Tailoring therapy and mental health intervention to the cultural needs of specific populations has proven effective in a recent study funded by the National Institute for Mental Health. The study took place at a community health center in Boston’s Chinatown and focused on reaching Chinese immigrants suffering from depression. Depression and other mental health conditions are often more prevalent in marginalized populations. And even among immigrants identified as depressed, just 6.5% entered treatment before the study. Factors keeping people out of therapy included a tradition of seeing doctors only for physical maladies, cultural stigma against mental health issues, and language barriers.
So, this particular program reached out to people to raise awareness and discuss mental health concerns in light of cultural values and beliefs. Depression screening became a regular part of physical exams at the community health center. Individuals who showed signs of depression were invited back for an assessment. This assessment included discussion of how the person’s thoughts and feelings impacted their daily life and what they hoped could be done about it. Then, often in the person’s native tongue, doctors would have one-on-one discussions about these concerns. Patients got to choose whether to work with a therapist or with their primary care physician to address their depression. Compared to the 6.5% who entered treatment before, 96% of those who came in for the assessment pursued treatment and saw significant improvement.
Basing treatment on the individual is a strong example of good therapy and counseling in practice. This isn’t the first example of culturally-sensitive success: we’ve written previously about culturally-informed resilience workshops for kids. And this applies not only to cultures but to individuals. No two people are the same, and everything from personal history to cultural background impacts how we perceive mental health issues, including depression. The more we base healing treatment on the unique needs of the person being treated, rather than generalities about the problem they’re facing, the better that treatment will be.
© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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