What is cultural competence?
I define cultural competence as the therapist’s capacity to be self-aware in regards to her or his own identities and cultural norms, the therapists abilities to be sensitive to the nuances of the realities of human difference, and the therapist’s capacity to possess an epistemology of difference allowing for creative responses to the client. Such a paradigm frees the therapist and client to both make foreground the ways in which the strengths and resiliencies inherent in identities inform, transform, and can also be distorted by distress and dysfunction. This model of cultural competence is inherently integrative in that it focuses on people, not theories, and on distress, dysfunction, strength, and resilience, not specific diagnoses.
In this framework, cultural competence does not consist of learning rules and algorithms about how to work with a particular group of people. It does require a therapist to own and analyze her or his own biases, and to accept the reality of bias as an aspect of being human. This definition does require therapists to understand and own their own experiences of privilege, and to work through guilt or shame about privilege so as not to bring those problematic emotions into the therapeutic exchange. Finally, this definition of cultural competence asks therapists to have heightened awareness of the many strands of their identities, including but not limited to sex and gender, ethnicity, social class, sexual orientation, indigenous heritage, immigration experiences, disability, and spirituality, and to understand how those strands of identity combine. Culturally competent therapists develop awareness of what they represent to their clients and what those clients represent to them in the context of those strands of identity.
To learn more about my work on the topic of cultural competence, I invite you to investigate the resources that follow.
Upcoming talks and workshops about cultural competence
- No easy answers: Ethics and the emphasis on social justice in the practice of psychotherapy (January 15, Atlanta GA)
Written work about cultural competence
This list represents all of the books and CE courses I’ve written about cultural competence, recent chapters and journal articles, and older works that are frequently cited. A complete list of my work on this topic is available in my CV.
- Compassion amidst oppression: Increasing cultural competence for managing difficult dialogues in therapy
- Emotional and cultural competence in the trauma-aware therapist
- Working with diverse clients in psychotherapy
- Cultural competence: A new way of looking at integration in psychotherapy
- Cultural competence in the treatment of complex trauma
- Cultural competence in trauma therapy: Beyond the flashback
- Sexuality, lies, and loss: Lesbian, gay, and bisexual perspectives on trauma
- The private practice of subversion: Psychology as Tikkun Olam
- The meaning of a multicultural perspective for theory development in feminist therapy
- New voices, new visions: Toward a lesbian/gay paradigm for psychology