Cultural background plays a significant role when interacting with multicultural individuals. As such, today’s therapists are faced with the challenge of understanding their clients’ values, beliefs and communication styles, as impacted by their cultural upbringing. Failure to do so may lead to unwanted setbacks in the therapeutic relationship, as well as stereotypes and biases that may cause inaccuracies in assessment.
Establishing a therapeutic relationship requires more than just talking with the client during appointments. According to Paniagua (2005), three levels must be satisfied: conceptual, behavioral and cultural. At the conceptual level, matters regarding the client’s and therapist’s sincerity in the communication process are resolved. Meanwhile, success in the behavioral level is indicated by the competent perceptions of both parties towards each other- the therapist as a trained professional, and the client as able to abide by plans and directions. On the other hand, the cultural level involves a “cultural compatibility” or, in cases where this may not be possible, an eradication of cultural bias, between the two parties.
This culturally sensitive view of therapy definitely brings up new implications to consider. For example, the idea of group therapy may be welcome in some cultures, but other individuals, like some Asians, might find this questionable since sharing sensitive issues outside the family is uncommon to them. Moreover, this knowledge may entail the use of different forms of communication strategies to make the therapeutic relationship effective.
Paniagua bases his conclusions on some generalizations and assumptions, an undertaking that critics might deem misleading. However, he refers to these as “cultural commonalities” which may not be true for all, and I agree that in a greatly theoretical field, such as psychotherapy, it is unavoidable to make a few general, yet still appropriate, assumptions. I find his guidelines insightful and valuable for therapists who constantly interact with clients of different cultures.
Paniagua, F. (2005). Assessing and Treating Culturally Diverse Clients: A Practical Guide. London: Sage Publications.