What is Cultural Competency?
Broadly speaking, cultural competency refers to the ability to understand, communicate with, and develop meaningful relationships with people across cultures. Developing cultural competence is an ongoing and dynamic process of increasing self awareness, committing to ongoing professional education, developing social skills and behaviors around diversity, and gaining the capacity to advocate for others.
Culturally Competent Care
As the U.S. remains to be one of the most ethnically diverse societies in the world, there are bound to be cultural barriers between clients and therapists. An individual’s cultural affiliations can impact the way they go about seeking care, describe symptoms, and respond to treatment. Therefore, acquiring culturally responsive skills is essential in providing optimal care to patients with diverse beliefs, behaviors, and values. It is important to understand the steps that can be taken to become more culturally competent and how it can benefit your practice and clients. It is the responsibility of the therapist to recognize their own limitations in understanding other cultures, and how to avoid using their own experiences as a standard in assessing behavior.
How Can I Become a More Culturally Competent Therapist?
Self awareness consists of a lifelong commitment to self-critique and self-evaluation to deepen the understanding we have of ourselves and our own biases. When working with clientele, it is easy to look through the lense of our own race, gender, economic background, sexual orientation, and religion. Being aware of your own beliefs allows you to identify how they might influence your view of others, and thus make a plan to minimize their effect on your therapy. Realizing that our clients have their own lenses from which they view the world, and acquiring the ability to acknowledge these lenses, will help us become more compassionate and empathetic with the people we work with.
Take initiative to learn and seek new cultural experiences, and expect to make mistakes along the way. Fortunately, there are many ways to educate yourself. From reading memoirs and academic books to attending diversity conferences, you will avoid burdening clients with the task of educating you about their culture.
Do not expect to be an expert of knowledge in every culture you encounter. Accept the fact that you will never be able to fully understand the culture of each client you meet, but always be open to feedback and ask questions! Cultural humility is achieved through a willingness to listen rather than making assumptions about cultural backgrounds and identities.
Keep an open mind and embrace opportunities to learn from others. Continuously seek out more information and work on processing new knowledge through the cultural lens of others. Remember that cultural competency is a lifelong process and there is always room to learn more.
Cultural competency is crucial for preventing therapists from having a closed perspective and myopic viewpoint based only on their own limited experiences. The more one knows about other cultures, the more accepting they are of differences in the people around them. Culturally competent therapists offer the best care and services to their clients, regardless of personal beliefs or social status.
Therapy should be tailored to the specific needs and strengths of each individual client, and that includes adapting to their unique cultural background. It is not effective or good practice to apply the same techniques equally to all clients, and differences in culture may mean that clients respond differently to techniques. Becoming culturally competent in the way you practice will involve further training and education to learn how to adapt techniques to different cultures. Be patient with yourself and others as you continue to learn, stay committed to culturally competent practices, and you and your clients will see the rewards.