Multicultural competence has become a buzzword nowadays within the mental health helping professions. While for sure it is an ethical mandate for us clinicians, it has also become a marketing niche with professionals claiming to be “experienced” or “specialized” in providing treatment for a particular group of people. Regardless of your position on marketing ethics, here are some five things to know to help you become a more culturally competent clinicians!
Know your limits.
In theory, our education was designed to prepare us to work with all types of clients. But as we are all probably quick to admit, that’s all it is—a theory. Our particular education background, personal life experiences, clinical work history, among others, have shaped us to develop a certain level of competence regarding working with different groups. We need to be honest with ourselves that when we start hovering beyond that border of competence, we are at our limits, and we need to consider number 2.
Know who you can turn to for support.
Once upon a time, it was okay, even expected, that a therapist recognizing their limit to say “I am not culturally competent in this area, let me refer you out.” However, professional attitudes have shifted towards the importance of seeking training or supervision in a particular area of cultural competence instead of referring clients out. In line with this, consider maintaining a set of mentors or fellow professionals who you can reach out to for advice and supervision. Not only will it help you develop your cultural competence, but you will also be maintaining your professional network. Two birds with one stone!
This is somewhat related to the first point, but it’s more than just knowing your limits. This comes from the recognition that we are products of a particular cultures, and we live out our cultures all the time. Cultural competence is a two-way street! It’s not only about how to work with the cultural uniqueness of our clients, but also the recognition of how the expression of our own cultural uniqueness interacts with that of our clients. This is a lifelong journey of self-knowledge, and one that is very much worth it!
Know how the cultural factors interact.
Do you still remember your diversity class? If it was anything like mine, it went like this—Week 1: White Male Majority Culture, Week 2: Women, Week 3 Hispanic/Latino/a, Week 4 LGBTQ…so on and so forth. For the sake of didactic efficiency, cultural factors were introduced independent of each other. Of course, in the therapy room, we don’t just meet with a female client, a Latina client, a Christian client, we meet a female Latina Christian client (among other cultural factors). To be fair, some factors may be more relevant than others depending on the referral question. But it is important for us to be reminded that our clients are products of interacting, not independently operating, cultural factors.
Know other cultures.
Let me get this out of the way, I am not anti-academe. In fact, I must confess that I love spending time with academic books, journals, etc. But, I must encourage my fellow therapists to learn about cultural competence beyond textbooks, journals and the occasional Continuing Education event. As much as your wallets allow, learn about cultures in fun ways—try that new ethnic restaurant, watch films and listen to music from other nations, listen to poetry and experience art created by members of different sectors of society and cultures. Why not work towards becoming a more culturally competent therapist while having a more culturally enriched and full life in the process!?!
We would love to hear other ways that you have tried to keep yourself culturally competent! Please let us know what they are below or in social media.