Why African People Are Reluctant To Attend Counselling Sociology Essay

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The research aimed to identify why individuals coming from an African background are reluctant to attend counselling services. This line of research was examined through individual’s attitudes and knowledge of native and British Africans living in the United Kingdom. Data was collected using a Likert scale questionnaire consisting of thirty-five of which ten statements being tested for participant’s knowledge and twenty-five being tested for participant’s attitudes. Overall eighty participants (forty male and forty female) ranging from the age of eighteen to thirty years had participated in the experiment.  The data collected were subjected to a 2×2 unrelated two-way analyses of variance (ANOVA) between participants as participants can only be one or the other. The independent variable consisted of two conditions being participant’s gender and whether their background was native or British Africans and a dependant variable being the overall scores. Overall findings had shown that there was no significance difference between participant’s gender and origin in relation to individual’s knowledge (F(1,76) = .965, p= 0.329) and attitude  (F(1,76) = .166, p= .685). The results did not seem to support previous research which many had suggested that African men will have a negative view on counselling. The research did however, raises interesting questions for future studies, and had allowed for a second experiment being designed for native Africans over the age of forty for further understanding of the new development. The overall results had saw native African men to more knowledge in counselling as women showed a positive attitude towards this second experiment made it clearer in understanding that different generation are carrying different views on counselling.


Throughout time the African community prides itself on traditional morals and values in which can determine how they begin to perceive their surroundings. This notion can become problematic in many areas of an individual’s well-being. As mental illness is common in Africans it raises the question on how they are able to put their beliefs aside and accept help.   According to Mind (2010) “black people were more likely to be detained under the section 136 of the Mental Health Act (1983), section 136 allows individuals who are believed to be suffering from mental illness be placed under safety.  As more and more Africans begin to immigrate to the United Kingdom, it brings to light on the services that are available in ensuring that the needs of black Africans are met.                                                                                                                                                      

As an individual coming from an African background and having family who have immigrated to the United Kingdom form a Ghana, by seeing in firsthand how the views of counselling is perceive amongst the African community enables for this study to elaborate and understand the common problems which hinders Africans living in the United Kingdom from accessing counselling services. By looking into British and native African attitudes and knowledge towards counselling can play a part in the understanding to why African individuals fear help seeking services. The research will also examine the cultural differences between the western system and how it can have an effect n the African culture, as it is seen to be a barrier between how Africans approach counselling services as counselling purport to confront the social and emotional barriers placed within many societies, as well as ease the distress such social and emotional issues.                                                                                          

The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) (2009) states that “in order for a client to come to terms with unconstructive situations one must be able to see things from a different perspective, which then enables change and choice”. By acknowledging the early work of the Humanistic approach founded by Carl Rogers (1902-1987), marked an important development in the area of counselling as Rogers had set out to look into the individual as a whole and had outlined the concept of “self-actualisation”. This explanation saw psychological growth as it was portrayed that the sense of satisfaction with life was an essential human motive. However, Rogers wanted to understand an individual’s response to certain situations and had devised the client-centred or person centred counselling. This approach gives the understanding that individuals have the skills to reach their full potential, however this may become blocked due to life experiences individuals’ face. Rogers approach sees the role of a counsellor being able to aid clients in accepting who they are as an individual, as by providing positive points to the client helps in the individual valuing themselves as a whole.

The Gestalt Therapy considered by Fritz Perls (1940), another school under the humanistic had also similar ideas to Rogers approach. Gestalt therapy had focused on the experiences of an individual’s thoughts, emotional and behaviour. The main approach was to make the individual become more aware of who they are, as by the promotion of “here and now” saw the improvement in removing certain obstacles. Gestalt approach was influenced by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) psychoanalytic theory, the understanding of emotions saw through the perceptive of human beings. The work of Sigmund Freud was first established through the understanding on the functioning of the human mind, the notion led to his own principles and techniques being known as psychoanalysis. The idea brought in many techniques such as free association which helped to reveal the “unconscious beliefs and desires”, and therefore was able to make the unconscious mind conscious; this had therefore enabled the patient to reveal their inner problems. By comparing the major approaches into counselling and psychotherapy, these theories helped to build a foundation into the outcome of positive and modern counselling techniques which is still used for clients with mental health and personal issues.   

