The National Institute of Health (NIH) describes culture as the combination of a body of knowledge that involves things such as personal identification, language, thoughts, communications, actions, customs, beliefs, values, and institutions that are often specific to ethnic, racial, religious, geographic, or social groups. Cultural competency is the practice of recognizing how these elements influences an individuals behavior; and therapist who provide culturally sensitive services incorporate culture into their treatment approaches.
Why is cultural competency important?
The demographics of the United States continue to change and communities are becoming more diverse. Cultural competency is critical to reducing health disparities and improving access to high-quality health care, health care that is respectful of and responsive to the needs of diverse patients. Given the increase in diversity and the high representation of therapist who are from non-diverse backgrounds, cultural competency is extremely important. To read more about cultural competency click here.
Tips to determine if your therapist is culturally competent
1. If you discuss alternative coping methods to address your distress (such as praying, reading religious material, or talking to a pastor), your therapist attempts to understand how things things are important to you and/or your family.
2. When faced with difficult issues related to discrimination or social injustice, your therapist does not discount the value of your concerns.
3. Family connectedness important to many - and sometime very important in in many ethnic and cultural groups. Does your therapist encourage family members to be involved in your treatment (if appropriate)?
5. Many racial groups and cultures have beliefs about the causes of distress or mental illness. Does your therapist ask about your understanding of the cause of your symptoms?
6. Verbal and non-verbal communication (what we say and do) often hold different levels of importance for various groups. If your therapist works to understand your individual and group communication styles they recognize the importance of culture to treatment.
These are just a few examples of ways to determine if your therapist is trained in cultural competency. Does your therapist have skills?
Copyright 2014 Erlanger A. Turner, Ph.D.
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Dr. Turner is a licensed psychologist with expertise in behavioral pediatrics, child mental health, disruptive behavior disorders, and minority mental health. He is also certified as a National Register Health Service Psychologist.