Racial, Ethnic, Cultural and Linguistic Issues in Psychology


In the wake of the 21st century, serious concerns have been raised by researchers who have found that cultural factors are very influential on the outcomes of health processes. The professional practice of psychology is one of the adversely affected professions and as such, the motivation to understand cultural and ethnicity issues has increased. This is because the clients deserve the most appropriate psychological treatment that is sensitive to their culture. The psyche to have ethic and culturally sensitive services is partly influenced by the rising political and social diversity of communities across the globe. With increasing diversity of communities, there are fresh values, beliefs and cultural characteristics that get induced into the existing political, education and healthcare systems by the various groups. The issues of culture and language clearly affect delivery of service in appropriate manner.

Appropriate Socio-cultural Framework

Psychologists offer crucial services to the members of the society, but these services would cease to be beneficial if they are not sensitive to the differences in backgrounds of the people. It’s pertinent that psychologist have a socio-cultural framework that helps in adhering to the diversity of belief and character, cultural expectations and communication in an organized way (Morrissey & Reddy 2006, p. 89). Psychologists hence need knowledge and skills for multicultural analysis and intervention. The psychological service providers should also be able to identify cultural diversity, comprehend the role of culture and ethnicity in the social, psychological and political development of ethnicity and diverse population (Bhui & Morgan, 2007, p. 188).

Psychologists should understand the social, economical and cultural factors that considerably affect development if political, social and economical aspects of various groups (Chin et al, 1993, p. 77). Psychologists should then assist their patients to understand, maintain and determine their own social and cultural identity and comprehend the way culture, gender, language and race affected behavior (Morrissey & Reddy 2006, p. 91). Research about diversity of culture should address issues of responsiveness to psychological treatment (Bhui & Morgan, 2007, p. 188).

The manner in which culturally sensitive issues are communicated or expresses can be a problem (Bhui & Morgan, 2007, p. 188). Culture is described as a set of characteristics unique to members of a certain society and these characteristics guide their perception of the world, direct how they interact with it, their emotional feelings and how to conduct themselves in relation to other people from different cultures. Culture is mainly expressed through language and art (Morrissey & Reddy 2006, p. 95). Ethnicity described society heritage especially their appearance, identity, culture, religion and social exclusion. Race in this context is the differences among people based on color, national origin, ethnicity and culture. Physical identification of race includes the appearance of skin color, hair color and texture and facial features. Cultural identity on the other hand is the personal attributes related to culture, ethnicity, and religion (Morrissey & Reddy 2006, p. 97). These could be processes that were consciously and unconsciously compromised between desired, experienced and enforced identities.

Multicultural Psychology

This is now considered to be a methodical science that includes research, assessment of several elements of human character and investigation into characteristics that people express when they interact with other people from different backgrounds (Carter, 1995, p. 13). Over the recent years, multiculturalism has developed to become a very important factor in clinical psychology and it contributes vital information to other fields including humanistic psychology, behaviorism and psychodynamics (Bhugra & Bhui, 1998, p. 312). These subjects include application of theories specific to cultural framework and behavior on the verge of determining the ethnic similarities or differences. It is an insight into how crucial precepts of cultures contact as individual from various ethnicities socially mingle with each other (Chin et al, 1993, p. 77).

In the modern economies, people from different backgrounds in terms of culture, language and race now come together at work and mix through other systems because of the impact of globalization or immigration in search for good life (work, education or other pursuits) (Bhugra & Bhui, 1998, p. 312). Multiculturalism exploits the differences of opinions, perception and differences in communication means. In relation to culture, issues of segregation, stereotyping and prejudice are also addressed under multicultural psychology (Carter, 1995, p. 13).

The diversity and differences in culture has caused the emergence of multicultural concerns that bedevil communities around the world. In this regard, two issues are pertinent for study, racism and cultural identity. Culture is generally the physical manifestation created and accepted by some people as such completely determined by racial features (Bhugra & Bhui, 1998, p. 314). Culture and race are in most cases synonymous and they depend on each other a great deal, at times even to the level of nationality integration or language definition.

Racial characteristics to a larger extent are intertwined with nationality and language and not entirely due to geographical location. Racism is a term that is used for discrimination g people based on the characteristics of their race. It denotes race-based hostility, hatred and dehumanization of individuals belonging to that race (Carter, 1995, p. 13). This condition is elicited by treating people from a different race with prejudice. Increased interaction due to globalization has seen this situation get exacerbated. The impact of racial discrimination is that it causes more worries to individual and it causes tremendous hopelessness which could translate to psychological problems.

Cultural Therapy Notion

Mental distresses are not always regarded as diseases by many communities. Some think of it as a result of family or interpersonal conflict or experience of traumatic events in life or just a mere misfortune. Some even believe that it could be as a result of contravening religious or cultural norms (Carter, 1995, p. 14). When the population is very diverse, then psychologist will have to adapt interventions or provider services with discernment and sensitive appreciation of the manner in which clients receive the treatment (Chin et al, 1993, p. 77).

