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Why It's Crucial Therapists Be Culturally Sensitive

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Culture is … everything. Every little bit of what makes you who you are. There are common themes of culture between families and friends, work and spiritual settings and home. Culture is far more than where you come from or your ethnicity or race. Culture is customs and habits and attitudes. Culture is what makes you, you.

Here’s the thing, all therapists need to be culturally sensitive.

The best therapists recognize my culture isn’t their culture, that my history isn’t their history. That my customs, habits and attitudes, may not match theirs. That what I was taught within my racial circle may color how I respond to interventions and the therapeutic process itself.

Racially, there are many cultures in which seeking help for mental health is taboo. And if you do seek help, trusting a therapist can help hold the heavy burdens of life may feel impossible based solely on everything you have heard in family talk and media coverage. And often, encouraging certain coping skills will be instantly shot down … because culturally, sometimes they make no sense.

Many families don’t speak to each other about their emotional well-being, so confronting someone about their behavior might be ludicrous in their eyes. Not an option. The best therapists know they need to ask about culture and allow a person to lead themselves where they need to go within their cultural boundaries. And they know their boundaries may not coincide with their client’s.

And they are OK with that because this is the client’s journey, not theirs.

High end cars are a culture. Poverty is a culture. Baseball is a culture. Overachieving, dropping out, having pets, shouting, how you decorate your home, birthday celebrations (or lack of) — all of these are cultures. Even child abuse can be culturally reinforced or accepted.

Families learn to not talk to people, to keep their head down and obey, that grooming behaviors are “OK,” that’s just what parents do to kids. They grow up and changing those habits and ways of life can be seen as changing a part of your culture, a part of who you are.

The best therapists know it will not be easy and maybe a person doesn’t believe they need to change, for cultural reasons. Dad did it me, his dad did it to him and his dad before him. This is how dads act. This is what dads do. Breaking that cycle of abuse before another person is hurt can mean changing a person’s view on one of their cultures.

And the best therapists know the lens through which they see life, their history and their experiences, may vastly differ from their client’s. Your therapist may know the definition of shame, may have felt shame through their lens and history, but they have never (and will never) have felt shame through yours.

And the best therapists know this.

Getty image by dragana991

Originally published: February 13, 2021
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