FAQs and Tips

As you search for the right therapist, you might realize you want to work with someone who gets you. You might want to find a therapist who is familiar with your cultural background and experiences. Here are some FAQs and tips on how to look for a therapist who can provide culturally competent care.

Does my therapist need to look like or identify similarly as me to provide culturally competent care?

You may prefer working with a therapist with whom you strongly identify. For some individuals, seeing a therapist who looks or acts like you can be very empowering because it can help you realize that therapy can really be for you, and that members of your community care about mental health. This experience can be healing, and can help address limiting beliefs and stereotypes we may have had about our own communities.

That said, you can receive culturally competent care from a provider who looks or acts differently from you. Since culturally competent care is really about a therapist’s ability to be self-aware, knowledgeable, skilled, and attentive to your needs, it would be important to ask them questions about these aspects of their professional identity.

What should I do if my therapist doesn’t understand my background and I have to explain it?

Sometimes we’re working with a therapist and notice that they often don’t understand the context we bring. Here are some options to consider:

  • If you feel comfortable and you think your therapist is open to feedback, you can try talking to your therapist about your concerns. You can say something like, “I find that I’m often explaining my background and that it takes time from the focus of my concerns – could we consider ways to minimize this?” This suggestion places a lot of work on your shoulders. However, if changing therapists isn’t a viable option and if you think your therapist might be open to this feedback, it might be an important way to share the workload with your therapist.
    • FYI, many therapists, including myself, are trained to “explore” these kinds of requests. If you find your therapist is exploring this request with a lot of follow up questions, but is not actually talking any responsibility for their role, it might be a sign that they are unable to take this kind of feedback. 
  • If you are concerned that your therapist may not be able to hear this feedback, it might be helpful to consider changing therapists:
    • You can try look for therapists who may have more expertise in the identities/background that matter to you 
    • Sometimes it is be difficult to find a therapist who has expertise in your background, due to geographic, insurance, or financial reasons. In this case, look for a therapist who seems open to feedback, nonjudgmental, and willing to learn with you, so that way you aren’t doing all the cultural work in the room.

Look for a therapist whose specialties match your needs and is invested in their professional growth

For example, if you have anxiety, and are frustrated by gender-related issues at home or the workplace, look for a therapist who is able to understand and offer expertise in those areas. If you and your partner are struggling with navigating your different approaches to coming out, look for a couples therapist who specializes in working with LGBQ+ clients.

Since our cultures are constantly evolving (due to political and societal reasons), culturally competent care requires providers to keep up-to-date and flexible. Because of this constant need to evolve, I’d recommend looking for therapists who seem flexible, invested in their clients’ welfare, and committed to their professional growth in relation to different cultural identities.

Questions to ask a therapist when seeking culturally competent care

I’d recommend asking your therapist or potential therapist (if you are searching for one):

  • Where their cultural competencies lie – if they mention several different things, ask them to rank them :)
  • What is their definition of cultural competency in therapy?
  • How do they invest in their growth?
  • How do they balance and discuss their client’s worldview in therapy with tier own?
  • How do they navigate cultural and subcultural differences, when they come up?

Take-Home Message

Experiencing care that is thoughtful and culturally competent is powerful! I hope these ideas and questions help you in your search for the right kind of care.

Questions about what culturally competent care is and isn’t? Click here!

Much of the content of this article was originally published on Zencare.co, a wonderful resource that makes finding a therapist a lot easier. Thanks for the opportunity, Zencare!