Culturally Sensitive Therapy
Cultural awareness is a core factor in connecting and empathizing with others. While all people have the same basic and fundamental needs regardless of their ethnic, religious, or cultural background, ignoring the impact that culture has on each and every one of us is irresponsible. We can’t truly understand ourselves or someone else without considering all of the cultural factors that contribute to one’s beliefs, values, and life experiences.
Cultural sensitivity is especially important in the field of mental health. Most people attend therapy for two main purposes: to gain a better understanding of themselves and to improve their mental and emotional health. Neither of these goals are attainable without cultural awareness.
If you belong to the dominant culture in your area, cultural awareness or sensitivity may not be at the forefront of your mind. Because your own internal cultural beliefs and experiences align with your external environment, you may not often be aware of how much your culture affects your day-to-day life. However, if your culture differs from the majority in your area, you may be more conscious of the role it plays.
Culturally sensitive therapy is a valuable resource, especially for those who identify with cultures that differ from the mainstream belief system of the area. You should understand what culturally sensitive therapy is, why it matters, and how you can find a culturally sensitive therapist who will help you achieve your goals.
What Is Culturally Sensitive Therapy?
Culturally sensitive therapy is an approach to therapy that takes the client’s cultural background into consideration. This can include any cultural element, including ethnicity, race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. A therapist who uses this approach has a strong understanding of the cultures of the clients they work with, and this knowledge informs their practice.
Rather than existing as its own therapeutic technique, culturally sensitive therapy is a philosophy that a therapist can apply to any other type of counseling. For example, your culturally sensitive therapist might use cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, if they believe it’s the best technique for you to achieve your mental health goals. However, they will also consider your ethnic or cultural background so that they introduce the technique in a way that best aligns with your values and beliefs.
The Importance of Culture in Counseling
Cultural sensitivity brings an extra level of awareness, understanding, and empathy to the relationship between the client and the therapist. Any therapist can amplify their practice by using a culturally sensitive approach, and any client can benefit from working with a therapist who strives for cultural awareness.
Our Cultures Influence Every Level of Our Processing
Your culture can affect virtually every part of your life, from your family structure to your deep-rooted beliefs about yourself and your world. In therapy, you’ll explore your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors to better understand yourself, and including culture in the conversation can help both you and your therapist gain clarity.
A culturally sensitive therapist won’t force every discussion in therapy to explicitly revolve around your cultural background. However, when your therapist understands your culture, they can structure the conversation in a way that best supports you. For example, some cultures place a strong emphasis on privacy, and clients from these backgrounds might be more hesitant to open up about their past experiences or about their emotions. When the therapist takes this into consideration, they can avoid making the client feel pressured or exposed during the session.
Culturally Sensitive Therapy Makes Clients More Comfortable
If you have a lot of experiences with people misunderstanding or judging your cultural background, you may feel apprehensive opening up about it. In counseling, the relationships between the client and the therapist is a core part of the experience. Without feeling comfortable around your counselor, the environment will not be open or supportive enough for you to progress in therapy.
When you work with a culturally sensitive therapist, you’re more likely to feel comfortable being yourself in the session. You won’t feel like you have to over-explain your cultural background, and you won’t feel like your counselor is misunderstanding you based on cultural differences. By knowing that you’re understood and respected in the session, you’ll feel more supported and connected to your therapist.
Culturally Sensitive Therapy Can Help You Explore Your Culture and Its Effects on Your Experiences
You can explore any issue you need to in culturally sensitive therapy regardless of whether or not it’s specifically related to your cultural background. People of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds struggle with issues like anxiety and depression, so culturally sensitive counseling is not limited to working through specific cultural issues. However, if you are facing challenges that directly relate to your cultural background, working with a culturally sensitive counselor can be an incredibly valuable experience.
One of the most common issues people explore with a culturally aware counselor is cultural transitions. If you and your family have recently relocated to an area with a different dominant culture, you may find it difficult to adjust. Cultural transitions can have a massive impact on your sense of identity, and therapy is an excellent place to explore this topic.
How to Find a Culturally Sensitive Therapist
Not all therapists use a culturally sensitive approach to their sessions. While all counselors should view their clients with compassion and empathy no matter their background, some are simply more educated in cultural matters than others, and some value cultural awareness more than their colleagues.
Most licensing boards for therapists don’t require ongoing training in diversity. If cultural sensitivity is a priority for you, there are some additional qualities you should look for in your counselor that go above and beyond their license.
Fortunately, the internet is a great resource for finding therapists in your city. You can utilize online directories and search engines to look for counselors who specialize in your area of need. Once you’ve discovered a few options, explore their websites to learn more about their approach. If they use a culturally sensitive philosophy, they will discuss it on their website.
Before you start working with a therapist, you can ask them some questions about their approach to treatment. Talk to them about their beliefs and philosophy regarding cultural sensitivity, and ask them if they’re familiar with your specific ethnic or cultural background. While a broad understanding of cultural awareness is helpful in therapy, working with a counselor who understands your individual background will help you feel heard and validated during your sessions.
Culturally sensitive therapy allows clients and counselors to explore mental health through the lens of culture, which can help you stay aligned with your background while you work toward self-improvement. At Menachem Psychotherapy Group, our licensed counselors use a culturally informed approach to treatment. To learn more about our services or to connect with a culturally sensitive therapist, you can contact us today.