Barkham, M. & Lambert, M.J. (2021). The efficacy and effectiveness of psychological therapies. In Barkham, W. Lutz, and L.G. Castonguay (Eds.) Bergin and Garfield’s Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change (7th ed.). Wiley. Chapter 5.
Psychological therapies are culturally bound practices with certain values built into them. For example, common therapies prize independence in patients and rapport in the therapeutic relationship. However, some cultures may value community rather than independence, and respect rather than rapport. In this part of the chapter, Barkham and Lambert ask: what is the effect of a conventional psychotherapy that is based on the values of a dominant culture when applied to a different ethnic or racial group? In one small meta-analysis of 9 and 16 studies, culturally adapted interventions were significantly more effective than unadapted interventions g = 0.52 (95% CI [0.15, 0.90]) and resulted in close to 5 times greater odds of remission. Adaptation usually refers to incorporating some cultural practices into the therapy, adapting the language of the therapist, or providing a therapist who is from the same culture as the patient. Similarly, there is research on the effects of a multicultural competency and multicultural orientation of the therapist. These competencies refer to therapists who learn about a patient’s culture, use culturally relevant treatment strategies, and are aware of their own assumptions and biases regarding the patient’s culture. A meta-analysis of 18 studies reviewed the impact of a therapist’s multicultural competence on various aspect of therapy. Therapist multicultural competence accounted for 37% of the working alliance, 52% of patient satisfaction, 38% of a patient’s perception of therapist competence, and 34% of depth of the session. However, therapist multicultural competence accounted for only 8% of patient outcomes. More recently, some authors have discussed the importance of multicultural orientation, which refers to a therapist’s cultural humility as an attitude towards the patient’s culture, a therapist’s willingness to explore the patient’s racial and cultural identities, and the therapist’s comfort with cultural diversity.
The research on the impact of psychotherapy on diverse patient populations is still rather small, but some practice implications can be gleaned. Adapting therapies to the patient’s culture and identity likely will improve patient mental health outcomes. The adaptation might include incorporating cultural practices, metaphors, and values into the therapy, and providing therapy in the language of the patient, or finding a therapist from the same cultural background as the patient. Similarly, there is evidence that therapists who are multiculturally competent (learn about the patient’s culture and checks their own biases) can provide a deeper therapeutic experience for their patients. Emerging research on therapist multicultural orientation suggests that a therapist’s cultural humility, willingness to engage in cultural conversations, and comfort with diverse cultures may lead to better experiences of therapy for their patients.