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Health Workers Should Embrace Cultural Competence

The book defines cultural competence as “a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system, agency, or among professionals that enables effective work in cross-cultural situations.” Cultural competence within the area of behavioral health defined in my own words is the ability of behavioral health workers and organizations to provide services that meet the social, cultural and language needs of clients. Working with a variety of different cultures can be tiresome because of the amount of education needed to specifically suit diverse populations. I think behavioral health workers must have motivation to go the extra mile to meet the needs of different cultures. Training and education is required to be culturally competent.

Cultural competence is important for several reasons. A practitioner cannot provide quality service unless they are educated with the practices, customs and values of other cultures. Diagnosis’ can be inaccurate if a behavioral health worker is not trained to work with diverse cultures. What may be true with one client can differ from race-to-race as well as gender-to-gender. Cultural competence is also important in the areas of program planning. If a program is not tailored to all the cultures that are supposed to be receiving than it could be an issue of exclusion and discrimination because the program is not providing equal services all races and cultures targeted to receive services.

There are many different aspects that play into communication that are not necessarily limited to speech. Alaskan Natives, for an example, have many different nonverbal methods for communicating. Raised eyebrows can indicate a response meaning “yes”; a shrug of the shoulders can be someone responding to someone’s question saying, “I don’t know”. A counsellor who may not be familiar with methods of nonverbal communication can assume that the client is not responding and it can lead him/her to believe that the client is ignoring them. In an extreme case a therapist can possibly think they have personality issues.

If there is no understood way of doing things it can lead to things being done in the wrong or unintended way. Communication is one of the most important aspects in any business, relationship or organization. Having training programs, meeting and workshops that are available and required is a step in the right direction. These programs/meeting and workshops need to address the areas of: communication, sexual harassment, policies, procedures and cultural competence. I believe as a company progresses they learn what works for them through the process of elimination. Figuring out what works is done by trial and error.

I believe it just as important to understand someone’s culture, as it is, when taking values, traditions and worldviews in consideration. Simply being educated on different cultures and value systems isn’t enough. Understanding how the cultures differs from your own is pertinent.

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