Culturally informed therapy is the understanding that we cannot separate an individual’s development from their social, cultural, and historical context. In addition to intrapsychic life and interpersonal experiences, a person’s social, cultural, historical context deeply shapes them, who they are, their internal experience, how they relate to the external world, and what they struggle with.
Culturally informed therapy is a must because:
- It is baseline for establishing safety
- It minimizes the re-enactment of racism and microaggressions in therapy room
- Addresses inherent power differential in therapy / client relationship
- Creates an environment where you can be fully seen and not have to hide or separate or deny parts of yourself
- It lessens the risk of stereotypes and unconscious bias that lead to misdiagnoses, either normalizing behaviors or over pathologizing them
To be effective, the therapist must not only hold the importance of culturally informed care but they also need do their own work of self-awareness, knowledge gathering, skill building and humility.
- Self-awareness. Therapist should be aware of their own biases and privileges related to race, education, economic status, gender presentation / identification, sexual orientation, immigration status, physical ability, etc.
- Knowledge gathering. If a therapist works with a client from a certain social cultural group, the therapist needs do their homework and have a baseline knowledge of the social, cultural, historical context of their client. Read books, watch movies, documentaries, go to talks, get consultation. There are lots of resources. This is not meant to generalize the client and their experience it is merely as a starting point to have context.
- Skill building. Therapists also need to know how to engage the client in discussion about social, cultural, and historical experiences and more specifically how to discuss these differences as they show up between therapist and client. Without the knowledge and skills, therapists tend to ignore or deny or over-emphasize cultural differences - all of which are to the detriment of the client.
- Humility. Know when to get consultation and ask for support. Be willing to acknowledge mistakes and repair with client.