The Benefits of a Therapist Who Understands Your Cultural Background

By Tiffany Eve Lawrence

Starleisha Gingrich is a transracial adoptee who grew up as a Black child in a white family in a predominantly white, conservative, rural area. She didn’t have any “racial mirrors,” people who shared her race and background who could help her understand how to relate to the community she culturally identified with. This even extended to therapy. Her white therapist admitted to being unaware of widespread news coverage of devastating racial violence. 

“That was the first sign of wishing I had someone to talk to who understood what’s happening in the world of police brutality and Black culture,” says Gingrich, a 33-year-old theater education and outreach coordinator in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Many people from diverse racial and cultural backgrounds share Gingrich’s experience. 

Learn How to Find a Culturally Competent Therapist.

“Having a therapist who shares a similar cultural background can be very helpful for your healing journey,” says Asuka Garcia, a licensed clinical social worker and first-generation Asian immigrant who works with first-generation immigrants, including international students, especially when it comes to building your identity in your teen and young-adult years. 

“Racial identity development is such an important part of your mental health and your life,” says Raquel Martin, a clinical psychologist in Nashville, Tennessee who specializes in racism-based stress and racial identity development. 

Of course, sharing your background alone does not guarantee your therapist will affirm or relate to your identity. It’s also possible to get culturally sensitive care from someone who doesn’t share your background but has been trained to be open to—and take into account—your identity and lived experience. A culturally competent therapist will have the ability to understand and respect values, attitudes, and other differences across cultures.

Some benefits of having a therapist who shares your identity or background

  • They may understand you without you having to explain the values and perspectives associated with your cultural background. 
  • If they speak your native language, you can feel more comfortable and connected.
  • Having a sense of “people from home” may help you open up.
  • It may help you feel more at ease to trust their judgment and follow their treatment plan.
  • They may be able to relate to cultural nuances such as regional dynamics, political realities, and how families relate.
  • By sharing similar lived experiences with your therapist, you may better visualize your personal transformation.

Some benefits of having a culturally sensitive therapist, whether or not they share your identity or background

  • They won’t be dismissive of your cultural norms and will avoid making any assumptions about your cultural experience. 
  • They will be curious about how your background and culture influence your life, and they will ask questions to learn more about them so they can best help you. 

Find out How to Find a Culturally Competent Therapist.

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