Domain I: Acknowledge the Ubiquitous Nature of Culture in Counselling

CC2 Intersectionality

Appreciate and reflect critically on the complexity and intersectionality of cultural identities and relationalities.

Recommended Reading

Collins, S. (2018). The cultural embeddedness of counselling: Appreciating the complexity and intersectionality of client–counsellor cultural identities. In S. Collins (Ed.), Embracing cultural responsivity and social justice: Re-shaping professional identity in counselling psychology (pp. 70–86). Counselling Concepts.

The second core competency for CRSJ counselling (Collins, 2018) focuses on the complex and multifaceted nature of both counsellor and client cultural identities. In most competency models, counsellor self-awareness and awareness of client worldview continue to be treated as separate domains (Nassar-McMillan, 2014; Ratts et al., 2015, 2016). From a teaching and learning perspective, however, the key concepts and learning outcomes in the CRSJ counselling model below apply equally to counsellor and client. Focusing learners from the outset on the interface of client–counsellor cultural identities reinforces the relational and contextual nature of culture and cultural identities. Integrating Indigenous principles of relationality and relationship to land and place challenges Western, individualist worldviews by critically analyzing the cultural relevance of concepts such as identity (Fellner et al., 2016). It is also important for learners to appreciate the fluidity and intersectionality of both their own and their clients’ multiple cultural identities (Collins, 2010; McNair, 2017).

CRSJ Counselling Key Concepts

The activities in this chapter are designed to support competency development related to the key concepts listed below. Click on the concepts in the table and you will be taken to the related activities, exercises, learning resources, or discussion prompts.

Contextualized/Situational Identities

Sociocultural, historical, and political influences on cultural identities (Self-study)

Canadian historical contexts have variously influenced the lived experience of members of nondominant populations in different time periods. The 2022 Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF/FCT) has created a website resource to Speak Truth to Power and provide a timeline of history and highlight key learning strategies. Exploring this site gives you an opportunity to evaluate critically how historical context shapes cultural identities. Review the Human Rights tab and reflect on Human Rights Over Time – An Ongoing Dialogue. The Glossary of Terms is also a valuable resource.

  1. Select a lesson plan through Select Your Defender – Speak Truth to Power Canada ( Review several of the Lesson Plans by reviewing the Interview and Biography. Also review the Community Defenders and Additional Resources. Get a sense the gains and losses in human rights have occurred across the country. Consider the following:
    • Who was affected, positively or negatively, by these events and circumstances?
    • What was the historical, sociocultural, political context of the time, and how did that influence these changes?
    • Imagine what it might have been like to have, or not have, basic human rights at these times. Picture yourself in these situations, either gaining or losing ground.
    • Attend to which aspects of cultural identity were validated or invalidated in different time periods.
  2. Reflect critically on our current sociocultural/political context in Canada. In what ways does this context continue to influence the lived experience and expression of dominant and nondominant cultural identities and human rights?

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Essentialized/Fixed Identities

There is no such thing as pure identity (Self-study)

Many people operate under the misconception that various aspects of cultural identity are essentialized or fixed in time and place; however, even those aspects of identity that people often take for granted may be more complex than they realize. Choose a nationality or ethnicity that you have less affiliation or openness toward than others. Be honest with yourself about the perceptions and assumptions you hold of this population. One of the goals of this teaching and learning guide is to support the uncovering of assumptions and biases that we all hold as human beings. Then watch the YouTube video below as individuals from various ethnic backgrounds share their perceptions of others and then are faced with an unexpected outcome.

© momondo – Let’s Open Our World (2016, June 1)

  • What are your reactions to this video, and how does it offer you a different way of viewing those who are culturally different from you?
  • What are the implications for challenging the myth of essentialized/fixed identities in other areas, such as gender, class, sexual orientation, ability?
  • How might you carry the moral of this story forward into your work with your clients?

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Expanding language: Breaking gender binaries (Self-study)

One of the ways in which dominant discourses are preserved and protected in society is through the use of language that infers there is only one way to view lived experience. These discourses often assume heterosexual and cisgender normativity; they position sexuality in binary (either/or) terms; and they ignore the breadth of diversity on these spectra. In the case of gender, you don’t need to look far to see examples that reinforce these false assumptions or myths: for example, signage that proclaims washrooms as being for either men or women reinforces the false assumption that there are only two genders.

Review the Definition of Terms provided by the University of California Berkeley, Gender Equity Resource Center. Then, consider the definitions provided in Appendix A of the America Counseling Association ALGBTIC Competencies for Counseling LGBQIQA. Go through these lists of definitions and review the terms with which you are less familiar. It is now widely accepted that gender identity and sexual orientation are nonbinary categories of human experience. In other words, they are best understood as continua of experience/identity rather than distinct and exclusive categories. Pay particular attention to defining the terms sex, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

To position yourself in this landscape of diversity, take a moment to reflect on the Gender Unicorn presented by the Trans Student Education Resources. Take note of what it is like for you—emotionally, cognitively, behaviourally—to consider your personal cultural identity relative to this spectrum of lived experiences. Consider the implications for your use of language related to gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation in casual conversation, in your professional roles, and particularly in your interactions with clients.

