Culture is a major identifying characteristic of individuals. Cultural norms influence our perceptions of the world and, in particular, our interpretations of the others' actions. The success of social interactions often depends on the cultures of the people involved. Cultural identity includes factors such as behavioral norms, language, manners and ones sense of morality.

Culture plays an especially relevant role in caring for individuals with depression. The likelihood that a depressed person will seek help, the treatments employed by mental health professionals, and the outcome of treatment are strongly affected by cultural considerations. Symptoms of depression that one culture may view as a reason to seek therapy, may be seen as a matter to be handled by the family in a different culture, and as a religious issue in another culture.

In the therapeutic relationship, both the therapist's and the client's culture become part of the dynamic. It is important for the therapist to be aware of client's possible cultural differences. Some of the common barriers in treatment are understanding a client's cultural perspective.

It is often difficult to fully comprehend the client's cultural world view. However, one has to consider that the way the therapist perceives things may not be the way the client does. A therapist must look at the each individual and interaction openly--not thorough the therapist's experience only.

Symptoms of depression may manifest differently due to one's cultural norms and what is deemed as acceptable.  While in some cultures it is acceptable to seek treatment of a medical professional for a physical ailment, it is considered a taboo to discuss emotional issues connected to family dynamics.  It is important to build a trusting relationship and rapport to help clients feel comfortable to discuss emotional distress connected to physical complaints. 

Tips to consider in seeking treatment as a multi-cultural client:

  • Seek a therapist that has experience with your cultural background.
  • When considering treatment, be open to different perspectives and styles and pick a therapist that you are most comfortable with.  You might seek treatment from many health professionals before you find a right fit.
  • Do not be alarmed if you are experiencing depression and your symptoms seem different than those around you.  As mentioned before, your symptoms can be connected to your culture and what is appropriate for you to express due to your cultural norms.
  • Don't be afraid to talk about your background.  It will assist your therapist in treatment and building rapport.
  • Remember therapist are trained to help you not judge you so be open to the therapeutic process to help build trust.