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  • Kaitlan Johnson

Stereotypes and Stigma of Therapy in Minority Cultures

Socioeconomic status can is very important when discussing health services. According to APA, “socioeconomic status is the social standing or class of an individual or group. It is often measured as a combination of education, income and occupation.” Education, income, and occupation are all intertwined and either create opportunity or obstacles depending on a person’s level of SES. With better occupation and income comes access to better health care an benefits. Individuals who make up the low SES group are majority minority cultures like African American and Latino Americans. This can make seeking health services expensive and time consuming to receive. In addition to this individuals may have methods of dealing with daily stressors that are more culturally accepted. Many individuals may choose to use religion or spiritual practices over mental services. Those that do decide to seek mental health services face the stigma that is associated with mental health services. The compounded issues can lead to less and less minorities seeking mental health services.

Socioeconomic Obstacles

Access to mental health services can be quite expensive; however, with the help of insurance many more people are able to afford them. Some people who have a lower socioeconomic status may find challenges when seeking these services because of the type of insurance or lack of insurance. Those who use Medicaid may find it much harder to get the support they need because different mental health offices and clinics do not accept this provider. Others may have to seek pro bono services, which may not always be readily available.

Religious and Spiritual Practices

Individuals from Black, Latino and Asian cultures may address mental health issues like depression, anxiety and other mood disorders in ways that are not the typical “therapeutic” techniques. Some people may rely heavily on religious and spiritual practices like prayer or meditation to help them deal with complicated and stressful situations. The use of prayer can be a helpful way of processing daily stressors but therapeutic treatment can serve as additional tool for clients.

Therapist Cultural Sensitivity

Some minorities see mental illness as something that is negative and that there is a stigma attached with seeking mental health services. It is mental health professionals’ job not only to help these individuals but to also help remove the stigma on mental health through client education. For example, African Americans have faced a great deal of oppression so as a group there is a certain level of distrust in Caucasian Americans who make a significant portion of our health care providers today. Being able to show empathy and build an open and trusting environment can help build rapport with these clients. Additionally, “Counselors should identify cultural viewpoints that may have negative impacts on their ability to interact with clients in a way that is beneficial.” (Priest, 1991).This means that therapist must continue to be aware of any cultural biases they have before they go into session with clients.

Cultural sensitivity is one of the most beneficial tools counselor can use when working with clients in minority cultures. In order to improve therapist cultural sensitivity it is key to look at the clients preferences and comfort in the therapeutic setting. White found in there research that individuals who had an ethnic match with their therapist stayed in therapy longer (2006). The benefits of having cultural match for ethnic minorities allows the client to have someone that is easier for them to relate to, but this may also encourage ethnic segregation in health services (White, 2006). In order to retain clients of different ethnic minorities it is also important for in-take forms to be culturally sensitive. This means using culturally sensitive terms and language should be used during an intake. For instance, in some minority communities depression is seen as very negative so they use other terms such as “stress” to describe what they are experiencing. “Training in cultural competence may increase the efficacy of treatment by bridging the gap between the therapist and the client.” (White, 2006).


Abreu, J., & Kendall, Philip C. (1999). Conscious and Nonconscious African American Stereotypes: Impact on First Impression and Diagnostic Ratings by Therapists. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 67(3), 387-393

Thompson, V., Bazile, A., Akbar, M., Kenkel, Mary Beth, & Garcia-Shelton, Linda. (2004). African Americans' Perceptions of Psychotherapy and Psychotherapists. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 35(1), 19-26.

Priest, R. (1991). Racism and Prejudice as Negative Impacts on African American Clients in Therapy. Journal of Counseling & Development, 70(1), 213-215

White, Tracela M., Gibbons, Mary Beth Connolly, & Schamberger, Megan. (2006). Cultural sensitivity and supportive expressive psychotherapy: An integrative approach to treatment.(psychological research)(Author abstract). American Journal of Psychotherapy,60(3), 299-316.

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