What is Multicultural Therapy?
Multicultural therapy takes into consideration racial, spiritual and ethnic diversity in addition to sexual preferences, disabilities, social class and cultural bias. The main goal of multicultural therapy is to acknowledge and respect the history of oppressed and disregarded people and to address the socialization and power issues that accompany that oppression. Multiculturalism includes: gender, sexual orientation, culture, disability, social class, spirituality, age, religion and ethnicity.
Throughout history people of various ethnic and cultural groups have been discriminated against and negatively stereotyped because they did not look like or behave like mainstream society thought they should. Historically oppressed groups include: Irish, elderly, Native Americans, Mexican Americans, Italians, Jewish, homosexuals, women, disabled and African Americans. Cultural differences are more prevalent today than ever due to the influx of multicultural students, co-workers, friends and associates. With a changing world, it is especially important that cultural and ethnic differences be addressed as early as possible to prevent discrimination, negatively stereotyping and oppression.
Multicultural therapy focuses on looking at issues within a cultural context. This type of therapy acknowledges the differences among individuals. Multicultural therapists help you recognize how family and cultural factors influence your perception of yourself and the world around you. Multicultural therapy originated from the theory that many of the “traditional therapy approaches” developed to help white middle-class males were not effective for people from diverse cultures.
What are The Goals of Multicultural Therapy?
The main goal is to liberate you from social, political and/or social oppression. Multicultural therapists provide you with the tools and skills that you need to prevent self-blaming. He/she helps you understand that your issues are influenced by your social environment. In addition, multicultural therapy helps you achieve independence in your personal, work and social relationships.
What Happens During Multicultural Therapy Sessions?
During multicultural therapy sessions, your counselor helps you examine your own racial attitudes and beliefs. He/she then helps you identify how your racial, cultural beliefs and preferences contribute to the problems you are experiencing. In addition, your therapist helps you look at the bigger picture and recognize how societal beliefs negatively affect how you feel about yourself and those around you.
During therapy, you are viewed as both an individual and as member of a group. Your therapist may invite you to share your narrative. What does your culture believe? What is your heritage? What is your ethnicity? What are some of your cultural traditions and beliefs? How do you feel about homosexuality and/or spirituality? In your opinion, how does society view homosexuality and/or spirituality? How do you feel you are treated in society and why is that?
The purpose of your narrative is not only to help you gain a new perspective of the world, but also to help you see yourself in relation to the world. Your therapist may also have you discuss instances where you have been negatively stereotyped or discriminated. How did it make you feel? Have you discriminated or oppressed someone before? If so, how did it make you feel to be an oppressor? Where did you learn those negative stereotypes?
How Do Multicultural Therapists Approach Psychological Issues?
Multicultural therapists typically utilize the family therapy approach to treating psychological issues. Multicultural family therapists define “the family” by the culture, relationships and rules within that unit. Multicultural therapists address psychological issues within your cultural context.
Each member of your family plays a significant role in therapeutic process. The main goal during multicultural therapy is to help you develop a healthy ethnic and cultural self-image, self-acceptance and self-esteem. Multicultural therapists believe that the only way to resolve psychological issues and improve relationships is to acknowledge your cultural differences, ethnic heritage and cultural beliefs.
Your culture plays a significant role in the therapeutic process. Your treatment plan, the skills and tools you are given and any medications you are provided with are influenced by your culture.
It is important to remember that while one culture may encourage seeking therapy for psychological or interpersonal issues, another culture may believe that any “issues” should be addressed within the family. In addition, both your culture and your therapist’s culture should be acknowledged and addressed early in the therapeutic process. Once you have both worked through your own stereotypes and biases then you will be ready to address societal biases and work on resolving your issues within that context.
American Psychological Association. (2003). Guidelines on multicultural education, training, research, practice, and organizational change for psychologists. American Psychologist, 58, 377-402.
Sue, D. W., Ivey, A. E. & Pedersen, P. B. (2009). A theory of multicultural counseling & therapy. Independence, KY: Cengage Learning.