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How to Find a Culturally Sensitive Therapist

Therapist and patient in face masks talking in office

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Key Takeaways

  • Culturally and linguistically sensitive therapists bring awareness and knowledge to the sessions. They also tend to be conscious of values, assumptions, and biases regarding racial and ethnic groups. 
  • In 2015, only 31% of Black and Hispanic Americans and 22% of Asian Americans received mental health services, compared to 48% of Whites.
  • Finding a therapist takes time. To see if a therapist is a good fit, mental health experts recommend leveraging consultations.

Mental health providers who are culturally competent and sensitive are an integral component of high quality mental healthcare delivery.

Research demonstrated that providers with cultural competence training can improve their knowledge and skills in treating patients from varying socioeconomic, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds. However, finding a culturally sensitive therapist is no easy feat. 

Disparities In Mental Health Service Utilization

People of color have limited access to high quality mental health care. In 2015, only 31% of Black and Hispanic Americans and 22% of Asian Americans received mental health services, compared to 48% of White Americans, according the American Psychiatric Association.

When ethnic minority groups receive mental health care, they are also less likely to receive the best available treatments due to factors like lack of insurance coverage, stigma, and language barriers.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health became a growing concern. Around 27.7% of Black people and 40.3% of Hispanic and Latino people reported having depression between April and May 2020. In addition, 22.9% of Hispanic and Latino people and 5.2% of Black people reported suicidal ideation.

Finding a Culturally and Linguistically Sensitive Therapist 

To embark on a search for the right therapist, Lori Nixon Bethea, PhD, LPC, NCC, ACS, licensed professional counselor based in New Jersey, recommends using “find a therapist” tools to conduct an initial search. Websites like Psychology Today, where users can search by their zip code, can be a good place to start, Bethea tells Verywell.

Once the prospective patients enter their location, they can narrow down therapists based on their cultural and linguistic needs. People can filter therapists by language, faith, and communities previously served. 

Having a therapist with a similar background can help build rapport. “That may make the individual more comfortable,” Bethea says. 

Similar to finding a good pair of sneakers, finding a therapist is all about finding a good fit. Bethea stresses that one way to determine whether a provider will meet a patient’s needs is by leveraging consultations. Prior to an intake appointment or psychiatric evaluation, a therapist will conduct a short meeting where the clients can determine if the therapist is a good fit, Bethea says.

When searching for a therapist, Debbie Opoku, MACP, RP, a registered psychotherapist, recommends exercising patience because finding a therapist takes time. "If you don’t have a rapport with a therapist, it’s okay to go off and find somebody else,” Opoku tells Verywell. 

In addition to finding a therapist that meets cultural and linguistic needs, Opoku suggests looking for a therapist with credentials. “Bachelor’s degrees are great, but having a masters or doctorate is even better because they have more specialized education,” Opoku says. 

While credentials remain important, the bottomline is trusting instincts. “No matter how many professional accreditations your therapist has, your own feelings of trust and comfort should be your top priority,” Opoku adds. 

Therapists Can Bring Cultural Awareness and Help Combat Racial Trauma

Culturally and linguistically competent therapists invest in gaining cultural knowledge about the populations they serve because it helps with treatment and recovery, Opoku says. These therapists are aware of their own cultural values, assumptions, and biases, and how these factors affect their ability to provide services to clients, she adds.

“It is not the client’s responsibility to educate the therapist,” Bethea says. 

People of color often struggle with racial trauma or race-based traumatic stress, Opoku explains, which can take a toll both physically and mentally. As a result, they may wish to discuss their grief and anger with therapists who look like them. 

“It’s okay to ask for a therapist that looks like you, shares the same culture as you, or has the same life experiences as you,” Opoku says. “It may take time, but the process is worth it.”

What This Means For You

To start your search for a culturally and linguistically sensitive therapist, visit Asian Mental Health Collective, Latinx Therapy, Melanin and Mental Health, or Therapy For Black Girls.

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3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. McGregor B, Belton A, Henry TL, Wrenn G, Holden KB. Improving Behavioral Health Equity through Cultural Competence Training of Health Care Providers. Ethn Dis. 2019;29(Suppl 2):359-364. Published 2019 Jun 13. doi:10.18865/ed.29.S2.359 

  2. American Psychiatric Association. Mental Health Disparities: Diverse Populations. Updated 2017.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Prevalence of Stress and Worry, Mental Health Conditions, and Increased Substance Use Among Adults During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, April and May 2020. Updated February 5, 2021.