Multicultural concerns cover a broad range of issues such as race, religion, ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation, and/or disability. Culture is defined as “the beliefs, arts, customs, institutions, and all other products of human thought and work created and employed by a people or group at a particular time.” People from new and different cultural groups may be negatively stereotyped and heavily discriminated against because of their differences from a main culture. Throughout history, multicultural concerns have been prevalent in regard to the cultures of Native Americans, African Americans, Italians, Irish, Jews and other cultural groups. With the gathering of various cultures which is frequent in school, work, and social situations, there will inevitably be cultural differences. Refraining from negative stereotyping and discrimination may be difficult but necessary in an ever-changing society.
Culture plays an extremely relevant role in psychotherapy. The likelihood of a person seeking help, available treatments used by mental health professionals, and the outcome of treatment are greatly affected by cultural considerations.
Depression or other mental health conditions that one culture may view as a reason for therapy may be seen as a matter to be handled by family or religion in another culture. A recent immigrant to the United States might be experiencing depression, but could also be facing the very different cultural landscape of her new home. A therapist with an understanding of multicultural issues can detect whether the problem is one of depression or adjustment. He or she can also make suggestions about how to acclimate to a new culture and anticipate potential problems. For example, a person who lived in an extremely small tribal society where she knew everyone she saw every day might struggle with the crowds and anonymity that are so often a part of life in the U.S.
In a psychotherapeutic relationship, both the therapist's and client's cultures play a role in that dynamic. It is important for the therapist or mental health professional to be aware of client's possible cultural differences. Most therapists receive training or education on multicultural counseling.
Multicultural concerns may affect how a person is medically treated or if they receive medical treatment at all. Cultural views of health and health problems may differ and create an interesting dynamic in medical treatment. Misunderstandings of and/or ignorance toward cultural differences may lead to physical violence which may require medical attention.
Multicultural concerns are increasingly part of the therapeutic education landscape. Some therapists get training in multicultural issues in school, and many organizations offer multicultural training in the form of continuing education classes. These training sessions can help therapists become more sensitive to the needs of different populations and provide more effective treatment. Some common issues therapists will learn about in training and must master to competently aid multicultural people in therapy can include:
- Different approaches to therapy within different cultures, and the way in which culture can magnify the stigma of mental illness.
- Cultural beliefs about mental illness, including spiritual beliefs. Using a person's spiritual beliefs as a tool for healing can be helpful.
- Sensitivity to racism and ethnocentrism.
- Cultural values and the ways in which culture shapes family relationships, ethics, core beliefs, and communication styles.
- Culturally sensitive communication, including the avoidance of potentially triggering terms and figures of speech.
- Variations in communication styles; some cultures prefer close contact while others need more space during a therapy session. Some cultures encourage people to be open and animated while others encourage people to keep their problems to themselves.
- Reddy, S. (n.d.). Culturally sensitive therapy. Spirit Therapy. Retrieved from http://facewebsites.com/spiritherapy/cms-view-page.php?page=Culturally-Sensitive-Therapy
- Suyemoto, K. (2007). Training therapists to be culturally sensitive with Asian American women clients. Women & Therapy, 30(3/4), 209-227. doi: 10.1300/J015v30n04_15