Why Finding a Culturally Sensitive Therapist is Important

Published on: 28 Jun 2023
Clinically Reviewed by Olga Molina, D.S.W., LCSW
Culturally Sensitive Therapist

Finding a culturally sensitive therapist can be essential to seeking successful mental healthcare. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines cultural competence as the “possession of the skills and knowledge that are appropriate for and specific to a given culture.” It can be argued that a therapist must deeply understand cultural differences and how they impact therapy to offer adequate treatment. 

A culturally competent therapist can better recognize and respond appropriately to their clients’ diverse backgrounds. For example, being aware of how language barriers, religious beliefs, gender roles, ethnic customs, and other factors may influence therapeutic relationships can be crucial in the overall efficacy of treatment. 

Why is culturally sensitive therapy important? Read on to learn more and to see some culturally sensitive therapy examples.

What is Cultural Competence in Therapy?

Cultural competence in therapy is when a therapist can understand, respect, and effectively work with individuals from specific cultures. It involves recognizing a person’s culture as an essential part of their identity and understanding how this affects their mental health experiences. In part, this might include being aware of one’s cultural biases and taking steps to ensure they don’t interfere with providing quality care. Additionally, culturally sensitive therapists strive to create a safe space for all clients, regardless of ethnic background or beliefs.

Why is Culturally Sensitive Therapy Important?

Culturally sensitive therapy is an important part of providing effective mental health care. This type of therapy considers aspects like a person’s cultural heritage, ideals, convictions, and encounters when devising treatment plans — but it’s about more than just culture. Cultural sensitivity also addresses things like:

  • Disabilities (both developmental and those that might develop later in life)
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Nationality
  • Indigenous heritage
  • Ethnic and racial identity 
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Sexual orientation

Stronger understanding of factors that influence emotions & behaviors

A culturally competent therapist knows that culture and other factors can significantly impact how people experience and process emotions and behaviors. Therapists who understand cultural sensitivity also realize — so they can appropriately address — that various cultures often view mental health differently or have different expectations for therapeutic sessions.

An excellent example of this can be seen in research that found people who seek treatment from a therapist with a shared race have less risk of dropping out of their care plan. Known as “racial matching,” it’s important to note that while a connection can be helpful, it’s certainly not mandatory for successful treatment. 

More productive than traditional therapy

Cultural sensitivity therapy is more productive than traditional methods when treating mental health among various populations, such as American Indian and Alaska Natives (AIAN), African Americans, and Hispanic and Latinx cultures. This is partly due to the focus on understanding the context of a person’s symptoms within their culture or ethnic background. 

For example, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can include religious rituals exclusive to certain faiths, which might help patients recover faster. 

Therapists can make more accurate diagnoses

Furthermore, having insight into diverse cultural norms can assist clinicians in making precise diagnoses since they’ll better understand what’s considered “normal” behavior for a culture versus signs of distress related to mental health. Consequently, cultural competency plays an integral role in delivering effective care.

“Therapy isn’t one size fits all. As such, it’s important to consider all aspects of a client’s life to deliver proper care. In addition, cultural issues have become an important part of therapy as more marginalized individuals seek help. Ensuring that mental health professionals consider these nuisances ensures effective and inclusive care.”

Talkspace Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC

Examples of Culturally Sensitive Therapy

We need to review culturally sensitive therapy examples when considering effective mental healthcare for marginalized communities. An experienced clinician with an understanding of diverse cultures can help make precise diagnoses and tailor treatment to meet the unique needs of each individual. 

Having a deep understanding of and appreciation for the culture being served is paramount. 

Black therapists

Black counselors can have a deeper intrinsic insight into how racism has impacted this group throughout history. Thus, they might be able to address issues like racial trauma caused by discrimination or oppression with sensitivity in a way that could be more difficult for another therapist. According to studies, more than half of Black Americans see mental health conditions as a weakness. It’s reasonable to believe there’s more potential to overcome the stigma associated with therapy when the therapist is also Black. Coping strategies for how to deal with racism may also be received better.

Hispanic and Latinx therapists

Latinx counselors can take note of cultural influences when treating mental health problems like depression or anxiety stemming from things like immigration status or economic hardship due to limited job opportunities because of language barriers. A great example of this has been demonstrated in research that suggests misdiagnosis likely resulted throughout the Hispanic or Latinx community due to a misunderstanding of symptoms when patients use “nervous” as a depressive symptom, yet providers interpreted the term as physically tired

Indigenous therapists

Indigenous therapists might better understand and be more sensitive to the 63% of women and 70% of American Indian and Alaska Natives (AIAN) men who meet the criteria for diagnosis of one or more mental health conditions.  

LGBTQIA+ therapists

“Cultural sensitivity isn’t just about a person of color any longer. It’s also about considering all marginalized groups. This includes people of color, the LGBTQIA+ community, and the mix of people of color within the LGBTQIA+ community.”

