Soto, A., Smith, T.B., Griner, D., Rodriguez, M.D., & Bernal, G. (2018). Cultural adaptations and therapist multicultural competence: Two meta‐analytic reviews. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 74, 1907-1923.
There is emerging evidence that a client’s cultural experiences and background have an impact on the therapeutic alliance and on client outcomes. One means of adjusting psychotherapy is by cultural adaptations, which involve modification of treatment to consider language and culture in such a way that the treatment is more compatible with the client’s values. Cultural adaptation might incorporate holistic/spiritual concepts of wellness, and may include cultural rituals. Therapists could also align treatment goals and methods with the client’s culture. Domains of psychotherapy that psychotherapists can adapt to a client’s culture include: language of treatment, metaphors used in therapy, the person of the therapist (assigning a therapist with a similar cultural background), content discussed, concepts explored, goals of therapy, methods of interventions consistent with cultural values, and the context of treatment. Cultural competence refers to the therapist’s ability to engage and work effectively with diverse clients. These competencies include: awareness (ability to recognize cultural backgrounds, assumptions, and biases), knowledge (understanding of specific cultural groups and their history and experiences), and skills (ability to engage cultural groups and modify treatment to match cultural needs). In the first of two meta analyses, Soto and colleagues identified 99 studies of cultural adaptation that included data from almost 14,000 clients who were mainly Asian American, Hispanic/Latin American, or African American. The most frequent adaptations were for language of therapy, cultural values, and matching therapists with similar racial/ethnic backgrounds. Cultural adaptation had a significant, moderate, and positive effect to improve psychotherapy outcomes, d = 0.50 (se = 0.04; 95% CI, 0.42–0.58; p < 0.001). Even after adjusting for publication bias, the findings were significant but smaller d = 0.35 (95% CI, 0.27–0.43). All types of adaptation had a positive impact, but the biggest effect came with providing treatment in the native language of the client. Also, older clients benefitted most for cultural adaptation. In the second meta-analysis, the authors identified 15 studies of 2,640 clients on the effect of therapists’ level of multicultural competence. They found a significant and moderate association between therapist cultural competence and positive client outcomes, r = 0.24 (95% CI, 0.10–0.37; p < 0.001). However, only the client’s (and not the therapist’s) rating of therapist cultural competence was associated with better outcomes.
The results of these meta-analyses clearly indicate that both cultural adaptations of psychotherapy and therapist cultural competence improve client outcomes. During the assessment phase, therapists should evaluate clients’ racial and ethnic backgrounds and the salient culturally-specific values and worldviews held by the client. Therapists could, whenever feasible, adapt their treatment to the client’s culturally-held values. Therapists might, if possible, arrange to provide therapy in the native language of the client – particularly for older clients. Cultural issues should be handled by therapists in a humble way. And therapists should keep in mind that it is the client’s experience, and not the therapist’s self-assessment, of cultural competence that is most relevant.
Author email: Alberto_Soto@brown.edu