- Cultural humility is the practice of reflecting on how your own cultural background informs how you understand your clients and how you deliver care.
- For therapists, cultural humility is an ongoing journey of self-awareness, respecting others, and commitment to learning.
- Cultural humility means broadening your horizons to explore theories that might work better for clients who don’t share your cultural background.
The concept of cultural humility may be new for many therapists and mental health professionals. Cultural competency and cultural humility both involve respecting different cultures, but cultural humility takes it a step further by calling for a deeper level of self-awareness, intention, and curiosity.
Instead of simply noticing cultural differences, therapists can use the tools of cultural humility to explore how those differences affect their clients — including how cultural differences intersect with their presenting mental health concerns.
What is cultural humility?
Cultural humility is a life-long process of self-reflection and self-critique that prepares therapists to cultivate honest and trustworthy relationships with their clients. It involves learning more about other cultures while also examining your own beliefs, biases, and cultural identities.
Therapists who practice cultural humility understand that even if they’ve never experienced a client’s unique culture, they can still be curious enough to learn more about their identity and how it affects their life.
Cultural humility helps therapists create deeper, more empathetic relationships with their clients. It also helps therapists avoid potential harms and assumptions that stem from not understanding a client’s cultural background.
How to incorporate cultural humility into your therapeutic practice
If you’re new to cultural humility or are looking for some additional advice on how to refine your clinical craft, here are four tips for incorporating culturally-sensitive practices into your care.
1. Cultural humility starts with you
Fostering cultural humility in your therapeutic practice starts with self-awareness and self-reflection.
This means taking time to understand how your social identities (like gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and social class) influence your unique worldview, and how that affects your ability to understand your clients’ worldviews.
In addition to introspection, cultural humility means asking questions, doing research, and being curious about other cultures and perspectives.
Here are a few questions to reflect on:
- How are my identities linked to power and privilege?
- Does my identity influence my clients’ ability to build trust with me?
- Does my personal identity influence how I care for different clients?
- Do I feel prepared for emotionally charged conversations, specifically related to race, gender, sexuality, and religion?
2. Start the conversation early
Cultural humility is an ongoing practice that can be infused in all aspects of care, starting with a client’s initial appointment. As you complete the intake form and learn more about your client, invite them to share about their cultural identity and how it impacts their daily life.
Here are a few questions to ask:
- What are your most salient identities?
- What are some of the strengths and resources of being part of those groups?
- What are some of the challenges of having that identity?
- How do you think your culture impacts what we’re discussing today?
If you’ve never had this type of conversation with your clients, know that it’s not too late to invite it. Being honest about what we don’t know is a way to build trust and rapport with a client.
For example, you can say something like:
“I realized that we’ve never talked about how your cultural identity impacts your life. If you’re comfortable, I’d love to talk about how your _______ identity impacts the things we talk about in our sessions.”
3. Tailor treatment to meet the needs of each client
Therapists often have preferences for certain techniques or modalities. But what happens when those techniques don’t resonate with a particular client?
Cultural humility means broadening your horizons to explore theories that might work better for clients who don’t share your cultural background. It means that while you bring clinical expertise to the table, your client brings expertise about their life to the table too.
Each person’s cultural identity is based on multiple factors including race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, education, and social needs. Therapists should take into account a client’s unique background when crafting the type of treatment they provide for that client.
4. Create a culture of client feedback
Cultural humility means understanding that you’re not an expert on someone else’s culture.
To avoid making assumptions or perpetuating unconscious biases, encourage your clients to share feedback about their therapeutic experience. The conversation may feel uncomfortable, but this type of vulnerability can help you forge a deeper, more meaningful connection.
Not sure how to get started? Here are a few things you might say:
- “It’s important for me to make sure that I understand your perspective in our sessions. I welcome your thoughts on anything that I might have misunderstood about you or your worldview.”
- “I want to remind you that there’s always space in our sessions to talk about culture and identity. Are there any topics related to this you’d like to explore more together?”
Resources for learning more about cultural humility in therapy
Cultural humility is a continuous commitment to introspection and discovery, so there’s always something new to learn. Here are a few suggestions for furthering your knowledge on cultural humility.
- Read research with a critical eye. When reviewing therapeutic research, consider the main purpose of the study, participant demographics, and who funded the research.
- Consult your clinical supervisor. Supervision is an opportunity to learn more about delivering culturally sensitive care. Ask your supervisor for their perspective and feedback on specific clients, new techniques, or your overall care mentality.
- Join your local therapy association chapter. Local chapters are a great way to network with other therapists, address professional issues, and learn more about topics such as diversity and cultural sensitivity.
Get started today
At Path, we pride ourselves on serving a diverse client base and having a diverse provider network to match. We understand that clients benefit from care that’s tailored to their unique perspective (like race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation), and we’re committed to helping therapists provide client-centered care.
If you’re new to cultural humility or looking for some additional advice on how to incorporate culturally-sensitive practices into your care, Path can help. For more advice on addressing cultural differences when providing therapy, watch our webinar: What is cultural humility? A conversation on addressing cultural differences in psychotherapy.