Why Psychologists Should Be Culturally Competent

Psychology is defined as the study of mental functions and behaviors; however the ultimate goal is to understand individuals and groups by establishing principles of generalization through research. Psychologists are able to explore and establish these principles by perception and interaction. A good psychologist is also ethical and protective of human rights. Nonetheless, one concept that has been established but deserves more attention from psychologists and other professionals is how to become culturally competent. Cultural competence is a very important concept that involves awareness, understanding, interaction, empathy and objectivity. Knowledge of different cultures allows an individual to develop a positive attitude and worldview of people with different backgrounds. Competency is defined as knowing the differences that exists between cultures. Knowing these differences has an effect on learning and behavior. Learning about a person’s environment and life experiences helps to avoid negative labeling. In addition, it helps the psychologist do a better job by creating a positive social culture which makes it easier to measure for therapeutic success. Being culturally aware also serves as constructive method to help patients manage frustration, failure, anger and rejection. Active listening and empathy eventually enhances the comfort ability of the patient.

Mental health is essential to success in everyday life because it directly affects behavior and learning. When a person has mental health issues, the person has a limited ability to cope with difficult circumstances. People who are diagnosed with a mental illness but receive support tend to do better socially and academically. In regard to cultural competence, it is very important for a psychologist to respond to an individual’s needs, cultures and environmental preferences in order to address socio-behavioral needs.

The elements of cultural competence are vital in the study of psychology and help to shape the ideas of future psychologists. The ability to recognize how diversity affects communication and participation allows a psychologist to advise, develop and implement goals towards a person’s mental health well-being. Moreover, the assumption that a common culture is shared by all members of a racial, linguistic, or religious group is incorrect. The larger group may share common historic and geographic experiences, but individuals within the group may share nothing beyond that. For those reasons, the correct psychological approach must be used in fostering and maintaining relationships. In today’s society, objectivity and inclusion are very important particularly when studying human behavior. For example, a person from a different ethnicity may have difficulty adapting to new surroundings therefore as licensed health professional, breaking barriers should be the main component in cultural competence. A person may also communicate better in another language or prefer using a tradition to solve a problem. Therefore, the psychological approach would be to apply the best strategy to overcome the barriers and solve the problem.

When it comes to mental health and cultural competence, people can either be misinformed or uninformed. The public holds many misconceptions about mental illnesses as well as treatment practices. Culturally, attitudes and approaches differ among ethnic groups as these groups have different definitions on what is considered to be a mental illness. For example, an uninformed cultural group may have a narrow minded stereotypical view on mental illness by considering the person to be unable to control their thoughts. Those same groups may also seek religious assistance before clinical assistance. Conversely, misinformed cultural groups may implement psychological interventions without referring to evidence based research. Some cultural groups also view mental illnesses as not only a stigma on the person but on the family as well and may resort to using horticulture remedies for treatment. For a psychologist, it is critical to understand these cultural differences and context in order to become competent.

In becoming cultural competent, education is the most important tool a psychologist can use during their studies and beyond. Researching about different cultures allows a psychologist to provide therapy to people with unfamiliar backgrounds. Volunteering or interning at community institutions also allows a psychologist to interact with various cultures. Person-centered planning is a technique in which plans are made to specific to individual’s goals or objectives such as cultural activities. Engaging in more cultural activities builds self- awareness and the professional relationship. In addition, learning a secondary language can prove to be advantageous in relating to the patient. Labeling with dignity is also very important and it builds self-esteem. The only way to advance from stereotypes or social stigmas is to promote differences and not judge anyone different from social norms.

When evaluating the dimensions of diversity, gender, race and culture are considered to be major factors. Conversely, education, geographic location and income are considered to be secondary factors on what makes people different. A psychologist must understand how each factor impacts the other and how each factor should be taken into consideration during evaluation. During the past twenty years, the American population has increased and become significantly diverse. Studies show the population will become substantially more diverse in the next twenty years. As a result, for psychologists there has to be a stronger emphasis on becoming culturally competent.

Many beliefs and attitudes affect the actions of a person and influence negative viewpoints of different cultures. Cultural competence involves a long-term commitment however the first step is willingness not to accept the common cultural outlook. Each person has a unique personality and their experiences should be respected. Regardless of one person’s cultural difference, everyone can learn and grow with each other. Every person warrants quality services and deserves the best effort. A psychologist also has to take personal responsibility for responses to cultural differences. Different cultures are very beneficial to communities and have been so for generations. However, even though most cultures are different, all share similarities in promoting good health, safety and mental wellness.

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