There are three types of therapies of psycho-cultural problems; those influenced by culture, those that are culturally embedded and those that are founded on the cultural aspects in a conventional model. Many societies have their own indigenous therapies and when they interact, they look for more familiar therapies to use (Chin et al, 1993, p. 78). Psychotherapies are quite unique for various communities and they work inimitably together with the cultural aspects of the society like the beliefs and aspirations and their view of the world. Being able to mobilize these beliefs can result in recovery.

Having knowledge of the culturally embedded interventions or the therapies from non-western nations can be useful in western settings but in recent migrants. The therapies could include use of process that may not be seen as entirely psychological. In some instances, it can be necessary to re-assess the client’s explanations of what they perceive to be their problem and also their previous assistance seeking efforts. The explicit rationale for psychological services may need to be explained. In order to reach helpful decisions, there will be need for compromise and consensus which would result in some form of agreement and engagement to foster the treatment process.

The intercultural therapies are important because they recognize this and they entail a reciprocally considerate exploration of the remedy and supposed problem as well as solutions. With this, a framework of therapy is found where the therapist and the clients can function. Attaining such an approach, psychological interventions like CBT (cognitive behavioral Therapy) and family therapies can be used efficiently across a number of cultures.

Professional and Ethical Competencies

Psychologists own culture

Psychologists are required to be aware of their own cultural values and prejudice. Regarding attitude and beliefs, professional psychologists believe that cultural self awareness and sensitivity to their own culture was integral to therapy. The care providers must be aware of how their own culture could influence their attitude and values (Arredondo et al, 1996, para. 2). They should also be aware of their limits and expertise as far as their work is concerned. They should also be able to identify source of discomfort between them and clients. Concerning knowledge, counselors should have specific and exclusive knowledge about their own race, ethnicity, culture and language and how it could affect their personality and professionalism especially if any biases are possible.

Culturally competent psychologists have knowledge and understand how prejudice, racism and stereotyping people based on ethnicity and culture could affect the outcomes. This allows the caregivers to recognize their own racist beliefs in their job but enables application of the standard care (Arredondo et al, 1996, para. 2). The psychologists should know the possible impact of their social impact on others especially language or communication style. This could foster good counseling or impede the process. Culturally competent psychotherapist should constantly seek new knowledge by consulting, further training and reading more qualified sources so as to improve their understanding and performance at work. They should be able to identify their limitations in terms of professional competencies. They should also be aware of themselves are racial and cultural people and enthusiastically pursue nonracist identity.

Psychologist understanding of Clients

Psychologists should have good attitude and be aware of their own emotional reactions (both positive and negative) towards race and ethnicity because it could be harmful to doctor-patient relationship. They should be ready to contrast their belief and attitudes with those of their patients in non prejudice manner (Carter, 1995, p. 14). They should be aware of their preconception of other people based on race and ethnicities.

Psychologists should seek knowledge of the specific group they are handling in terms of their life experiences, historical culture and ethnicity. This is especially important for minority groups. They counselor should have knowledge on how culture, race and ethnicity could have influenced personality, like the manifestation of psychological disorders, way of speaking and behavior. This will help determine the appropriate approach for psychological help (Arredondo et al, 1996, para. 3). Psychologists should understand the social, economical and political actors that interrupt the cultural minorities’ lives. This include being sensitive to issue like racism, poverty, stereotyping and prejudice. Relevant skills here include familiarization with mental problems that affect various cultural groups. Seeking more education experience to enhance understanding and gain cross-cultural skills for better counseling (Arredondo et al, 1996, para. 3).

Culturally Appropriate Therapy

The psychologists accept the use of indigenous practices as part of the healing process for various cultures. Psychologist should be bilingual so that language should not impede counseling and that they will not be seen to undermine their clients (Barrett & George, 2009, p. 426). The psychologist should be aware of the barriers to access therapy facing minority groups and also have the ability to assess cultural and linguistic characteristics of patients (Arredondo et al, 1996, para. 4). The therapy should recognize cultural beliefs like the role of families, religion and hierarchies and the resources used to address the problem. Skills to be applied include ability to use a variety of verbal and nonverbal cues in eliciting reactions and to communicate accurately and suitably.

Counseling is not fixed to a single approach but should be able to adapt different styles depending on cultural influence (Moodley & Palmer, 2006, p. 87). The psychologists should be able to use institutional intervention skills on their patients and can assist the clients in determining the origin of their problem like whether it is concept of healthy paranoia so that clients do not personalize issues (Arredondo et al, 1996, para. 4). In order to reach consensus and compromise, psychologists are not reluctant to ask traditional or spiritual assistance to complement the appropriate psychotherapy when the client wishes to do so.

The competent therapists take the initiative of communicating in a language that the clients wishes to use and understands well and if not feasible, then proper referrals are made to knowledgeable and skilled bilingual counselor (Moodley & Palmer, 2006, p. 87). Serious problems could arise when there is a problems of communication especially language understanding. A translator can be sought, but he/she should be very familiar with culturally sensitive issues and professional counseling.


