Culture Competence in Behavioral Healthcare: Our Common Uniqueness? | Behavioral Healthcare Executive Skip to content Skip to navigation

Culture Competence in Behavioral Healthcare: Our Common Uniqueness?

March 2, 2009
by Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D.
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It must be that time of the year again. I just got an e-mail announcing the availability of more cultural competency training.

No one can seriously argue that behavioral healthcare organizations shouldn’t be culturally competent. Our consumers’ strengths, problems, and vast capacity for recovery are all embedded in a cultural matrix and our ability to facility recovery is largely dependent on our ability to effectively communicate within that matrix.

Maybe it’s just me, but I have spent an enormous number of hours in cultural competency training and I still feel almost completely inadequate for the task. I have met a lot of terrific and talented people teaching these offerings and I have enjoyed exploring my own cultural background, including my many biases and limitations. I am completely sold on the necessity of considering cultural factors, as well as the great value of diversity. But somehow the task of understanding and respecting another person’s culture seems so overwhelming, that anything you do short of spending years in personal study, seems patronizingly superficial.

When I was teaching psychological testing, this issue stood out as the greatest challenge my students faced in trying to understand their clients. Even the best of normative tests seldom paid adequate attention to factors such as culture, age, and gender. Differences that are immense in number and subtle in quality make culturally informed testing, as well as treatment an aspiration goal only.

I suppose that I always just wanted some concrete facts or techniques that I feel like I could actually employ in practice, but the training in this area always appears rarefied and abstract. And anything too tangible immediately starts looking like stereotypical profiling and someone is likely to dispute it. A general model of cultural competence that encompasses our common humanity, as well as our individual uniqueness, is paradoxical and misses the point. Somehow I can’t buy that cultural competence is simply a state of mind.



I to have spent hours in cultural competency training...most of it tends to be trained by spanish interpeters. I find it amusing that many don't get the concept that every person has a cultural background even if they are white male, middle class. We must come to a common awareness that how we interact with sensitivity, non-judgemental attitudes is most important. Respect the persons we serve using the golden rule.

I agree entireley that respect is the key issue. And while insight can be helpful but I am not so sure that understanding yourown cultural backround qualifies you to understand anyone else's.

Terry Stawar

President/CEO (LifeSpring, Inc.)

Terry Stawar


Terry L. Stawar, EdD, is President and CEO of LifeSpring Health Systems, a community behavioral...

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