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Importance of a Culturally Competent therapist




In our current society, culture comes with many different identifying factors of a person. Sensitivity and integration of all cultures are important as it defines the person’s values, influences, and identity.


As therapists, understanding the holistic integration of an individual’s culture should always be the first step in the work, no matter what approach is taken. The symptoms, issues, and treatment should be within the context of the individual’s culture.



As culture places a huge aspect of every individual’s identity, you should seek a therapist that is open to learning, respecting, and accommodating all parts of you that you identify yourself with.



You can note when your therapist is considering your age, beliefs, ethnicity, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and immigration status. A competent therapist will ask you questions about any of these aspects in a respectful and humble manner.


You might notice that certain aspects may be different or shared with your therapist. Perhaps you pursued the therapist for the shared cultural values. Both distant and shared cultural values are important to explore with your therapist as it determines the ‘unsaid’ interpersonal dynamic with each other.



How to look for a culturally competent therapist?



A culturally competent therapist will have an awareness of the impact of your culture on the therapeutic issues that are brought up in the session. The practitioner will also be able to assess their own level of understanding with the individual in connection to all the cultural aspects that each person brings in to the therapy space.


Unlike many ethical guidelines that are etched in the books for therapists, cultural competency is merely a class that might be taken during their degree program, and an agreement to be pursued as an independent interest or specialization. This places the extra burden for therapists that are seeking to better serve the communities of certain cultures.



With this lack of integration and emphasis on the importance of culture and its impact on mental health, you can’t be sure if your therapist had the proper training to accommodate and accept your culturally identified issues.


You can be aware of collectively pathologizing comments or reflections by your therapist to determine their inadequacy in the training of cultural sensitivity. You should feel validated, safe, and accepted by your therapist when discussing issues related to your values and identity. The journey to healing for your mental health can only happen within an empathetic space.



Opening up the conversation about the cultural difference between yourself and your therapist can be helpful in determining if those differences will be understood by your therapist. Your therapist should be able to recognize their limitation in filling the gap of their own knowledge of cultural differences.


Every therapist will have their limitation in the work that they can provide. Not every therapist might be a good match for you. You deserve to have the best care and support through your mental health journey and it might take a couple of different therapists to find the right person for you.



Cultural competency should not be viewed as an understanding of various pieces of the individual. As mental health practitioners, we should accept culture as a fundamental integration of our being.



It is every therapist’s responsibility to accept cultural competence as a life long journey of learning.


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©2020 by Soo Jin Lee, LMFT