How Culturally Sensitive Therapy Can Help Treat PTSD

What is Culturally Sensitive Therapy?

As the psychology field developed over time, it was structured through a one-dimensional cultural lens of the predominantly white and aristocratic Western society. Because of its narrow scope, when people of a different cultural background, beliefs, experiences, and outward appearance tried to heal through this paradigm, there were a lot of unsatisfactory and even traumatizing experiences. Many people also shied away from therapy because it was either cost-prohibitive or something that didn’t feel “right.” As people from different cultures started seeking therapy, there had to be a shift in how therapy was practiced so that everyone who desired it could benefit from it. Fortunately, there have been many changes in how therapy is practiced nowadays and one of them has been to take into consideration the context from which a person is coming from when entering therapy.

Healing can only occur when our beliefs and cultural practices can be understood and incorporated into therapy sessions. This means that culturally sensitive therapists are specifically trained and are very knowledgeable about the culture of their patients. They also make sure to individualize the therapy process to fit the needs of each person. Even outside of a specific cultural context, we are all different and unique beings and the therapy field is finally catching up to the realization that individualized therapy is essential if successful outcomes are to be expected.

Why is Culturally Sensitive Therapy Important for Treating PTSD?

PTSD is a complex mix of trauma symptoms unique to each and every one of us. Certain populations are especially vulnerable to PTSD and the way they need to be supported on their healing journey could be substantially different from other less vulnerable populations. Veterans, for example, are one of the most diverse populations that are exposed to very unique and harsh circumstances, leading to a specific mix of PTSD symptoms. Each veteran has not only had different experiences on the battlefield but also in their upbringing and adult life. All these factors figure into how each person responds to trauma and therapy. PTSD can even be generationally inherited depending on a person’s cultural background (in the case of slavery, genocide, famine, natural disasters, or war), making the healing process even more sensitive to a person’s particular situation, cultural upbringing, race, gender, belief system, and personality. In this article, we discuss the benefits of culturally sensitive therapy and the ways it is well-suited for treating PTSD.

Highlights of Culturally Sensitive Therapy for PTSD 

Respects Different Beliefs and Cultural Backgrounds

Depending on how we grew up and how health and healing were approached in our culture or community, we will have very specific needs when seeking help for PTSD. If we believe that a particular ritual or prayer will help us get through difficult times, we will gravitate to a kind of therapy that takes into consideration and uses certain kinds of rituals during therapy, be it sound healing, using mantras, or focusing heavily on family relationships. What works for us in therapy could be a subconscious process since many of us don’t realize how much culture influences our preferences and choices in life. In culturally sensitive therapy which takes into account our culture-specific beliefs and needs, we are more likely to have a good experience and a successful healing outcome.

Considers Age, Race, and Sex-Specific Challenges

As we go through life, we encounter different challenges in our work environment, school, friendships, and society in general. Our experiences are shaped not only by the beliefs we hold about ourselves but also by what we experience in the outside world. A woman from an African-American background can have very different experiences at a workplace with homogenous staff and the therapist helping her will have to see her experiences as valid and important. A good culturally sensitive therapist is trained to spot and address her unique challenges so that she can feel acknowledged, validated, and respected for her feelings and the complexities that arise with them.

Acknowledges Cultural History

Some populations of people come from very oppressive backgrounds where their relatives were ethnically cleansed, enslaved, or brutalized in some way (or they have experienced these events firsthand as well). This trauma is unconsciously inherited from generation to generation and brings depth and complexity to the PTSD symptoms and how therapy should be approached. Taking into consideration a person’s family history, a culturally sensitive therapist is able to use clues from the past to design a more comprehensive and more effective healing approach.

Offers Personalized and Flexible Treatment

Because of needing to embrace a great variety of beliefs and cultural backgrounds, culturally sensitive therapy is open to many different ways of healing specifically appropriate for each patient. For example, if a patient responds very well to changing negative beliefs through yoga,  meditation, and walking in nature, these are the modalities that would be prominently featured in the therapy.

Creates a Comfortable and Safe Environment

Historical marginalization of certain populations has made it difficult for some people to be comfortable in an institutional setting or a very rigid healing paradigm. This is a big reason why many people don’t seek therapy for PTSD. Many people also want to feel like their spiritual beliefs will be honored and that therapy is a place of physical, mental, and spiritual healing. In culturally sensitive therapy, the therapist eliminates these feelings of institutional hierarchy and unapproachability by creating a safe and comfortable environment to make each person feel at ease and more open to starting the healing process.

Builds a Strong Therapist-Patient Alliance

When we aren’t made to feel crazy about our experiences or the way we are feeling, our openness to and success in therapy is exponentially raised. A man who has seen horrors in a war can be very sensitive to sterile and cold environments and could be reluctant to trust others, making it hard for him to connect with other people and especially a potential therapist. Once a culturally sensitive therapist can provide a safe and warm environment, a veteran is more likely to open up and tell his story.

Relationship wounds are often sources of PTSD and some of the primary reasons we seek therapy. Having at least one safe and trusting relationship in our life where we are really listened to and empathized with can do wonders for our recovery. Building and gaining trust between a therapist and a patient is a hallmark of a successful relationship that allows space for true healing. Because culturally sensitive therapist makes trust a priority, where hierarchical or judgmental attitudes are left behind, patients can feel supported and seen as equal contributors to their healing process.

Is Culturally Sensitive Therapy Right for You?

If you are considering therapy but feel uncomfortable about opening up to a stranger, doubtful if a therapist could understand or even empathize with what you’ve been through, and apprehensive about the treatment you will receive, culturally sensitive therapy may be just the right approach for you. For instance, if you are spiritually inclined and heal best when a therapist respects your beliefs, you can find a culturally sensitive therapist that specializes in healing PTSD through spiritual approaches. Symptoms of PTSD can have complex origins, and this requires a therapist that is open to seeing trauma from multiple perspectives and who takes into consideration how trauma affects others in life and through generations. The most important thing to remember is that there is an approach out there for everyone because the field of therapy is expanding and is starting to understand and accommodate people from all kinds of backgrounds.

Are you ready to find ways to overcome PTSD symptoms such as anxiety, grief, or trauma? Reach out to one of our culturally-sensitive trained coaches and counselors to find someone who you can relate to, and can recommend effective, alternative solutions for your specific needs!

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