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Cultures That Have a Hard Time Seeking Therapy

When you let your mind drift to what it might be like to try therapy, an image begins to take shape in your mind…

Vulnerable feelings of shame, embarrassment, and awkwardness take over as you answer questions about health, personal behaviors, and family history. You avoid giving specific details out of fear of being judged or perceived negatively. You question whether you are being understood or criticized and whether your therapist truly has a sense of what it’s like to be you. You debate whether you will receive the support you need, and whether you should go back.

While this scenario does not reflect everyone’s first impression of therapy, it does illustrate a common expectation with some, particularly for individuals from multicultural backgrounds. Individuals within communities that often experience discrimination, prejudice, repeated misunderstandings, and hostility have a heightened sense of distrust, even in spaces labeled “safe.”

However, even for cultures that have a hard time seeking therapy, treatment does not have to be a horrible experience. Many clinicians have taken significant steps to provide open spaces for diverse patients and make it a priority to understand patients’ cultural views of challenges. Tackling barriers that block the road to treatment and connecting to culturally responsive therapists can lead to a rewarding therapeutic experience.

Multiculturalism and Its Concerns within Therapy

While therapy provides a space for unbiased observations, both the therapist and patient bring their worldview or perception of life to the session. A variety of factors including race, ethnicity, geographical location, lifestyles, religious views, and degree of ability affect the way we see the world. Our behaviors, thoughts, and patterns are filtered through this cultural lens that assigns definitions according to our unique perspective.

The harmony of various cultures — values, beliefs, traditions — describes the concept of multiculturalism.

Multiculturalism exemplifies the wealth and depth of the human experience and when incorporated in a meaningful way, truly enhances the therapeutic process. However, many challenges arise in therapy when cultural differences create a barrier during treatment.

It’s common for individuals to approach mental health with perspectives based on religious, family, and cultural views. Some of these views paint a negative belief system about mental health and those suffering with mental illnesses within their community. Such beliefs have created a negative stigma of mental health concerns and resulted in barriers to those individuals seeking treatment.

In addition to negative stigmas, other barriers affecting communities when they seek treatment include:

  • A lack of culturally integrated treatments that focus on a holistic view for Asian American and Pacific Islanders.

  • A perception that mental health is associated with weakness and a preference to seek support from religious places of worship for African Americans.

  • A mistrust in Government services and the lack of providers for Indigenous people.

  • The fear of neighbors knowing about treatment and the lack of confidentiality in small, rural communities in isolated locations.

  • A lack of quality of care and fear of discrimination for LGBTQIA+.

  • A lack of accessible mental health treatment and a negative stigma of being treated “less than” for individuals with disabilities.

Addressing Concerns with Cultural Humility

In an effort to provide effective and appropriate treatment to various communities, the mental health profession has increased its awareness and practices to provide culturally responsive services. Cultural humility in therapeutic work involves a structured system with congruent behaviors and policies in place to provide sensitive, effective work across various cultures. To do this well requires that clinicians develop a working knowledge of historical and systemic factors related to race, gender, and sexuality, as well as a commitment to ongoing self-exploration, professional accountability, and a willingness to take a stand against social injustice. Cultural humility builds trust within the therapeutic relationship and creates a safe space for patients with multicultural backgrounds.

When you begin the therapeutic process, you can be sure that therapists who implement a culturally responsive treatment will incorporate your worldview into the counseling session. Beyond stereotypes, internal biases, and even their past experiences with patients from your cultural group, your clinician will work to understand what matters to you—how you see yourself, talk about the challenges you face, and interact with your community.

The therapeutic process has proven to be most effective when you feel understood, accepted, comfortable with the treatment recommended for you, and have developed a comfortable rapport with your clinician. Because mental health conditions present differently within various cultures, making sure your therapist practices cultural humility, and has a good working knowledge of issues facing you can positively affect treatment outcomes.

How to Overcome Cultural Barriers and Concerns

The push to provide culturally responsive services within the mental health profession has provided more opportunities for individuals from multicultural backgrounds to seek adequate treatment. However, negative stigmas around mental health remain prevalent and serve as a significant barrier for many. The following tips can help reduce fear and encourage motivation when faced with personal resistance in seeking therapy:

  1. Research mental health organizations that advocate diversity concerns

  2. Identify therapists/counseling agencies that address your needs

  3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions ahead of time, or while you’re in therapy about whether they have experience with your cultural background to determine if they will be a good fit for you

  4. Be open to the process and give therapy a try

  5. Know it’s completely normal to feel nervous

  6. Shop around, don’t feel obligated to stay with a clinician you’re not comfortable with

Seeking therapy can be hard enough without multicultural concerns needing to be taken into consideration. With the right resources and support, you can receive the adequate treatment you deserve. Here at Coastal Light Counseling and Psychotherapy, we believe in providing a safe space for all who are seeking mental health treatment.

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