Talkspace Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC

Research shows that LGBTQIA+ adults are twice as likely to have emotional symptoms as heterosexual adults. A cross-sectional analysis of more than 10,000 people who identify as transgender found that this group is 4 times more likely to have one or more mental health diagnoses. LGBTQIA+ affirming therapy focuses on creating an environment where gender identity and sexual orientation are accepted without judgment, allowing people to feel seen and heard without fear of being judged negatively. 

How to Find a Culturally Competent Therapist

When searching for a culturally competent therapist, you should shop around and ask questions. Don’t be afraid to change providers if someone isn’t meeting your needs or understanding your culture. Being comfortable with your therapist and believing they possess cultural competency can be crucial to your recovery. Inquire about experience, qualifications, and background as you look for a mental healthcare provider. 

Research therapists before making an appointment

First, research different therapists who specialize in cultural competence. Ask about their training and experience working with people from different backgrounds and cultures. Online evaluations and reviews can help you understand what others have encountered when working with them.

Ask about their experience and practices

Second, ask potential therapists questions about their approach to therapy and how they incorporate cultural sensitivity into their practice. Some questions may include: 

  • What therapy techniques do they use? 
  • How do they ensure clients feel safe discussing sensitive topics related to race or ethnicity? 
  • Do they offer any resources specifically designed for people from diverse backgrounds? 
  • Are any special considerations taken when providing care based on cultural values or beliefs?

Talk to friends and family

A referral from people you know and trust can go a long way when you’re trying to find a good therapist with cultural competence. You might want to reach out to friends or family members who’ve worked with a culturally competent therapist in the past. They may be able to provide insight into what kind of provider might best meet your needs and recommend certain professionals who are exceptionally knowledgeable about issues faced by individuals from various cultures and backgrounds. 

“If a mental health professional isn’t competent in culturally sensitive topics, it’s about looking for someone who is or someone open to learning about it along with the client. Unfortunately, depending on the client’s area, finding culturally competent therapists is not always possible. However, services like Talkspace make it easier to seek culturally competent professionals.”

Talkspace Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC

Culturally Competent Care with Talkspace

Culturally competent care is essential for providing effective therapy to individuals from diverse backgrounds. Talkspace, an online therapy platform that offers counseling services through video chat and messaging, has culturally sensitive therapy sessions tailored to an individual’s culture. Through a commitment to their members, Talkspace helps ensure that clients receive the best possible care.

Talkspace creates a safe space where clients can openly discuss sensitive topics like depression and anxiety without worrying about judgment due to cultural differences between themselves and their therapist. Reach out today to learn more. 


  1. Apa Dictionary of Psychology. American Psychological Association. https://dictionary.apa.org/cultural-competence. Accessed March 24, 2023. 
  2. Meyer OL, Zane N. The influence of race and ethnicity in clients’ experiences of mental health treatment. Journal of Community Psychology. 2013;41(7):884-901. doi:10.1002/jcop.21580. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4228688/. Accessed March 24, 2023. 
  3. Ward EC, Wiltshire JC, Detry MA, Brown RL. African American men and women’s attitude toward mental illness, perceptions of stigma, and preferred coping behaviors. Nursing Research. 2013;62(3):185-194. doi:10.1097/nnr.0b013e31827bf533. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4279858/. Accessed March 24, 2023. 
  4. Letamendi AM, Ayers CR, Ruberg JL, et al. Illness conceptualizations among older rural Mexican-Americans with anxiety and depression. Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology. 2013;28(4):421-433. doi:10.1007/s10823-013-9211-8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3948319/.Accessed March 24, 2023. 
  5. Brave Heart MY;Lewis-Fernández R;Beals J;Hasin DS;Sugaya L;Wang S;Grant BF;Blanco C; Psychiatric disorders and mental health treatment in American Indians and Alaska Natives: Results of the national epidemiologic survey on alcohol and related conditions. Social psychiatry and psychiatric epidemiology. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27138948/. Accessed March 24, 2023. 
  6. Medley G, Lipari RN, Bose J. Sexual Orientation and Estimates of Adult Substance Use and Mental Health: Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Sexual orientation and estimates of adult substance use and mental health: Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and health. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-SexualOrientation-2015/NSDUH-SexualOrientation-2015/NSDUH-SexualOrientation-2015.htm. Accessed March 24, 2023. 
  7. Wanta JW, Niforatos JD, Durbak E, Viguera A, Altinay M. Mental health diagnoses among transgender patients in the clinical setting: An All-Payer Electronic Health Record Study. Transgender Health. 2019;4(1):313-315. doi:10.1089/trgh.2019.0029. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/pdf/10.1089/trgh.2019.002. Accessed March 24, 2023.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

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