The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) (2009) defines counselling as “a private and confidential setting which explores the difficulty, distress or loss of direction and purpose that the client is facing, as the role of a counsellor should be able to encourage to look at different aspects of their life”. The process of counselling has long been at the centre of understanding how human beings are able to adapt to difficulties and life changing situations. In order for clients to benefit from the help-seeking services, the essential information is needs to be highlighted and made available to individuals.

As with the ongoing growth of counselling services emerging within society, counselling has faced a multitude of challenges throughout the years which have determined the outcome of different types of approaches being used for its clients. The lack of Africans not attending counselling services has brought to light the issue of trust that the client may have upon the counsellor as this can result in whether clients are able to seek help or not. Many studies have recognised the key issues that have become problematic in understanding the cycle of why many cultures are reluctant to approach counselling services, which will be addressed within this study. However, as majority of these studies address the issues faced within Africans American clients, the lack of recognition within the UK has led to this study being conducted, the views of British and native Africans may differ from the views of others around the world in relation to counselling. This leads to this piece of research focusing on the knowledge and attitudes of counselling services within British and native Africans living in the United Kingdom.



Literature Review

In this review of literature based on counselling and ethnic minority engagement, the author will explore some of the reasons why black African individuals may resist engaging with counselling services. The Department of Health and Human Services (2001) highlighted the social stigma faced within many ethnic communities living in the UK. The term stigma was first seen by sociologist Erving Goffman (1968) as “someone who possesses an undesired characteristic and who is therefore disqualified from full social acceptance”. The understanding that Africans are faced with stigmation has been considered to be core explanation into why black individuals tend to be unable to seek the professional help-seeking services. The statement by the Department of Health and Human Services brought to light that many Africans avoid seeking help because of the fear of being seen as unstable by other members of the African community. Many Africans would rather “handle their own business,” than seek the necessary help needed to overcome their own personal complex situations.

In addition to the concern on stigmatisation, it has been argued that western models of counselling are culturally inappropriate for ethnic minority clients. For example, the European Guidance and Counselling Research (2008) has shown that clients from “ethnic minority groups are least likely to make use of counselling services”. As the statement recognises the lack of Africans interacting with counselling services provided many researchers such as Ridley, (1995), Lago & Thompson (1996) and Sue & Sue, (1999) looked into a possible reasons why this may be. These references have argued that” mainstream approaches are white, middle class activities that operate with many distinctive values and assumptions”, and had coined the phrase “ethnocentric activity”.  This term was centred on the one sided views and principles of the white middle class individuals which has led to the separation with other cultures in the UK.  Many cultures may view the Western system as unsuitable, as the needs of other ethnic minorities may not to be taken into consideration.  


As more and more researchers begin to realise the ongoing problem in the way counselling services operate, Sue and Sue (1996) had considered an approach known as the Multicultural Counselling and Therapy (MCT) challenged the theory that only one technique of approach is assignable to every client. Sue and Sue developed the theory of Multicultural Counselling and Therapy, as a model which seeks to resolve the increased imbalance with different cultures by acknowledging and valuing different cultures which are being presented as well as promoting a method designed to enhance the present approaches. Pederson (1994) had also proposed a broad definition of multicultural counselling as “ethnographic variables which looked into ethnicity, religion, age, and gender, as well as status variables such as social, educational and economic factors”. Pederson’s proposal argued that multiculturalism takes note on how similar and different individuals can be towards others, as Pederson understood that an individual’s differences did not matter in relation to counselling. However, according to Ivey (1997) who views multicultural counselling from a different perspective sees this term as a “meta theoretical approach”, this had outlined the techniques which exist within the cultural context. It stresses the connection between family and culture affecting the way in which individuals view the world. In addition, Ivey, Sue and Pederson had outlined the importance in working towards developing wider knowledge on the different approaches practitioners needs to adapt to and change to ensure the requirements are meet for its clients, as multicultural counselling brings in a new approach designed to ensure that all individuals from ethnic backgrounds are met.

