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4 Important Qualities to Look For in a Multicultural Mental Health Expert

4 Important Qualities to Look For in a Multicultural Mental Health Expert

by Mai Abdeljaber 


With an open mind, we can usually find the silver lining to major life-changing circumstances. At the very least, an almost two year long global pandemic has pushed us to start prioritizing our mental health and wellness. If you’ve noticed, the number of resources, social media pages, videos, and published articles around this topic has massively increased. While this is a major step in the right direction, the content we’re consuming is usually generic, not applicable to non-Western groups, and sometimes confusing. 


It’s important to start learning what resonates with you and what doesn’t when seeking professional help. And, if you’re actively working with a therapist or looking for the right professional, there are specific qualities to look for that can help make your experience even better. Especially if you’ve been raised in a non-Western household.  


1. Your practitioner should have general knowledge of your culture and background

This may seem obvious, but truthfully, some practitioners don’t know what they don’t know. And to be fair, fully understanding the depth and details of someone’s upbringing if you haven’t lived it is extremely difficult. If you find yourself over-explaining why certain rules, traditions, and belief systems exist, regardless of whether they are positive or negative, then you may want to reevaluate how useful the therapist-client relationship is to your healing. This should be applied to all backgrounds, races and religious beliefs. For example, having an Arab female therapist as an Arab woman could cut out months of time spent trying to define your identity.

Multicultural experts can be empathetic and open-minded and still not grasp the full picture. Identity plays a crucial role in our beliefs, approach to life, and decision making. Be as specific as possible in how you identify yourself and ask about their experience working with clients who fit your profile. Working with someone who innately knows the “hows” and “whys” of who we are based on our cultural norms makes a significant difference in your journey. 


2. Cultural sensitivity should be integrated at all times

Being sensitive to different cultures is different than having knowledge of it. A practitioner can have experience working with clients of different backgrounds, races and religious beliefs but still not display connection or emotional sensitivity to certain ways of living. 

One way to help you assess this is if you are consistently receiving guidance that goes against your cultural or religious values. You can express frustrations about societal expectations, but your therapist shouldn’t push you in the opposite direction. That could potentially cause more distress and confusion on top of your existing concerns. 


3. Ability to develop culturally appropriate treatment methods

Most self-improvement and therapy styles derive from Western-style education systems. That translates to a very individualistic approach versus a communal one. For example, Middle Eastern societies tend to emphasize family and community as the foundation of a fulfilling life. 

These obligations become stressful and overwhelming, and sometimes the root of our mental health struggles. An expert who gets this will know that suggesting an action plan that pulls you away from your community isn’t the most helpful solution in the long run. Your therapist should support you with full consideration of your personal background, no matter how diverse or “different” that is. 


4. Knowledge of your family structures and gender roles 

Any professional you’re working with will begin by learning about your family history and relationships. The difference is, a multicultural practitioner, in theory, should grasp the significance of the role you’re expected to serve in your family and why. 

Although family structures come in many forms, there is a common theme in most non-Western societies of unrelenting regard to parents, elders, caretakers, and in some groups, male counterparts. Even if those relationships are toxic or harmful, limiting contact is not always an option. A mental health expert that knows this will know how to tread carefully and respectfully, while still helping you find realistic solutions. 


Hope this helps serve as a high-level guide for your journey! Always remember, if you’re not meshing with your counselor, trust that feeling and find someone that works for you. A therapist-client relationship should never feel forced or unsettling.

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