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

CC14 Case Conceptualization

Position client presenting concerns and counselling goals within the context of culture and social location

Sandra Collins

Core Competency 14 of the CRSJ counselling model (Collins, 2018) emphasizes that cultural identities and social locations can have a significant influence on how clients view their problems and their preferred outcomes. The CRSJ counselling model draws on various epistemological and theoretical lenses to support an approach to practice intended to foster holistic and multifaceted case conceptualization. The intent is to respect and appreciate diverse views of health and healing, including those of the learner (Bemak & Chung, 2017). It is also important to assess clients’ personal theories of change and preferred outcomes or futures to ensure that both counselling goals and change processes are congruent and meaningful within their worldviews (Arthur & Collins, 2015). A counsellor superimposing their own lens on what is either possible or preferable, even inadvertently, may be experienced as cultural oppression by their client. It may also result in missing critical information from the contexts and systems in which clients function. These broader systems are often a significant part of the problem and a logical focus of intervention. Central to the CRSJ counselling model is the application of a contextualized, systemic, and social justice lens to case conceptualization to assess actively the locus of control of client presenting concerns (Ratts & Pedersen, 2014).


CRSJ Counselling Key Concepts

  • Holistic, multilevel assessment
  • Locus of control/responsibility
  • Anti-pathologizing lens
  • Preferred outcomes or futures
  • Appreciative inquiry
  • Collaboration on goals/processes

Views of Health and Healing

Listening to the whole story

One of the foundational skills in counselling is the ability to listen actively, attentively, and patiently to our clients. However, there is a natural tendency in our listening to apply our own culture-centric lens to what and how we hear client stories. Listening across cultures requires an openness to receiving meaning from clients in ways we may not be accustomed to. In many cultures, people express their emotion distress in what might be seen as indirect ways from a Eurocentric lens. For them, however, the communication is clear, and the problem is with the listener. Consider the following client stories. Place yourself in the room with these clients, and attend to your emotional and cognitive reactions. If you do not hold an individualist worldview, listen for what resonates for you and attend to cultural differences and similarities.

This is your first session with Andrei. He immigrated to Canada from Moldova three years ago, with his wife and three small children. As a young man, he spent six months in the United States, living with a Moldovan family, to learn English. He is still most comfortable speaking Romanian, but does not require an interpreter. Andrei is telling you a story about his job. He is having difficulty fitting in with his work team. One day he woke up and Pacala offered to go to work with him to charm his colleagues. At lunch Pacala told a few jokes and poked fun at himself, but his colleagues still kept him at a distance. The next day, Fat Frumos was sitting at the end of his bed when he woke up. Andrei smiled anticipating a better day. Fat Frumos sat beside him during his weekly meeting with his supervisor and poured on the charm, telling stories of his latest conquest, a particularly hostile dragon. Andrei turns with a look of disheartenment and says, I’ve always counted on Pacala and Fat Frumos. Now even they have let me down.

Himari is a recent university graduate, who is a second generation immigrant from Japan. You have been working with her for a number of months doing career counselling. She has just announced that she was the successful candidate for an engineering position in a company at which she really wants to work. You are delighted for her and immediately leap up to do a happy dance. Himari smiles but remains quiet, calm, and almost solemn. You immediately adjust your affect to mirror hers, sitting back down and looking at her seriously. She seems surprised and asks you why you are no longer happy for her.

Serwa is a middle-aged, female refugee from Ghana. In her first session, she explains, through the interpreter, that she has been in constant pain since she left Ghana three months ago. She has a very stiff neck and describes a lack of sensation and weakness in her hands. As the interpreter communicates this to you, Serwa goes limp in the chair with her neck falling forward and her arms hanging at her sides. You respond with alarm; however, she quickly returns to normal and looks at you expectantly. You ask a few questions, through the interpreter about her transition to Canada, her social support network, and her level of acculturative stress. After listening to Serwa for a few moments, the interpreter says that Serwa’s teenage daughter also has similar symptoms, although they only started a few weeks ago. Serwa is grateful to you and wonders if she can bring her to the next appointment with you, the doctor.

Depending on your own cultural heritage, you may be more or less bewildered by these stories. Attend to your reactions and consider carefully (a) what you might choose for your immediate, in-the-moment responses to these clients and (b) the between-session research and consultation that might best prepare you to provide culturally responsive services.

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Indigenous Views of Health and Healing

Create a story (Self-study)

[Contributed by Art Blue, Wes Darou, and Carlos Ruano]

This learning activity invites you to apply your learning about Indigenous peoples to the counselling process, in particular the process of developing cultural understanding of indigenous views of health and wellness. Invent an imaginary First Nations couple. Attempt a degree of rich detail to describe the physical aspects of their life, such as geographical location, their home, family composition, and day-to-day activities. Write a three-paragraph short story about them. Then complete the Views of Health template to extend your understanding in way that would support culturally responsive goal setting.

