When it comes to mental health, personal and cultural connections are key.
Cultural competence is an important aspect of effective therapy, but it isn’t always easy to find mental-health professionals who are in tune with diverse cultures.
Research holds that mental-health treatments are more effective when a client feels as if the therapist values their culture.
With data showing that nearly half of people born after the mid-’90s identify as racial or ethnic minorities, this cultural connection is more important than ever before. Among the reasons cited by clients who end therapy prematurely is the lack of cultural comfort with their therapists.
Cultural competence is always a factor in the treatment of all of my clients. –Dr. Erica Wilkins
Dr. Erica Wilkins, director of the Couple and Family Therapy program within the College of Health Professions, knows of the importance of connecting with those seeking therapy.
“Cultural competence is always a factor in the treatment of all of my clients,” Dr. Wilkins says. “Regardless of whether they share a social location that seems quite similar to my own, or if their social location seems quite different than mine, providing culturally competent treatment is always at the center of my care for clients.”
In other words, she invites them to speak without making cultural concessions. The situation is different with clients who come from different backgrounds, though.
“In those cases, I approach therapy as humbly as possible with a willingness to own and suspend my values, and to interrogate the ways that they might be oppressive in the therapeutic context,” she says. “I work towards privileging clients’ beliefs and cultural traditions. Everything that clients consider useful components of strength are invited into the process of therapeutic treatment.”
The first session with a new therapist is important for clients to assess whether the licensed therapist is the right fit for them. –Dr. Erica Wilkins
For clients, finding culturally competent therapists is not always easy. Dr. Wilkins offers a few suggestions on how to go about doing so:
Culturally Competent Online Directories. There’s a proliferation of culture-specific online directories that can help clients determine therapists’ ability to provide the type of culturally competent therapy that they are seeking. Examples of these online directories, through which licensed, mental-health care professionals can be found, include: Therapy for Black Girls, InnoPsych, Black Men Heal, PrideCounseling.com and polyfriendly.org.
Telehealth. The use of telehealth for therapeutic services exploded during the pandemic. Now, telehealth has become a widely accepted resource for mental-health care. This is promising because people are no longer limited to the therapists who live near them. Instead, prospective clients now have access to most of the therapists who are licensed in their state which broadens access to therapists who can meet their therapeutic needs from a culturally competent perspective.
Be Bold and Trust Your Gut. The first session with a new therapist is important for clients to assess whether the licensed therapist is the right fit for them. Clients should feel empowered to ask questions about the therapist’s therapeutic philosophy and how they address culture within their practice. The first session is an important time to determine whether the therapist will welcome and celebrate clients’ intersectional cultural identities. If clients do not feel like the first session is a right fit, they should feel empowered to seek out a new therapist. It is imperative that clients feel like they are free to be their full cultural selves within the therapeutic relationship.