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Providing Culturally Sensitive Care for Culturally Diverse Clients

In the society we live the most profound differences may be cultural.

An individual’s culture is influenced by many factors such as his/her gender, race, religion, ethnicity, socio-economic status, past experiences or sexual orientation.

In our practice, we are required to recognize each of our client’s culture, to be aware of own culture, and to have insight of how both affect the therapist-client relationship when providing client-centered care in a multicultural society.

Each of our clients is different with their diagnoses or the type of injuries.  They display different personality and viewpoints, lifestyle and education.

As we strive to provide culturally sensitive care, we must recognize how our clients’ perceptions are similar, as well as different. By reflecting on how our own values and beliefs would impact the therapist-client relationship, we can enhance our ability to provide client-centered care.

Through continual reflection, learning and support, we can strengthen the quality of care we provide to the diverse cultural communities we serve.

There is no single right approach to interact with a specific culture or with individuals who have a similar cultural background. An important first step is to be sensitive to the client’s cultural beliefs or practices, and to pay respect to their cultural values. This should affect   the ways we deliver care.

It would be unrealistic to expect each clinician to have in-depth knowledge of all cultures, but it is possible to acquire specific cultural knowledge of your clients.

We need to recognize that behaviours and responses that are viewed one way in one cultural context may be viewed in an entirely different way, or have a different meaning in another cultural context.

Knowledge of cultural customs helps in avoiding misunderstandings and enables therapists to provide better care.

The following are examples of “cultural highlights” to be aware of when treating clients in the Chinese and other Asian cultures:

  • “Saving face” is very important, which may make it hard for clients in this cultural group to admit to having problems, especially with mental health or emotional problems. Similarly, they may also nod and say “yes” or “I know” when they don’t really understand your questions just to “save face”. It is important to ask the client or his/her family to repeat the information to ensure proper understanding.
  • Many Chinese strongly believe in the effectiveness of traditional Chinese medical treatments including acupuncture, cupping, prescriptions of herbal medications, etc. Your own attitude towards these treatments can be perceived as a lack of respect or disregard to these beliefs and may lead to the client’s distrust of your skills/abilities as a clinician.
  • Traditional Chinese values put the family and society over the individual. As such, treatment decisions are often made by the family, rather than by the individual client. Be mindful that the client may prefer to discuss treatment options with the family prior to consenting to treatment.
  • There is often a hierarchal system within the Chinese families. “Respect your elders” is a concept taught to most Chinese at a young age. Discussing treatment decisions/options directly with the client’s adult son or daughter without the client presence or without the client’s prior permission may be perceived as a lack of respect. This misperception occurs often in families where the adult children speak English, but not the client. This may lead the therapist to regard the client’s children as the interpreter or as the primary contact person for the client.

At Galit Liffshiz & Associates, we pride ourselves in being client-centered. We strive to provide culturally sensitive care to each and every one of our clients. We have clinicians with broad understanding of various cultural backgrounds and who are knowledgeable in languages including Arabic, Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Polish, Mandarin and Cantonese, among others.

Written by: Miranda Mo, OT Reg. (Ont)