The Importance of Multicultural Competency in Psychology

For decades there have been many social barriers in place that kept people from receiving adequate psychological care. Serious conditions were addressed, while more common mental health concerns, stress, anxiety, and depression, were often left unexamined.

The stigma around mental healthcare has largely abated. It is now very mainstream for people to seek and receive the help they need without any resulting social fallout.

However, there are still segments of the population that experience hurdles toward mental healthcare. Cultural comprehension barriers make it difficult for people in minority groups to feel comfortable seeing a psychologist.

An emphasis on multicultural competency, as well as a concerted effort to increase diversity within mental healthcare, can help to bridge and eliminate these gaps. In this article, we take a look at the importance of multicultural competency in psychology.

What is Multicultural Competency?

Multicultural competency is admittedly a bit of a vague concept. After all, no single training program could equip even a very bright psychologist with a comprehensive understanding of all the different cultures out there.

To be competent at multiculturalism is to not only strive for a greater understanding of the cultures you are most likely to encounter on the job, but also a deep and sincere willingness to always be open to learning more.

Currently, it is easier than ever to explore multiculturalism in a professional capacity. There are many trainings and classes available to help professionals increase their cultural understanding, and better serve their community.

The Situation

Multiculturalism in psychology—

One moment. Can I say something? It will be quick.

Oh boy.

It’s just — a brain is a brain, right? Sure, there is variance in the human experience, but I don’t see an article titled “the importance of heiress competency in psychology.

You missed that one, did you? A person’s cultural identity factors into their mindset differently than other aspects of their lives. Cultural identity can be a source of pride and a source of trauma. It can impact the way that a person sees themselves, and the way that the world sees them. It can even influence how, when, and why that person seeks care.

Without a common understanding of these factors among mental health professionals, many people will be underserved in their access to high-quality mental health care.

The majority of clinical psychologists are white. This means that a significant portion of the population is not seeing themselves represented in mental health care.

Representation Makes Psychology more Approachable

It’s uncomfortable walking into a situation where you stand out. It’s the high school nightmare come to life. No one wants to be conspicuous. Granted, this is a common minority experience. However, in the context of methal healthcare, this feeling of isolation can be a significant barrier.

Do I want to open up to a person who doesn’t understand my background? It’s a valid question. People grow up surrounded by others who are approximately like them. How could anyone feel comfortable stretching so far beyond the social group they know and understand for something as important as their healthcare?

More diversity and multicultural competency in psychology makes it more accessible for everyone.

A Common Understanding

Multicultural competency also allows psychologists to better understand the experiences of their patients.

It sounds like you’re suggesting that only people from the same cultural group can understand each other. Isn’t that a racist idea?

The question of cross-cultural understanding — to even pose it as a question at all — does prod at uncomfortable territory. After all, we wouldn’t suggest that a black male psychologist needed special training before he could competently treat a white woman.

There are a few key differences. For one thing, “white,” isn’t a culture. Being Irish could be a culture. Being English, or Italian or — well. You get it.

The other thing is that you don’t need to actively seek out white stories. They are the default for the simple reason that they are a majority group in the United States.

However, let’s say that that same black male psychologist was taking on a new patient. A young woman of Islamic faith from Pakistan. Naturally, they have very different life experiences. Very different social and cultural expectations.

If the psychologist makes no effort to understand where his patient is coming from, the quality of her care may suffer as their communication progress struggles behind a cultural barrier. However, if he does make an active effort to understand her experiences, the patient may feel very prone to open up sheerly because of the effort.

The Importance of Diversity

It’s great when people in the majority group make efforts to learn more about minorities and work harder to ensure that they have a seat at the table. What’s even better? Adequate multicultural representation.

Diversity in psychology can help to create all of the benefits described in this article. It can also help make getting psychological help more mainstream across cultures. It’s important to keep in mind that taking care of one’s mental health is a fairly recent concept.

That’s not to say that mental health struggles are anything new. However, up until recently, there has been a serious stigma surrounding mental health treatment that has kept many people from seeking care.

That stigma still exists in some minority groups, where access to psychological help hasn’t proliferated the same way it has for majority groups. Better representation can help tear down some of the social barriers to care, making it more accessible for anyone who needs it.