he United States is an incredibly diverse country. People of all backgrounds call America home, and they bring their unique cultural experiences to the table. Although culture isn’t a person’s only defining characteristic, it does have a big impact on many aspects of life.
It’s important that mental health professionals consider someone’s culture when providing treatment, and multicultural therapy aims to do just that. Multicultural therapy is a great way to embrace diversity while promoting mental health. You should understand what multicultural therapy is, what a multicultural therapy session looks like, and how to find a multicultural therapist.
What Is Multicultural Therapy?
In any country, minority groups face challenges that the majority group does not. Multicultural therapy is a form of mental health counseling that recognizes and addresses those challenges. A multicultural therapist is trained in cultural awareness and helps the client look at their experiences from the client’s cultural perspective.
Multicultural therapy can address many types of diversity. Race, ethnicity, religion, social class, sexuality, and disability all have a place in multicultural therapy. When you work with a multicultural therapist, they won’t make assumptions about your beliefs or expectations. Instead, they’ll accept your cultural background without judgment.
Experts have identified three main elements to multicultural therapy: sensitivity, knowledge, and empathy. The therapist should be sensitive to cultural diversity and appreciative of all cultures regardless of their own background. They should have an understanding of your culture and how your culture may affect your treatment needs. Lastly, the therapist should connect with you by empathizing with your thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
Therapy has evolved quite a bit in recent history. It wasn’t until about 50 years ago that cultural differences started to be a major consideration in the mental health field. In 1972, the organization now known as the American Association of Counseling and Development created the Association for Non-White Concerns. Today, this group is called the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development, or AMCD. The goal of the AMCD is to recognize cultural diversity and eliminate the barriers that stop minority populations from receiving mental health treatment.
Because it’s all about the individual client’s unique background, the structure of a multicultural therapy session depends on the specific client and therapist. Some therapists use the cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, approach, which is usually a short-term form of therapy. Others may prefer the psychodynamic model, which involves a longer-term relationship between the therapist and client.
When Is Multicultural Therapy Used?
Multicultural therapy can address a wide range of mental health concerns. Sometimes, multicultural therapy is all about accepting your cultural identity, overcoming discrimination, or coping with cultural differences in your environment.
Other times, multicultural therapy addresses broader mental health concerns like depression, anxiety, or addiction. However, the therapist and client look at these issues within the context of the client’s culture.
Multicultural therapy can also be applied in many settings and structures. Counselors can use multicultural therapy in private practices, psychiatric hospitals, rehab facilities, schools, and anywhere else where people receive mental health treatment. You can have an individual multicultural therapy session, a family session, or a group counseling session.
Multicultural therapy isn’t a subcategory of therapy as much as it’s an approach or style that can be used during any counseling session. Today, most students in training to become counselors are trained in cultural sensitivity. You may find that some therapists put more emphasis on culture in their work than others, though.
Why Is Multicultural Therapy Important?
Our backgrounds influence who we are, and feeling accepted and validated during therapy is the key to success. If you therapist doesn’t try to understand, acknowledge, and accept your culture, you may feel like you can’t be your authentic self during your therapy sessions.
Unfortunately, many people in minority groups feel stifled or misunderstood when they’re surrounded by people who come from different backgrounds. Therapy can be a valuable opportunity to process these feelings. If the therapist doesn’t take a multicultural approach, though, the client may feel just as isolated during the sessions as they do in other areas of their life.
Without cultural understanding, there’s a risk of damaging the client-therapist relationship. For example, in some forms of therapy, the therapist might ask the client lots of questions. In some cultures, this type of direct questioning is considered rude. It would be hard for anyone to connect with a therapist if the therapist is doing something they consider to be inappropriate.
For therapists to successfully work with people of different backgrounds, they have to remember that not everyone has the same values, beliefs, and experiences. If your therapist doesn’t acknowledge your culture, they may offer ideas that don’t align with your beliefs.
During a multicultural therapy session, you should feel free to express your culture and explore the ways in which it affects your life. Not only does this help strengthen the trust between you and your therapist, but it also can help you feel more connected to your culture.
How to Choose a Multicultural Therapist
Finding the right therapist for you can take some time and research. If you know that the multicultural approach is one of your priorities, you can narrow down your list.
Look for professionals who highlight multicultural therapy as one of their interests or areas of expertise. Most will mention it in their biographies if it’s a part of their foundation. You should also keep an eye out for therapists who have completed extra training in multicultural therapy.
Most therapists will offer a preliminary phone call so that you can learn a little more about their style before deciding whether or not to schedule an appointment. When you speak with a prospective therapist, ask them about their experience with multicultural therapy. Have they worked with clients with a similar background to yours? How would they describe their cultural approach? What does a typical session look like?
You may not feel a strong connection with the first therapist you speak to. All counselors have different styles, and all clients have different needs. Try not to feel discouraged if it takes a little while to find a therapist who’s the right fit.
Multicultural therapy can be a great way to keep your culture at the forefront when working toward your mental health goals. No matter your background, working with a therapist who understands your experiences and values can help you feel safe and supported.
If you’re looking for a therapist in Los Angeles, reach out to Beverly Hills Therapy Group today to connect with a member of our diverse team of counselors. Our mental health experts address cultural factors by taking a specialized approach to each client. Contact us to learn more.