Within increased interaction and diversity in communities, it is important that psychologist get the proper training to enable them to function efficiently in a racial and ethnic diverse society. This sensitivity towards population diversity is increasing becoming important and it is gaining so much recognition across the world as a process that addresses inequalities that are characteristic of age, social class, gender and race (Moodley & Palmer, 2006, p. 89). There is new evidence that the effectiveness of psychotherapy was effectual when culturally sensitive means like linguistically unique approaches were used. In the national health service psychological services in the united kingdom today, many clients are treated mostly by the few highly professional senior psychologists as well as social work trainees supervised by psychiatrists (Barrett & George, 2009, p. 426). Due to the fact that very few training experiences include addressing racial and cultural issues, trainee psychologists need to adopt or under rigorous training of culturally sensitive therapies.

Experts from general healthcare and culture usually criticize the subject because in sociology and anthropology, there are specific methods used to generate knowledge (Ponterotto et al, 1997, p. 137). These methods are generally rich in theory and in most cases are not accommodated in the daily practice, though they can identify limitations. As an alternative, psychotherapists who practice their profession in multi-ethnic areas have realized that there is need to attain better understanding and good framework of working in the ethnically diverse societies (Ponterotto et al, 1997, p. 137). However, this has been very difficult to achieve as adaptation of the current medication are effective. With lack of a well established system of guiding new psychologist services and seemingly adequate proof of efficiency, there are several complicated issues that psychologist have to face.


Researchers have proposed ethnic matching as a strategic approach of dealing with cultural differences including those of language, race, culture and ethnicity (Hall, 2001, p. 502). Nonetheless, there is little empirical proof that this improves the results of the therapy (Bhui & Morgan, 2007, p. 191). It could, conversely, enhance engagement and stop patient’s quiet drop out of a healing program that they perceive to be incongruent with their precedence. Shared experiences could be vital for some clients to begin therapy (Hall, 2001, p. 502). For instance a black therapist can probably understand the experiences of racist prejudice or social isolation just like a black client. Still the therapist could be different as in social class, education, age and gender.

The same way patients seek therapist of same gender or a certain age, they could also seek the type of therapist they feel is more qualified or confident to attend to them (Hall, 2001, p. 504). This could be from a different culture but in most cases it’s from the same ethnical background (Bhui & Morgan, 2007, p. 191). This is described as pre-transference phenomenon and it’s driven by fantasy and myth. There are cases of black patients who sought for white therapist because they their they were superior only to later realize that it was they own racist conception that lead them into thinking that whites were superior (Sue, 1998, p. 441).

Matters of confidentiality can also lead to search of therapists who are not from the same ethnic group. Yet therapist who do not understand the first language or primary language of the patient may not be in a position to converse efficiently or conceptualize the patient’s anguish in a word that are momentous to the patient (Ponterotto et al, 1997, p. 138). Some patients reported to have experienced traumatic or anxiety filled interaction and fear all which are characteristic of the racial thoughts dynamics. Some religious clients preempt that choosing a therapist from another religion or those are non-believers could lead to a relationship filled with intractable obstacles (Sue, 1998, p. 441).

Language aside, it could not be that the ethnicity and the race of the therapist that is the vital thing here. The identity status of the therapist and the client regarding the level at which they explored their own cultural identity, determines the basis of a matched or a mismatched therapy (Barrett & George, 2009, p. 427).

Reference List

Arredondo, P., et al. (1996). Operationalization of the Multicultural Counseling Competencies, Alexandria, VA, AMCD.

Barrett, K., & George, W. (2009). Race, Culture, Psychology, And Law, Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Bhugra, D., & Bhui, K. (1998). Psychotherapy for Ethnic Minorities, British Journal of Psychotherapy, 14, (3), 310–326.

Bhui, K., & Morgan, N. (2007). Effective Psychotherapy in a Racially and Culturally Diverse Society Advances In Psychiatric Treatment, 13 (3), 187-193.

Carter, R. (1995). The Influence of Race and Racial Identity in Psychotherapy: Towards A Racially Inclusive Model, New York, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Chin, J. L., Cancela, V., & Jenkins, Y. (1993). Diversity in Psychotherapy: The Politics of Race, Ethnicity, and Gender, Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishers.

Hall, G.N. (2001). Psychotherapy Research with Ethnic Minorities: Empirical, Ethical, and Conceptual Issues, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 69, 502 -510.

Moodley, R., & Palmer, S. (2006). Race, Culture and Psychotherapy, London: Routledge.

Morrissey, A.S & P. Reddy (Eds.) (2006), Ethics and Professional Practice For Psychologists. South Melbourne, Australia: Thomson/Social Science Press, Pp. 89–101.

Ponterotto, J.G. et al. (1997). Handbook of Multicultural Counseling, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publisher.

Sue, S. (1998). In Search Of Cultural Competence in Psychotherapy and Counseling, American Psychologist, 53 (4), 440-448.