The concept of multicultural counselling brings in the research conducted by Sue and Sue (2003) who had looked into the lack of counsellors from particular ethnic backgrounds. Sue and Sue came to the understanding that the term counselling is considered as a “white endeavor being controlled by White middle-class value system”. Bimrose (1996) saw a clear pattern emerging and understood that “individuals from ethnic groups were the least likely to request and persevere with counselling” which concluded that individuals who had attended a counselling service were unlikely to return. In relation to this understanding, a study which had looked into the past and present views of counselling devised by Paul. M. Smith (1947) made clear for the need of black individuals having black counsellors, as black counsellors had the key in understanding the black heritage. As a result, the effect of Smith idea made aware of the lack of recognition and how it can have an effect on individual’s well-being.

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The relationship between African men and women in relation to counselling has attracted considerable amount of attention in recent years. In an attempt to go beyond the negative views and assumptions about how men and women use counselling services by examining the problem enables for a wider understanding.                                                                              It is seen that a male’s identity plays an important role in relation to their masculinity as the constant idea of proving their manhood is seen to be earned. Society has long perceived men as emotionless as this term determines their masculinity. Balswick (1982) defines this as “male inexpressiveness” it was founded by Balswick that males tend to find it hard to express verbal feelings because they are programmed not to do so. However, Skovolt (1978) relates Balswick understanding of “male inexpressiveness” to “restrictive emotionality”. Skovolt had founded that as men appear to have difficulty expressing their feelings and giving up on emotional control, can however plays a part in internal illness, as if men are able to recognise and become aware of their illness can lead to the reduction of mental illness and therefore begin to live a healthy life style. As the increase pressure from society expects men to follow the behaviours in which Skovolt and Balswick both describe, this has led to suggest that the traditional role of men may not be able to change.

Studies into gender concerning counselling has seen a remarkable increase in men from black and minority backgrounds having a high resistance to receive counselling (Mind 2010). With the general growth of Africans avoiding the attendance of counselling services Cheatham, Shelton, & Ray, (1987); Sher, (1979), Smith (2002) looked into the gender differences that the African community may face as previous research had focused solely on the services of counselling African men. The study allowed for African American men to freely express their own personal fears in counselling and overall found that men use counselling services less often than women. It was recognised that men will only do so if it was recommended by a third-party.  However, Coker (2002) suggested “African American women are reluctant to seek formal counselling, opting for more traditional sources of support such as family, friends, and spiritual outlets and had often viewed the use of formal counselling as a sign of cultural or personal deficiency”. Many African women tend to provide their own personal counselling support as within everyday situations and surroundings African women are able to seek help from individuals close to them, as within these environments the importance of cultural principles help with their coping strategies.

Wallace (1978) saw that many African women can go through what is called “superwomen syndrome” this theory outlines the little focus on their own personal mental health state. As a result of this syndrome many African women are prone to depression and other stress related sickness. The focus of this approach saw African women as being able to manage their own personal issues without the assistance of others. The syndrome has become another restriction on why women are not able to seek help, as once again the notion that men will be seen as weak is also seen in women. This shows that the pattern of stigma across both African men and women with respect to counselling has imparted upon on their personal health and reluctant to express their emotions. A study conducted by Komiya, Good, and Sherrod (1998) had shown that Africans who are told to express their emotions become reluctant to seek counselling, findings had also suggested that females had a more open attitude towards seeking counselling than male respondents.

