In a nutshell: Multicultural therapy values and honors your culture(s), and grows your awareness of the strengths, burdens, and meaning they have for you.
Your culture includes whatever groups have influenced you. It could be ethnicity, race, nationality, geographic region, religion, sexuality, gender, physical ability, family style, or something else entirely. Culture (whichever ones you consider yourself a part of) shapes your identity and way of being in the world.
Bridging multiple cultures
More and more people identify with multiple cultures. Examples of people who bridge cultures may be, for example:
- From a multiracial or multicultural family
- An immigrant yourself or from a family of immigrants
- One of the only people of color at your job or school
- Part of, or connected to, the LGBTQ community
- From a religion that is demonstrated outwardly (hijab, yarmulke, robes)
- A person with a disability
- The only person over 50 in a young tech company
- A first generation college grad
- A veteran who has served in conflicts or foreign cultures
- A parent who spends days in a fast-paced, high stress career and comes home to a child who needs their calm and nurturing.
And you may have yet another version of spanning different cultures.
Challenges of bridging cultures
In each of these examples, the person bridges two or more worlds. Each culture has different expectations for communication, relating, and behavior.
You may have two sets of guidelines for your behavior, depending on whom you’re with. The people from one culture may have a strong reaction to the version of you that operates best in the other culture. Or they may rely on you to be their representative to the “outside world.” The pressures to fit into each world may require things that are incompatible, which create inner (and often outer) conflict for you.
Bridging across gaps of discrimination
One or more features of your cultural identity may be a group that is marginalized, or kept out of the mainstream. Think race, sexual identity, physical ability, religion, poverty. So in addition to bridging worlds, you may face discrimination, ignorance, or being ignored.
Bridging your worlds can be even trickier when you are from multiple groups who are marginalized. A black woman. A Latino immigrant in your 60s. A gay man who is deaf. This experience has been termed “intersectionality.”
Bridges and intersections—is this about therapy or engineering? The point is that these experiences require a lot of balancing and connecting. Even some highly developed skills. And you may be doing all of that without realizing how much energy it takes.
Multicultural therapy helps you to pay attention to the role culture plays in your life. And that can shed light on your self-esteem, identity, style of communication and relating, and how you interact with the world around you (whichever one it is).