What does having a culturally humble therapist mean?
It can be really hard to find a therapist who gets where you’re coming from, who shares that one common experience that can explain how you’re feeling. Sometimes, a lot of people do not want to pursue therapy because they are worried about having to explain their context so much that there is no room for actual healing to happen. Have you ever worried about having to explain why your cultural traditions or family customs are a certain way? Or were you too afraid your therapist would say, “just cut your family out, they’re toxic” without understanding your background and experiences? Unfortunately, this is quite a common experience.
Having therapists from a wide range of backgrounds and working with a therapist who is dedicated to social justice in the therapy space can help. Your therapist is here to support you in your own journey, in whatever way that works best for you. At the end of the day, you are the one who knows what is best for you, and your therapist is just here to facilitate that process, not cause you further judgment.
The study of psychology has historically been a Euro-centric science, as evidenced by having a lot of white men as its “founding fathers.” It is no surprise that this has led to a dominance of white culture existing in the teaching of the science and practice of psychology. This could look a whole lot of different ways in the therapy room, such as being asked to leave one’s religious customs behind, or being made to feel that the way you respond to a situation was overreacting, and not acknowledging that the situation you dealt with was unfair to begin with. It is no surprise that so many folks have repeatedly felt isolated and unsafe in sessions.
This is where being a culturally humble therapist comes in. It is the recognition that we all come from all sorts of different backgrounds, and have different experiences, and a therapist needs to be aware of that. It looks like acknowledging the privilege a therapist has in the room, and the fact that they might not necessarily know a lot about your family, your culture, or where you are coming from. It is recognizing that psychology is deeply rooted in whiteness, and has – unfortunately – been sometimes practiced in ways that do not support social justice.
Having a culturally humble therapist means that the therapist will acknowledge their different identities, and who they are in the room. They will acknowledge if they come from a history of people who colonized your own people, and what that means to you. They will acknowledge that while they might never know how it actually feels to be in your place, they will be there for you in your journey of healing and support you in the way that works best for you. There is so much that goes into being a culturally humble therapist, but the most important part is that you are the client, and that your therapist needs to learn about you, your experience, and your community.
People have a whole range of experiences that can be especially unique yet also universal at the same time. While we are all a product of our experiences and environment, there is a universal need for connection and healing. We strive to make sure that Catalyst therapists come from all walks of life, with a diverse set of clinicians who hold immigrant experiences, BIPOC experiences, different gender identities, religious, and spiritual backgrounds.
Zainab Akef, Therapist
Work with someone who sees you.