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Culture Sensitive Therapy

Culture sensitivity and its benefits

Culturally sensitive therapy begins with an assessment of the culture that the client identifies with.


There is also the notion that people are the same in some ways despite their cultures.


Yes, there are some things that all human beings share in terms of biology and emotions. But research has shown that experiences of depression, anxiety, grief and loss are manifested differently in different cultures.


Research also shows that clients who are treated by professionals who are willing to explore cultural issues, and address them remain in counseling longer. These clients show marked improvement and sustain the benefits of treatment in the long term.

Definition of Culture

Culture includes but is not limited to the following:

Family Culture, Race or Ethnic Culture, Socioeconomic/generational Culture, Geographic Culture, Peer Culture.

Within each of these categories one must be mindful of subtle differences.


For instance, individuals who are perceived as belonging to the same race can have very different cultural mores and beliefs. Example: An African American raised in Ethiopia has experienced a different things versus and African American who was raised in America.


Family Culture – values, religion, how problems are addressed/solved, how finances are handled, the role of a male and female, family traditions which could include something as simple as leaving your footwear at the door, always wearing a scarf between November and April or something larger such as family reunion or a blog on a family face book.


Race or Ethnic Culture – Race and ethnicity are predetermined genetically.  Ethnic roots, ethnic values, world views that have roots in ethnicity are factors that affect ethnic culture.


Cultural assimilation is a factor that moderates racial and ethnic identity. The level of acculturation and the level of acceptance of acculturation in the family of origin are factors that affect the extent to which race and ethnicity contribute to an individual’s identity. 


Socio Economic/Generational Culture –  The socio economic background of the family as well as the socio economic status of the country when one was growing is a cultural factor


Geographic Culture – As the term implies, location within the United States or in the World contributes to one’s perceptions. Migration affects cultural values. Individuals who have lived in different parts of the world have a different need as compared to an individual who was only raised in one other country or lived only in the United States.


Peer Culture – The language used by peers, expectations and perceptions of oneself in relation to peers affects and individuals participation and expectations in therapy.

Why is it important to be culturally sensitive?

Our brains are wired to categorize anything we see almost instantly so that it can be remembered easily. When an individual meets another individual the first an obvious thing that the brain notes are facial features and color, size, clothing etc.


The process of judgment and assumptions has begun.


If individuals are viewed from these initial judgments then there is no room for true understanding and exploration. If people are all treated as the same just because they have the same skin tone then many important details will be missed and treatment can fail.


If I treat a client without being culturally sensitive then I will be unable to treat them in a way that best suits their needs.

My practice of culture sensitivity

To be culturally sensitive involves:

  1. The practice of being aware of your beliefs about other cultures, and assumptions made and

  2. Exploring the reality by asking the other individual to give you more information that can verify your assumptions or replace them with what is true for the person you are working with.


My willingness to be flexible and my openness to learn new information, allows me to meet the specific needs of my clients; this is the crux of providing culturally sensitive therapy. 


It is the combination of treating what is common to all people along with the use of what may be available from each individual’s cultural background that makes therapy culturally sensitive.

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