How to find a culturally informed therapist

When you are seeking therapy for your child, it matters which therapist you choose, because the relationship between your child and their therapist influences the effectiveness of treatment. Your child must feel a connection, feel understood and feel respected.

Our cultural background and groups we identify with shape our experiences, emotions and behaviors. If you are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous or People of Color) or LGBTQ+, it may be hard to find a therapist who identifies in the same way as you or your child. This means your family and child will benefit from a culturally informed therapist who understands how your family’s background, and groups your child may belong to, fit into your understanding of mental health and the treatment plan.

Mental health providers are human, so we have biases and we carry our own beliefs into therapy. Until recently, training programs for psychologists, social workers and counselors did not require multicultural classes, so many providers did not receive direct training on how to work with people who are different than themselves. This is why finding a therapist that can be a good ally and is open to learning about groups different from their own is valuable.

To find a culturally informed therapist for your child:

  • Search for local allies. Talk to your friends and family about their experiences with mental health providers. Do they have anyone they would recommend? If someone you know has had a positive experience with a provider, it is likely that your child will too.
  • Do your research. Most therapists have websites where they describe what they do. What you see online may tell you if a therapist could be a good match. Do they feature photos of people who look like you? Do they talk about giving culturally tailored treatment, being an ally or being anti-racist?
  • Ask questions. During your first appointment with a therapist, ask about their personal and professional background to determine whether they will be a fit for your family. Have they done any multicultural work or taken continuing education courses on issues surrounding race, ethnicity or culture? Have they received appropriate training in working with interpreters? Do they treat patients who look/identify like your child? Have they treated patients who have experienced racism or oppression? How do they tailor treatment so that it is relevant to people in your group?
  • Give the relationship a chance. Attend three sessions with a new therapist before making a final decision. Each time, ask yourself if the therapist seems empathetic, familiar with your culture and/or willing to learn additional information to provide appropriate care. After every appointment, see if your child is beginning to trust the therapist and build a connection. If that dynamic does not develop after a few sessions – whether for cultural reasons or a personality mismatch – it is fine to look for someone else.