Some researchers also focuses on differential access to counselling services, based on the intersection of gender and race. For example, Coker (2003) had found that African American women continue to use counselling services less than their white female counterparts, but when presented with severe challenges they tend to seek counselling more than their African American male counterparts. Judora J. Spangenberg (2003) had looked into person- centred counselling services and post apartheid South Africa had discovered the differences faced in the South African black and white community, this had seen a distinct difference in client and counsellor had indicated the lack of black counsellors in present South Africa as an increase in instances where black individuals are the client and have a white counsellor.

 Apparently, some would describe the available counselling services as irrelevant for black South Africans (Dawes, 1986; Swartz, 1996; Turton, 1986) had regarded that many of these theories are based on Western culture which many question their usefulness towards black individuals. Pack-Brown, (1999) founded that “white counsellors are expected to form the majority of counselling practitioners, currently and as well as in the future”. While there are clearly some problems with the lack of black counsellors as the black South African make up 76.1% of the population (Schonegevel, Watson, & Stead, 1998). It is also important to emphasise the need for cross-cultural counselling which draws upon experiences which has helped in the formation of cultural identity.

Failure to highlighting and recognise the needs of Black Africans being counselled by white counsellors can hinder the progress of black clients. By looking into countries which are predominantly black and comparing it to western countries, brings to light the vast amount of difference in the approaches in which both are able to accept. Many African countries base their health on their faith as according to Wheeler, Ampadu, & Wangari, (2002) who had suggested that “religion and spirituality are deeply rooted in the African culture”. Africans tend to rely on those who share the same faith or who have a greater social position as they are seen as more knowledgeable and wiser and therefore were allowed to criticise an individual’s well-being. Within African communities an individual’s religion and faith is seen to help them in finding a sense of self. Chatters, Taylor, & Lincoln, (1999) indicate that religion and spirituality are very important to them. Having their religion and spirituality questioned on how to handle their own mental state may be a reason for the reluctance as to Africans not attending help-seeking services can bring some understanding into the common problem. Studies into religion in relation to counselling lead to the fact that Africans tend to rely on the strength and direction of their spirituality and by involving counselling strategies gives the idea of weakness, as combining both counselling and religion can be seen as unacceptable when addressing problems within Africans. Young, Griffith and Williams (2003) found that Africans who have a faulty relationship with a spiritual being could be regarded as the cause of someone’s mental illness. This statement brings forward the notion as to why Africans may not accept that they have a mental illness and therefore may feel that they are mentally stable.

Counselling within developed countries focuses on the different problem areas faced within society, which can range from bereavement to eating disorders. Western cultures are considered to have a greater understanding of how to address client problems. Approaches which identify a client’s social, biological, emotional and psychical state have been helpful in enabling individuals to become aware of counselling services. By the understanding and the positive effect which countries such as the United Kingdom help to promote counselling services are able to make society feel at ease in approaching and speaking to a counsellor. The BACP has discovered that “Celebrities lead the way in promoting counselling and psychotherapy” a report which was conducted by the BACP wanted to look into the progress of the therapy received in Britain and had seen that “83 per cent of British adults either have or would consider having counselling and psychotherapy”. As a result of famous celebrities being able to be open up to their own personal experiences with mental illness has enabled others to do the same. The media and its role in promoting counselling has seen such adverts called “playing cards” based in South African created by Herdbuoy McCann (2007) aimed to make aware the different counselling agencies that are available to the African community. As well as public advertisements, many African countries are aided by the work of volunteers from other countries as many see that talking to their own people can help with coming to term with mental health issues. However, by addressing the socio-economic issues faced, individuals who were born in the United Kingdom and have an Africa background may been seen as having an advantage to those who were born in Africa but moved UK as they have a led in adapting to society. Within the African communities financial issues is seen as a factor into why Africans are less likely to attend counselling, as within less developed countries it is understandable that by not having the relevant faculties would equal to a disadvantage in wellbeing of native Africans, and can result in whether the problem within Africans not seeking help may come down to financial issues.                                                                While there are clearly some problems with addressing counselling issues, the links between how western countries and African countries deal with counselling has remained at the centre of how much work is needed in the improvement of the system.


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