A one-size-fits-all approach to mental health treatment might not be the answer for ethnic minorities and one researcher is looking to bring cultural competency into the field of psychology.
Stanley Huey, a psychology professor at the University of Southern California, spoke to a crowd in Lecture Hall on Monday evening about culturally sensitive mental health treatment. He drew from his experience with psychological and behavioral studies that encompass many things, including studying psychotherapy effects of juvenile gangs and youth in foster care.
Ray Romanczyk, a professor in psychology and an organizer of the event, said part of the reason Huey was chosen was his research is based solely on clinical research, as opposed to philosophies.
“What Dr. Huey is doing, and this is the key part, is evidence-based treatments,” Romanczyk said. “A lot of people are doing a lot of things out there concerning questions on how to help people. But what’s the evidence?”
Huey discussed his research on the effectiveness of mental health treatments in ethnic minorities versus white Euro-Americans, and the idea that therapists need to be aware of their clients’ culture, including issues of respect, discrimination, values and norms.
“The thinking was that treatments need to be culturally sensitive or responsive to the needs of ethnic minorities,” she said. “Or the clinicians had to be culturally competent in terms of their clinical behavioral practices.”
Examples included assessing client experiences with racism, being attentive to effects of minority status, issues of respect and an evaluation whether behaviors match values and norms of host culture. More specific examples were using the polite form of ‘you’ – usted – with Latino adults and incorporating spirituality and faith-based coping mechanisms in the African-American population.
However, using meta-analysis, a method that combines and analyzes multiple studies, Huey found no consistent evidence that culturally tailored treatments enhanced its effectiveness in ethnic minorities.
“We found there was no effect,” Huey said. “We found an unequivocal and overall ‘no.’”
However, Huey followed up saying that the whole concept and questions surrounding the effectiveness of culturally tailored treatments was more complicated. He said it was necessary to look at other research that studied culturally tailored treatments that produced different results, and also to acknowledge that his own research needed more time.
“What we’ve discovered over the past decade has dramatically changed my way of thinking about mental health treatments in ethnic minorities,” Huey said. “It’s got me thinking much more critically about psychotherapy outcomes and more skeptical about common sense when it comes to psychotherapy effects.”
Samantha Wagner, a first-year graduate student studying clinical psychology, said that she came because she found Huey’s research relevant and interesting.
“The idea that there may not be any differences or significant effects between different cultural aspects was really interesting,” Wagner said. “And the fact that there’s still a huge need for research.”
Hannah Morton, also a first-year graduate student studying clinical psychology, found the fact that cultural considerations aren’t a widely accepted practice among clinical studies was strange.
“I thought it was interesting that considerations aren’t something that weigh heavily when people are thinking about mental health research or services provided in clinical settings,” Morton said. “Maybe not given his findings, but I think people tend to easily gloss over it.”
Romanczyk said that he wants students to walk away from the lecture with a different understanding of the complexity involved when it comes to psychology addressing social justice issues.
“We are bombarded with soundbites and platitudes with easy answers,” Romanczyk said. “So an appreciation that this is really tough work, that’s got be done because overall we’re not making a lot of progress.”