Domain V: Collaborate with Clients to Apply a Contextualized, Systemic Lens to Case Conceptualization

CC13 Metatheoretical and Theoretical Lenses

Establish culturally responsive and socially just metatheoretical and theoretical lenses

Sandra Collins

The 13th CRSJ counselling competency (Collins, 2018) focuses specifically on the nature of professional practice in light of the evidence for social injustice and inequity in society and within the professions of counselling and psychology. Re-shaping professional identity requires a stepping back to consider the metatheoretical lenses that support cultural responsivity and social justice in scholarship, practice, advocacy, and leadership. For example, a positivist position that purports a single reality or truth is less conducive to the kind of cognitive flexibility that embraces diverse cultural meanings and understandings of self, health, and healing. Instead, I point to postmodern, constructivist, and critical lenses (Audet, 2016; Gergen, 2015), which foster deconstruction of underlying and potentially oppressive assumptions, both within the counselling discipline and in society more generally, as well as ecological systems theory (McMahon, 2017), which broadens our lens to the multilayered contexts of clients lived experiences. Learners are invited to reflect critically on knowledge sources, including culture-bound models of counselling. Some theoretical approaches have contributed to a paradigm shift that supports CRSJ counselling; however, rigid adherence to any one model risks cultural hegemony and misses evidence that points to common factors in counselling outcomes unrelated to theoretical orientation, including the counselling relationship (Duncan, 2014; Feinstein et al., 2015) which forms the focus of the next domain in the CRSJ counselling model.


CRSJ Counselling Key Concepts

  • Relational-cultural therapy
  • Narrative therapy/theory
  • Culture-bound counselling models
  • Theoretical flexibility
  • Systems of knowledge/meaning
  • Indigenous or cultural teachings/wisdom


Metatheoretical Lenses

Applying multicultural and social justice paradigms (Class discussion)

Many now consider multicultural counselling as the forth force in counselling and psychology and social justice as a fifth force. The first three forces were psychoanalytic, behavioural, and cognitive. Each of these reflected a paradigm shift: a substantive change in the conceptualization of human experience and the change process. Consider the following short vignette:

Anacaona dreams of being an astronaut or an archaeologist or maybe a pipe welder like her uncle Agwe. Even when they were still in Haiti, she felt out of place with the other girls who all dreamed of being mothers, and, if they had to work for a little to find a husband, wanted to be teachers or nurses. She works hard at school but she doesn’t have time to do homework, because she is either looking after her younger sisters and brothers or she is participating in activities at the church. She loves her mother, but her mother looks at her with disappointment when she discovers Anacaona sneaking off to finish up her homework or to read the book her uncle gave her about the solar system. Her mother and her aunt are very busy with leading women’s activities at the church, and she is expected to follow in their footsteps. She is not looking forward to seeing the school counsellor today. She knows that she hasn’t been able to show how much she loves being at school because she is so tired and so distracted. She didn’t have time to study for her last math test and it was her worst grade ever. She is very proud of and thankful to her parents for bringing her to Canada and giving her a chance to get an education. Maybe she just needs to get up a little earlier in the morning. She tries to stay up at night but finds herself asleep with her book in the morning.

Begin by reflecting on this story from the lens of psychoanalytic, behavioural, and cognitive paradigms. Then identity specific principles of multicultural counselling and social justice lenses that might be useful in informing school counselling with Anacaona? If your last name starts with A‒M, focus on the multicultural paradigm and if N‒Z focus on social justice approaches.

  • Be specific in giving examples of principles or practices that you see as potentially relevant to work with Anacaona.
  • Engage in a dialogue with your peers about the similarities and differences in these approaches.
  • Consider what might have been missed in the story and in the conceptualization of Anacaona’s presenting concerns and potential avenues for change.

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What do you see? (Class discussion)

Take a moment to look at the image below, and write down what you see. Make your assessment before you read further.


© By William Ely Hill (1887–1962) (“Puck”, 6. Nov 1915) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Then, take a poll in the class to see how many people saw (a) an elderly woman, (b) a young woman, or (c) both an older and a younger woman. What are the implications of the results for your appreciation of multiple realities? How might the lenses you apply to viewing the world around you, influence what you see or don’t see?

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Social Constructivism or Constructionism


Critical Theory


Ecological Systems Theory


Theoretical Lens/Orientation


Feminist Therapy/Theory


Relational-Cultural Therapy


Narrative Therapy/Theory


Culture-Bound Counselling Models

Challenging cultural assumptions

[Contributed by Simon Nuttgens]

A central premise of postmodernism holds that it is impossible to situate knowledge claims outside of their cultural contexts. This is the point that Gergen et al. (1996) make when they write that

Rather than working toward abstract theoretical formulations, the culturally engaged psychologist might help to appraise various problems of health, environment, industrial development, and the like in terms of the values, beliefs, and motives that are particular to the culture at hand. (p. 496)

Your task for this exercise is to assume the role of the “culturally engaged psychologist” (Gergen et al., 1996, p. 496). Pick a chapter on a counselling model (one that you are unfamiliar with) from a counselling theories or model textbook.

As you read your chosen chapter, identify and takes notes on culturally embedded assumptions regarding

  • what it means to be psychologically healthy,
  • how personal problems develop and are resolved,
  • who should attend counselling sessions,
  • what should be talked about in counselling sessions,
  • the role of the counsellor, and
  • who is responsible for change.

From from the notes you take, paste your ideas into to create a word cloud of key ideas within your critical evaluation of cultural assumptions.

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From history to ourstory (Class discussion)

Feminist writers often play on the word, history, to emphasize the gender bias in most accounts of historical events, labelling their restorying of events, herstory. History has been constructed and recorded to reflect White European perspectives, characters, and significant events.

Recall what you have learned about the historical and contextual factors influencing the development of various counselling theories, including their White, male, and Judeo-Christian roots. Then discuss the following:

  • What are the implications for counselling theory of the omission of other cultural perspectives from historical and current theory and practice?
  • Give some specific examples of the ways these omissions have, or continue to, play out in our field.
  • What might counselling practice look like if it was truly based on ourstory?

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Theoretical Flexibility


Systems of Knowledge/Meaning


Indigenous or Cultural Teachings/Wisdom



Audet, C. (2016). Social justice and advocacy in a Canadian context. In N. Gazzola, M. Buchanan, O. Sutherland, & S. Nuttgens (Eds.), Handbook of counselling and psychotherapy in Canada (pp. 95-122). Ottawa, ON: Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.

Collins, S. (2018). Embracing cultural responsivity and social justice: Re-shaping professional identity in counselling psychology [Epub version]. Victoria, BC: Counselling Concepts. Retrieved from

Gergen, K. J. (2015). An Invitation to Social Construction (3rd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

McMahon, M. (2017). Work and why we do it: A systems theory framework perspective. Career Planning & Adult Development Journal, 33(2), 9-15. Retrieved from

Duncan, B. L. (2014). So you want to be a better therapist. In On becoming a better therapist: Evidence-based practice one client at a time (2nd ed., pp. 3-33). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Feinstein, R., Heiman, N., & Yager, J. (2015). Common factors affecting psychotherapy outcomes: some implications for teaching psychotherapy. Journal of Psychiatric Practice, 21, 180–189.


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