Understanding the Relationship of Multicultural Case Conceptualization, Multicultural Counseling Self-Efficacy, and Ethnocultural Empathy in Psychology Trainees



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The multicultural competency instruments have been criticized for their ability to accurately assess this construct. Specifically, the lack of adherence to an operationalized definition is at the heart of the problem. In order to improve the theoretical foundation of multicultural competency, this study extended previous research by Ladany and his colleagues (1997) and Constantine and Ladany (2000) by utilizing an objective method to assess psychology trainees’ ability to conceptualize a client of color. Furthermore, this study included additional variables hypothesized in the literature to address some of the deficits found in the existing literature including ethnocultural empathy and multicultural counseling self-efficacy. Participants included 156 masters and doctoral students who were currently enrolled in counseling, counseling psychology or clinical psychology programs throughout the United States. Those who volunteered to participate completed an online case conceptualization task (i.e., objective measure) for a hypothetical Black client that assesses two interrelated cognitive processes: differentiation and integration. Differentiation is defined as a trainees’ capability of providing more than one way of viewing a client’s presenting problems and ways of treating him/her. Integration refers to the level of associations between and among the distinguished interpretations. Two psychology students, 1 undergraduate level and 1 master’s level, blind to the specifics of the study, were trained to code the data.

The first conceptualization was rated on the degree of differentiation and integration of ethnic/racial issues/factors(s) contributing the etiology of the client’s difficulties. The second conceptualization was rated on the degree of differentiation and integration of the trainees’ beliefs about what would be an effective treatment plan in handling the client’s problems. This study explored the relationship between psychology trainees’ degree of multicultural case conceptualization with his/her level of self-reported multicultural self-efficacy as assessed by the online version of two recently developed measures, the Multicultural Counseling Self-Efficacy Scale-Racial Diversity Form (MCSE-RD; Sheu & Lent, 2007) and self-reported ethnocultural empathy as measured by the scale of Ethnocultural Empathy (SEE; Wang, Davidson, Yakushko, Savoy, Tan & Bleier, 2003). According to counseling psychology literature, the last two variables may help clarify the underpinnings of multicultural counseling competency. A hierarchical multiple regression equation examined to what extent the trainees’ scores on the MCSE-RD and SEE predicted his/her ability to conceptualize a multicultural client. Previous multicultural training (i.e., multicultural courses and clinical practice with multicultural clients), and year in the program were controlled for since these variables have been found to directly influence trainees’ self-endorsed level of multicultural counseling competency. There were four major findings in the study.

First, self-reported multicultural counseling self-efficacy (MCSE-RD) scores were significantly and positively related to a hours of clinical experience, more specifically, hours spent working with racially/ethnically diverse clients and supervision discussing them. However, self-reported ethnocultural empathy (SEE) scores were not associated with any of the training demographic variables. Thirdly, amount and type of multicultural training had no relationship with multicultural case conceptualization in either the etiology or treatment response. Finally, self-reported multicultural counseling self-efficacy (MCSE-RD) scores did not add significant variance when predicting scores of trainees’ demonstrated case conceptualization skills above and beyond his/her level of multicultural training. Therefore, further research is needed to investigate the utility of these assessment tools to clarify what constructs they are measuring of psychology trainees. Implications for research, training and practice are discussed.



Multicultural Counseling Competency, Multicultural Self-Efficacy, Multicultural Case Conceptualization