Fans of the award-winning TV series ‘This is Us’ may remember the episode where Randall decides to switch therapists. The character—a successful commodities trader turned Philadelphia City Councilman—is African American, was raised by a white family, and struggles with anxiety and PTSD. He admits that he isn’t comfortable sharing many of his feelings with his current therapist. His new doctor is “cool, smart, funny, Black, young father… we got a lot in common,” Randall explains.
Does your therapist ‘get’ you? The answer to this question is a key factor in mental health recovery.
Finding a provider you trust, who you connect with and who has experience working with people like you, isn’t always easy. Yet it is especially important for members of minority groups—many of whom suffer generational trauma from systemic racism, yet don’t receive the treatment they need.
The numbers are telling. Forty-five percent of U.S. adults with mental illness receive help, but just 23 percent of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) adults, 33 percent of Black adults, 34 percent of Hispanic/Latinx adults, and very few Native people with mental illness get treatment.
This is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month—a time to focus on the unique struggles around mental illness that minority communities in the United States face, along with the solutions. Finding culturally competent providers is one of them.
What is cultural competence in mental health?
Cultural competence is understanding that a person’s values, experiences, and personal beliefs are shaped by their ethnic and community identities and the influences that come with it. These factors can also explain why a patient avoids treatment and how they perceive and express symptoms, cope, adhere to treatment, and attach stigma to mental illness.
Exploring a patient’s cultural identity may help providers tailor mental health treatment. On the flip side, cultural incompetence likely contributes to underdiagnosis and/or misdiagnosis in Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities, writes Mental Health America. “Language differences between patient and provider, stigma of mental illness among BIPOC, and cultural presentation of symptoms are some of the many barriers to care that explain these errors in the diagnostic process.”
Assessing a provider’s level of cultural sensitivity
It starts with asking the right questions. The National Alliance on Mental Illness advises that you ask:
- Have you treated other people with my cultural background?
- Have you received training in culturally competent care for members of my community?
- How do you see our cultural backgrounds influencing our communication and my treatment?
- Do you have training in trauma-informed care?
Here are a few places to start your search for a culturally-competent mental health provider:
Psychology Today – Search for a therapist by zip code, ethnicity served, type of therapy and more.
Inclusive Therapists – Search by insurance, specialty, therapist identity, language, cultural knowledge, therapeutic approach, and location.
Open Path – A nonprofit serving clients who cannot afford current market rates for therapy through a network of affordable mental health professionals. Search by specialty, language, therapist ethnicity, age specialty, treatment orientation, and location.
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