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My intersections (Partner activity)

First, on a scale of 1 (not at all) to 10 (always), rate the degree to which you are conscious on a daily basis of the various dimensions of your cultural identities and their intersections. Then, as you watch this short video, attend to the ways in which the intersections of your cultural identities amplify your privilege or confirm your position of marginalization. You may experience both, across time and context.

© Teaching Tolerance, Southern Poverty Law Centre (2016, May 18)

Connect with a peer to debrief your observations. Pay attention, in particular, to the implications of your level of self-awareness of intersectionality for your work with clients from both privileged and marginalized social locations.

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Reflecting on intersectionality (Class discussion)

Create a short vignette to post for discussion based on your own experiences of working with, observing, or being in community with, persons who hold multiple, intersecting nondominant identities. Demonstrate your understanding of the principles of CRSJ counselling in this vignette. Post one thought-provoking question about this scenario that is focused specifically on the complexity of intersecting cultural identities for your peers’ response. Try to come up with a question that you, yourself, are struggling to answer. Treat this exercise as if you were engaging in a peer consultation on this case.


Share a photo, image, or other visual arts example that captures the essence of what you have learned about the complexity and intersectionality of cultural identity. Provide your own analysis of the artefact you selected, and then pose a question for critical reflection by your peers. The question you pose should provide evidence of the depth of your consideration of the issues.

Note: You must pay attention to copyright in posting images online. Here are some tips on Open Learning Resources to help you find appropriate resources to use.

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Multiple Identities/Relationalities

Who is Heather (Self-study + class discussion)

Heather is a 32-year-old single mom, with no extended family. She receives limited financial support from the government. She has problems finding daycare and works at two part-time jobs to support her children. Heather’s seven-year-old is showing behavioural and learning problems in Grade 1. Heather is having difficulty sleeping and has experienced weight loss, anxiety, and exhaustion. She is attending college on a part-time basis, but she is considering dropping out.

  • What cultural identity factors might you take into account in working with Heather?
  • What cultural identity factors might be most salient to her current situation and presenting concerns?
  • What other information would you want to gather as part of your intake assessment to ensure you fully understand Heather’s situation?
  • What initial hypotheses do you hold about Heather’s presenting concerns?
  • What aspects of your own cultural identities potentially facilitate your understanding of Heather’s challenges?
  • What aspects of your cultural identities might lead to differences in values, worldview, life experiences, and privilege?

Now read the additional components of this vignette: Heather II. What is your immediate, uncensored emotional reaction to this new information? How does this information about Heather alter your responses to the questions above?

Finally, let’s switch Heather’s situation up a bit by considering the alternative background for the vignette given in Heather III. What response does this information elicit in you, personally and professionally? How would you respond to the questions above now?

Take a moment to think about the three versions of Heather and respond to some or all of the prompts below.

  • To which version did you feel the most immediate connection?
  • Which one did you shy away from, emotionally?
  • What do these initial reactions tell you?
  • Which character did you feel the most, and the least, competent to work with?
  • How did the complexity of her cultural identities factor into your reactions?
  • How might you increase your competency for working with clients with multiple nondominant identities?

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Relationship to Land/Place

The story of Shi-shi-etko (Partner activity)

Before completing this activity, take your computer or e-reader and move to a comfortable space, preferably outdoors, where you can enjoy the environment around you. Then listen to the Mayor of Edmonton read the story of Shi-shi-etko by Campbell (2005) to a group of attentive children.

© City of Edmonton (2017, January 30)

Before you connect with your partner, take a few minutes to write down your reactions to this video. I encourage you to be creative and spontaneous in your writing. Pay attention the way in which land is positioned as central to Indigenous identity in this story. Consider also the impact of loss of connection to land and place on individuals, families, and communities. Share your writing and debrief with your partner.

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Campbell, N. (2005). Shi-shi-etko. Groundwood Books.

Canadian Human Rights Commission. (n.d.). Human rights in Canada: A historical perspective.

Collins, S. (2010). The complexity of identity: Appreciating multiplicity and intersectionality. In N. Arthur & S. Collins (Eds.). Culture-infused counselling (2nd ed., pp. 247-258). Counselling Concepts.

Collins, S. (2018). Embracing cultural responsivity and social justice: Re-shaping professional identity in counselling psychology. Counselling Concepts.

Fellner, K., John, R., & Cottell, S. (2016). Counselling Indigenous peoples in a Canadian context. In N. Gazzola, M. Buchanan, O. Sutherland, & S. Nuttgens (Eds.), Handbook of counselling and psychotherapy in Canada (pp. 123-147). Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.

McNair, R. P. (2017). Multiple identities and their intersections with queer health and wellbeing. Journal of Intercultural Studies, 38(4), 443-452.

Nassar-McMillan, S. C. (2014). A framework for cultural competence, advocacy, and social justice: Applications for global multiculturalism and diversity. International Journal for Education and Vocational Guidance, 14, 103-118.

Ratts, M. J., Singh, A. A., Nassar-McMillan, S., Butler, S. K., & McCullough, J. R. (2015). Multicultural and social justice competencies. Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development, Division of American Counselling Association website:

Ratts, M. J., Singh, A. A., Nassar-McMillan, S., Butler, S. K., & McCullough, J. R. (2016). Multicultural and social justice counseling competencies: Guidelines for the counseling profession. Journal of Multicultural Counseling & Development, 44(1), 28-48.


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Culturally Responsive and Socially Just Counselling Copyright © 2022 by Sandra Collins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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