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Cultural Competency in Rehabilitation

Updated: Oct 1, 2020

What is culture? Oftentimes people think of race and ethnicity, but it is much more indeed! Culture covers a wide span of areas to include age, religious preferences, gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, marital status and socioeconomic status. Some of these areas are fixed and some are fluid depending on life circumstances.We need to fully understand culture before we can become culturally competent. Being culturally competent means fully meeting the social, cultural and linguistic needs of the clients we serve.When working as a rehabilitation professional, we need to fully understand the individual in these specific areas and not make assumptions.It is important to gather information from clients about their specific culture, differences and experiences so that we can have awareness, knowledge and understanding in these areas.

According to Derald Wing Sue there are 3 components of cultural competency:

1) Attitudes/beliefs componentown understanding of cultural condition that impacts beliefs, values and attitudes

2) Knowledge componentunderstanding and knowledge of worldviews of culturally different individuals and groups

3) Skills component – use of culturally appropriate intervention/communication skills

One of the ways to increase cultural competence is to be client-centered in our approach with clients. This gives opportunity for us to respect the client’s values and preferences. It also allows for open communication that is informative and educational. The focus is on building a partnership with the client. Think about when you really take time to just sit down with a client and learn more about who they are, their life experiences, their family of origin… this gives you an opportunity to become culturally competent about that specific individual.

When working with clients, we need to also formally assess how their culture can influence their clinical programming to include goal setting and outcomes. A framework called ADDRESSING developed by Pamela Hays allows clinicians to recognize and understand cultural influences to include age, developmental and disabilities, religion, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, indigenous heritage, national origin and gender.

When organizations are not taking into account all of these domains when treating clients, there is a high risk of negative health outcomes, poor quality of care and clients being overall dissatisfied with their experience. By being an organization that is culturally competent, we can improve the client outcomes and reduce the chances of racial and ethnic disparities.

Paige Salinas, LCSW, CBIS

Clinical Director

[1] Sue, D.W. (2001). Multidimensional facets of cultural competence. The Counseling Psychologist, 29(6), 790-821.

[1] Hays, P.A. (2008). Addressing cultural complexities in practice: Assessment, diagnosis and therapy (2nd ed.). SAGE publications.

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