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What you Need to Know About Culturally Competent Therapy

Nearly 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness in their lifetime within the United States. The majority of these individuals will likely require some form of mental health care within their lifetime. Mental health illness can impact everyone regardless of race, gender, class or background; however the U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health, Culture, Race, and Ethnicity acknowledged that racial and ethnic minority persons are underserved and ineffectively served by mental health professionals in the United States. So how can mental health care providers better serve racial and ethnic minority individuals?

One of the emerging practices that has been found to be helpful in serving racial and ethnic minority individuals is culturally competent therapy. Culturally competent therapy (also referred to as culturally sensitive therapy or, depending on the situation, as cross-cultural therapy) is a mental health care practice(s) amongst mental care health providers. This form of therapy is specifically intended for racial or ethnic minorities, that is rooted in respect, empathy and the positive acknowledgement of a patient’s cultural or ethnic background. Practicing culturally competent therapy is patient specific, so there is not one set way for mental health care providers to practice culturally competent therapy. Culturally competent therapy practices can be integrated into a patient’s mental health care in lots of different ways, but it aims to help a patient develop trust and feel more comfortable with the overall therapy process. Ultimately, the goal of culturally competent therapy is to build this comfort and trust in order to help make the mental health care treatment more effective and better serve its patients.

Not all therapists practice culturally competent therapy, so if you’re interested in ensuring that you receive culturally competent therapy consider the following questions when seeking a mental health care provider:

Is the mental health care provider open and comfortable with culturally competent practices from the beginning?

If a therapist is not flexible and open to discussing culturally competent therapy options from the start, then they are most likely not a good fit. Culturally competent therapists should be comfortable discussing aspects of race, gender, class, sexuality, ethnicity, and other factors of identity and how they contribute to a patient’s racial and ethnic background. If a therapist is not comfortable with these topics, then the patient will likely remain uncomfortable during their mental health care process.

Does the mental health care professional have an understanding of the social and historical context which relate directly to minority individuals?

If a therapist claims to be culturally competent, it is important that they recognize and acknowledge the history of social movements that have shaped the attitudes, values and behaviors of groups of people within the United States and the global world. It is also important for therapists to be aware of today’s climate and environment regarding the specific challenges faced by minority individuals. Recognizing the past and the current climate around topics of race and ethnicity is key for being competent and empathetic of others experiences.

Does the mental health care professional analyze and acknowledge their own cultural and ethnic background, and how it relates to others?

It is important that a culturally competent therapist recognizes their own bias based on their specific racial and ethnic background in order to be able to provide the best mental health care treatment for others. While a therapist certainly does not need to have the exact same racial or ethnic background as their patients (though some patients may find this to be important, which is okay), culturally competent therapists need to be aware of how their cultural and ethnic background may impact their patients.

Ultimately, mental health care providers should validate and ensure the comfort of all of their patients. Culturally competent therapy practices help ensure that racially and ethnically diverse individuals build trust with their mental health care providers and thus experience equitable mental health care.

Learn more about specific services offered by Lu Rocha by checking out her website.

Contributing Writer: Brittany A. Hamilton

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