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Cultural Knowledge Holders or Guides


Cultural Appropriation

What is yours, is yours

Watch the YouTube video by Rosanna Deerchild from the CBC radio show, Unreserved.


As you reflect on this video, which speaks to appreciation and respect for cultural artifacts, think about how much more important it is for counsellors to avoid appropriation of cultural and spiritual rituals, practices, knowledge, and worldviews. Revisit the concept of psycholonization from Core Competency 4, and reflect critically on how you can translate these cautions about cultural appropriation into 2–3 basic principles that will help you discern how to be responsive to client cultural contexts and identities without engaging in psycholonization or cultural appropriation.

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Use of Indigenous healing practices (Class discussion)

Indigenous methods of healing are gaining popularity in professional and public domains. The use of indigenous healing approaches within counselling is one of those challenging ethical and cultural sensitivity areas that does not have clear boundaries. It is important to consider multiple factors and to engage in complex ethical decision-making before drawing on these practices in your own work.

Engage in a debate about this issue. If your last name starts with A‒M, you must argue against the use of these practices by non-Indigenous counsellors; if your name starts with N‒Z, you must argue for the use of these practices by non-Indigenous counsellors.

Toward the end of the discussion, please share your own personal and professional positioning on this issue, drawing on key points in the discussion.

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CRSJ Case Conceptualization


Contextualized/Systemic Lens


Holistic, Multilevel Assessment


Locus of Control/Responsibility


Anti-Pathologizing Lens


Preferred Outcomes/Futures


Appreciative Inquiry

Collaboration on Goals/Processes

On-target, off-target goals and processes (Partner or small group activity)

An effective working alliance requires that counsellors and clients collaborate on the goals of counselling and the change processes to reach those goals. Failure to do so can result in goals and processes that are not culturally responsive and, in some cases, reflect an imposition of values that reflect social inequities. To reflect on how collaboration on the goals and processes of counselling is positioned within the CRSJ counselling model, consider the figure below, which provides an explication of potential mismatches when the counsellor and client(s) don’t align on the goals and processes of counselling. For easier viewing on smaller screens, right click on the image and open it in a new tab.



Consider the following mismatches.

  • On-target goals, off-target processes
  • Off-target goals, on-target processes
  • Off-target goals, off-target processes

Individually, come up with a client scenario to illustrate each of these situations. Then, work together to compare your scenarios for common themes or divergent perspectives. Reflect on the potential effects of these mismatches on both clients and counsellors. Finally, identify three principles or practices related to building a culturally sensitive and socially just relationship with clients that might prevent these mismatches from occurring in the first place; that is, support on-target goals and on-target change processes.

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Co-constructing goals by leading from behind (Class discussion)

Ultimately, it is the client’s preferred outcomes that are prioritized through the counsellor‒client collaboration on goals and change processes. However, this may not be as simple as asking clients what they want. The process of working towards shared understanding and agreement on counselling goals often requires skilful, compassionate, and culturally responsive work on the part of the counsellor to guide the collaborative process and define goals that are a good fit for the client and which are appropriate to our professional practice values and standards. Consider one or the other of the following scenarios:

Joe comes to counselling because he is court-mandated to attend anger management sessions. He has a history of aggressive behaviour towards female partners and, most recently, pulled a knife on his current commonlaw partner. Joe’s first question is what he has to do to get the court off of his back. He responds to your questions with yes/no answers wherever possible and is watching the clock for most of the session. You can sense your frustration building as Joe continues to deflect responsibility for his actions. He holds firm to the belief that his partner provokes him and is, at least, equally responsible for the mess his is now in.

Rafael is working as a drug dealer at a fairly high level in your local community. He has come for counselling to deal with his frustration with certain people who are working for him. He also expresses his concerns about getting caught by the police, and he wants to talk about ways that he can manage his own life and his way of dealing with issues that arise to help him stay clear of the police and to avoid drawing attention to himself. He talks about experiences in the past where his reactions have made situations worse for hims and for others, but he hasn’t been able to find a way to control those reactions—seeing them as mostly automatic responses that have to do with his history and upbringing.

Critique the principles, techniques, or relational strategies might help you move from either Joe’s goal of getting the court off of his back or Rafael’s goals of avoiding the police and dealing with his frustration with his “employees” to goals that reflect active collaboration between counsellor and client, respect for client worldview and values, and the boundaries of professional practice.

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Arthur, N., & Collins, S. (2015). Culture-infused Counselling and Psychotherapy. In L. Martin, B. Shepard, & R. Lehr (Eds.), Canadian counselling and psychotherapy experience: Ethics-based issues and cases (pp. 277-303). Ottawa, ON: Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.

Bemak, F., & Chung, R. C. (2017). Refugee trauma: Culturally responsive counseling interventions. Journal of Counseling and Development, 95, 299.

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

Ratts, M. J., & Pedersen, P. B. (2014). Preface. In M. J. Ratts & P. B. Pedersen (Eds.), Counseling for multiculturalism and social justice: Integration, theory, and application (4th ed., pp. ix-xiii). Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.


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