What does it mean to provide culturally competent services?

Culturally competent services can improve client engagement, therapeutic relationships between clients and providers, and improve treatment outcomes. Culturally competent services are essential to decreasing disparities in behavioral health and enable providers to respond in a culturally appropriate manner to client’s psychological and other needs. Being culturally competent involves a culturally humble stance toward understanding culture and being willing to suspend what you know, or what you think you know about a person based on generalizations and assumptions about their culture. This involves a commitment to lifelong learning, continuous self-reflection on one’s own assumptions and practices, comfort with not knowing and the recognition that there is an innate power imbalance that exists between providers and clients. Cultural competence is the ability to interact effectively with people of different cultures and includes being respectful of and responsive to other’s beliefs and practices. Developing cultural competence is an ongoing process that begins with cultural awareness and a commitment to understanding the role that culture plays in behavioral health services. Components include awareness, knowledge and skill building. An awareness of our own cultural background, privilege and biases and the influence of culture on attitudes, beliefs and experiences. Knowledge includes learning about different cultures and cultural perspectives particularly on behavioral health services and incorporating this understanding into the entire treatment process.

For more information, see SAMSHA’s Tip 59 on Improving Cultural Competency.

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