eNewsletter - October 2019

Behavioral Health Partners



Seeing the Invisible: Reasons to Educate Yourself in Cultural Competencies 
Liara Tillman, LCSW

Cultural competency. It is one of the biggest buzz phrases in our profession as medical providers, but what is it about this concept that is gradually changing how we measure and provide quality of care in the industry? 

As our nation’s demographics have become more diverse in gender expression, sexual orientation, and culture, it is important to recognize the impact that being culturally competent has upon patient care, satisfaction, and outcomes. I would like to take the time to briefly expound on the meaning of the term, why it is changing the way we provide care and how to integrate it efficiently in how you assess and treat your patients. Let’s start with a definition.

Cultural and linguistic competence is a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system, agency, or among professionals that enables effective work in cross-cultural situations. 'Culture' refers to integrated patterns of human behavior that include the language, thoughts, communications, actions, customs, beliefs, values, and institutions of racial, ethnic, religious, or social groups. 'Competence' implies having the capacity to function effectively as an individual and an organization within the context of the cultural beliefs, behaviors, and needs presented by consumers and their communities. (Cross, 1989.)

Reasons you should care about cultural competency: 

  • Ethics are a guiding principle in all fields of work, especially healthcare, but cultural competency is an emerging and important concept that should be continually explored to improve patient care, satisfaction, and outcomes.  In short, it’s ethical to evaluate and discuss cultural competence subjects regularly. 
  • The field of healthcare and healthcare systems present multiple ethical dilemmas in relation to patient’s autonomy and confidentiality. By researching and improving upon a healthcare system’s culturally competent approach to healthcare in conjunction with ethical behaviors, patient satisfaction and outcomes can be dramatically improved.
  • Some patient groups are hesitant in accessing healthcare services due to the belief that they will not be given proper care as a result of trauma (present trauma or historical trauma) related to their culture which caused negative emotions to be affiliated with the healthcare system. 

Historical trauma plays a major role in the negative emotional ties to seeking healthcare in minority and ethnic groups. As a result of this, some patients have concealed their true symptoms to avoid experimentation. (For reference, research the Tuskegee Experiment which allowed hundreds of African American men with syphilis to go untreated for scientific study.) Mistrust can lead to feelings of hopelessness and not being understood from their ethnic or cultural perspective. 

How to continue to provide high quality care while remaining culturally competent: 

  • Educate yourself about historical traumas. 
  • As always, use an empathetic, non-judgmental stance towards your patients. 
  • Be mindful of your own personal experiences and aware of how those experiences may impact how you perceive other’s personal experiences. 

Because psychosocial development varies with cultural background, so must our approach as behavioral health providers. Developing our own cultural competence skills can foster improved trust, relationships and outcomes for our patients. 


  • Cross, Terry L. Towards a Culturally Competent System of Care: A Monograph on Effective Services for Minority Children Who Are Severely Emotionally Disturbed, Georgetown Univ. Child Development Center, Mar 1989.
  • Curricula Enhancement Module Series. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://nccc.georgetown.edu/curricula/culturalcompetence.html.
  • Oramas, Josefina E. Counseling Ethics: Overview of Challenges, Responsibilities and Recommended Practices, Journal of Multidisciplinary Research (1047-2900), Fall 2017, Vol. 9, Issue 3.