Dr. Anasuya Tegathesan, a Senior Lecturer at Hope University in Malaysia, about the intricacies of multicultural counseling. She concurrently supervises master’s students and also provides counseling for a number of clinics and NGOs around the world. As part of the Hope University program, Dr. Tegathesan oversees “therapists in training” as they provide complimentary counseling to other students on the campus as well as clients of non-profits who cannot afford counseling.
“Culturally, do you see differences in the way people grieve?” asked Dr. Horsley. “Grief is a universal phenomenon—everybody grieves,” says Dr. Tegathesan. However, there are various nuances in how people grieve based on cultures and backgrounds. For example, how a Buddhist, atheist or Muslim “practices” grief is all different. “But the emotions are the same,” says Dr. Tegathesan. This is why she focuses on the emotions behind the grief, and that way she (or any therapist) can accept their philosophy as a therapist. Working with emotions separates the nuances from the counseling relationship.
Meet People Where They Are
From the perspective of a therapist, it’s the professional’s job to figure out where people are in their grief—and then meet them there. “Don’t be afraid of working with somebody from a different culture,” says Dr. Tegathesan. A session isn’t about a culture, it’s about the person and their emotions. Respect those beliefs. However, when therapists don’t respect the beliefs of others, it’s a problem and multicultural counseling falls apart.
There are various niches within counseling, and multicultural counseling isn’t for everyone. However, for the select few, like Dr. Tegathesan, who specialize in it, this route can be a symbiotic relationship for patient and counselor alike.