Davis, D. E., DeBlaere, C., Owen, J., Hook, J. N., Rivera, D. P., Choe, E., Van Tongeren, D. R., Worthington, E. L., Jr., & Placeres, V. (2018). The multicultural orientation framework: A narrative review. Psychotherapy, 55(1), 89–100.
Studies have shown that many therapists have better outcomes with White clients than with racial and ethnic minority (REM) clients. Also the prevalence of racial/ethnic microaggressions in therapy is high, with as many as 81% of REM clients reporting at least one experience in which a therapist said or did something that was insensitive or offensive. Microaggressions can be understood as instances of therapeutic alliance ruptures that if unrepaired could lead to poor client outcomes. In this practice review of the existing research, Davis and colleagues consider the multicultural orientation framework to help therapists to be more sensitive and effective when working with REM clients. A key feature of the multicultural orientation framework is cultural humility, which refers to a therapist’s interpersonal stance that is open in relation to aspects of cultural identity that are important to the client. Another important concept is cultural opportunities, or the events in therapy in which the client’s cultural beliefs, values, and identity can be explored. Finally, cultural comfort refers to the therapist’s thoughts and feelings that emerge as a result of conversations about the client’s cultural identity. The review found two large and well-designed studies that looked at the association between a multicultural orientation and client outcomes. Therapist cultural humility predicted better therapy outcomes, and lower therapist cultural comfort resulted in client premature termination from therapy. In separate studies, cultural humility was associated with higher therapeutic alliance and fewer microaggressions by therapists. Finally, missed opportunities to discuss cultural identity was associated with more negative therapy outcomes for clients.
Repairing alliance ruptures caused by microaggressions involves therapists: identifying the event, validating the client’s perspective, discussing the microaggression with appropriate humility, taking responsibility and making amends, and asking the client to inform the therapist about the best way forward. One study showed that the therapeutic alliance improved substantially after therapists and clients discussed and repaired a microaggression. A multicultural orientation involves therapists creating a culturally inclusive setting by overtly discussing the importance of culture and what might cause ruptures.