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Multicultural therapy addresses the concerns of those whose race, ethnicity, religion, gender identification, income, disability, or other social factor falls outside of the majority. Issues that arise for minority groups, such as oppression, racism, and marginalization, are relevant and recognized. The therapist is more culturally aware, and there is more emphasis on individualism than in some traditional therapy settings that take a more universal approach. Multicultural therapy is a form of talk therapy, but it may be combined with therapies that involve other activities, such as art or music, if these interventions can help clients communicate better.

When It's Used

Members of minority groups, including immigrants and refugees, and others who feel marginalized by majority members of society can benefit from multicultural therapy. Multicultural therapy can be applied to cognitive behavior therapy, couples counseling, family therapy, and other types of therapy appropriate for children, adults, individuals, or families, as long the therapist understands the psychosocial issues that affect the development of marginalized clients and the unique problems they face. When therapy is eclectic, the influence of the client’s culture must be weighed throughout every aspect of the therapeutic process.

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What to Expect

At first, time may be spent developing trust and mutual respect as you come to understand the therapeutic process and the therapist comes to understand your issues, needs, and expectations. Your therapist can then begin to help you understand which aspects of your problem may be rooted in the relationship between your culture and the majority, dominant culture, and which may stem from something else. Together, you work to find appropriate solutions.

How It Works

Multicultural therapy recognizes that psychosocial development is not necessarily the same for people of different cultures and backgrounds, and that minority groups are underrepresented in the mental health professions. So it is essential that counselors and therapists who work with varied populations are knowledgeable about, sensitive to, and comfortable with, cultural differences. Otherwise, it is impossible to establish the trust necessary to work with clients of different races, religions, sexual orientations, geographic locations, ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, and family types. Multicultural therapists must reflect on their own biases, lack of awareness or lack of understanding of the issues affecting specific groups of people. At times, there may be a need for the therapist to refer the client to a different therapist who shares the same culture. In multicultural therapy, the quality of the relationship established between the therapist and the client is key to success.

What to Look for in a Multicultural Therapist

A multicultural therapist is a licensed mental health professional, social worker, or therapist with additional training in cultural competency and multicultural counseling, generally through graduate work or continuing education. Developing cultural sensitivity and competency is an ongoing process, so it is important to look for a therapist who also has experience in multicultural therapy. In addition to training and experience, it is important to find a therapist who communicates an awareness of your particular culture, beliefs, and practices, whose goals and expectations for treatment are in line with yours, and with whom you feel comfortable discussing personal issues.

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