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Cultural Competence and the Role of Modern Psychotherapist

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This article offers the modern psychotherapist a general orientation to the experience and problems of conducting individual psychotherapy. An implicit but clear humanistic philosophy is presented through pragmatic and time-tested observations. The client-therapist relation is treated in a way designed to optimize the outcome for client and therapist alike.

Many modern psychotherapists, faced with the difficult times which they and their clients live in, hope to avoid the great difficulties of understanding their clients by trying to reduce the mass of data to medical, biological, or behavioristic models. By taking this approach, they unwittingly falsify the data and connot see the larger totality. It is true, however, that in small areas they may help to understand the client's problems, but when they falsely generalize from the biological or behavioristic model of man and his world, they get a distorted view of what modern therapist can and connot achieve.

As a result, misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatments often victimize ethnic-minority clients. These are strong concerns that the services offered to culturally different clients are often antagonistic or inappropriate to their life experiences and that these services not only lack sensitivity and understanding but may also be oppressive and discriminating toward minority population. These assertions about counseling and psychotherapists are echoed by many in the mental health profession.

Modern psychotherapists who takes into account influence of the environment on the individual experiences, realize that therapy cannot be concerned only with symptom and behavior changes. They must understand man's behavior and attitudes not only as an expression of early life experiences in the family, but they must also take into account the repressive forces in our culture which mold man in a way which could help him to live an adaptive life.

For example, there is a story told of an old slave seen walking a very rough road barefoot with a new pair of shoes in his hand. Asked why he did not protect his feet by wearing the shoes, he replied that he was saving the shoes. "The feet belonf to my master, the shoes belong to me!"

In the therapist-client relationship, driven by close interpersonal interaction, element of racism may intrude unintentionally. Differrential experiences and effect of racism have not changed appreciably historically even though attention been called to inequalities in practice delivery and therapeutic process.

As we enter the 21th century, mental health professionals, psychologists, and psychotherapists are often predominantly Caucasian; trained by predominantly Caucasians and trained in programs in which ethnic issues are misunderstood or ignored completely, often regarded as being "valueless" or included as an after thought.

From this perspective, mental health professionals have a moral and professional obligation to become culturally competent if they work with clients who differ from them in term of race, culture, ethonicity, gender, and sexual orientation.


Dr. Smith is a psychologist/paychotherapist who works with individuals and couples as personal consultant or relationship coach on matters that is profoundly private and confidential. Dr. Smith is available via face-to-face, online sessions, phone sessions, and Skype. For more information visit website


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William(Bill)Smith, Ph.D. an author, psychotherapist,consultant and personal coach. My practice focuses on online counseling, phone and face-to-face session with survivors of personal trauma,childhood abuse, relationship concerns, and individual (more...)
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