Why Culturally Responsive Care Must Be Part of Your Mental Health Benefits Strategy

Mar 1, 2021

By Danielle Cottonham, PhD

If anything has become clear over the course of 2020 and the start of 2021, it’s that unprecedented times–whether that term is used to describe the global pandemic or protests against institutional racism–are here. Amid the emotional fallout from these tumultuous and distressing events, the need for more inclusive and tailored mental health care is evident and urgent. 

As a human resources or benefits professional, it can be difficult to know how to evaluate whether a mental health benefit supports the needs of your diverse workforce, including the needs of employees who are reeling from race-based traumatic stress. How can you know whether your company’s mental health benefits adequately reflect and incorporate your DEIB values and ensure that your employees have access to care that helps them feel seen and heard, wholly and authentically?

That’s where understanding culturally responsive care (CRC) comes into play. CRC is a philosophy rooted in a multicultural approach that accounts for how someone’s cultural background can define and impact their experience. It’s an important framework to help mental health care professionals ensure that they are providing the most effective possible treatment to a diverse range of clients. Here’s what you need to know about CRC, and why it needs to be a fundamental part of your mental health benefits strategy: 

What is culturally responsive care?

At its most basic level, culturally responsive care (CRC) is the intentional and genuine decision to see, respect, and celebrate the aspects that make clients unique; it is an acknowledgement of their intersectional existence in the world. Cultivating culturally responsive mental health care means fostering an environment where clients are fully seen in all aspects of their identity through a holistic and anti-oppressive approach to therapy. For providers in particular, this means deliberately considering and engaging in relevant discussion about all aspects of a client’s life and how they have shaped the person. It also means practicing and developing strong cross-cultural interpersonal skills. 

The impact of culturally responsive care on long-term employee mental health 

Most psychotherapists receive some training around cultural diversity. However, more specialized education and training in culturally responsive care, such as cultural adaptations to traditional evidence-based therapies (EBTs), leads to better care for clients. CRC can therefore lead to more effective treatment, creating higher-quality collaboration and a stronger client-therapist relationship throughout treatment.

As people with more culturally diverse backgrounds seek mental health care, it is essential to offer access to providers who are culturally competent. When researching a mental health benefit program, important questions to ask include: 

  • Are your providers trained to address race and other social identities in therapy sessions? 
  • Are your providers diverse in their linguistic capabilities, so that they don’t have to rely on translators to give care to multilingual clients? 
  • Has your network trained providers to use modalities and incorporate cultural adaptations that best fit their clients? 

How can culturally responsive care improve a mental health benefits strategy?

Many commonly used EBTs were developed from a white, Eurocentric perspective and validated with predominantly white samples. Very few minorities were included in the validation of various mental health treatments from 1986 to 2001, and few studies during this time examined if these treatments were effective for different racial and ethnic groups.

Because of this lack of intersectional research, there’s a significant need for cultural competency and better awareness when treating clients from diverse backgrounds. Deliberately incorporating culturally responsive care in a mental health benefits offering can help ensure that employees get better treatment. When developing a mental health benefits strategy, it’s important to make sure CRC is an integral part of your provider network’s care philosophy.

How does Lyra train mental health providers in CRC?

Lyra Health has a standard for our providers: We expect equity in the care they provide. By making equity–distributing resources based on the needs of the recipients–a baseline, rather than equality, which means giving everyone the same resources, members receive the care that fits their needs best. Providers are able to offer treatment that incorporates their background and life experiences as part of the therapeutic process. We do this by aiming to have a network of diverse providers who are educated in CRC, so that clients can feel seen, understood, and valued in their sessions. 

To incorporate culturally responsive care in the practice of evidence-based therapies, Lyra provides ongoing education for providers that includes: 

  • Intersectional frameworks for understanding clients’ presenting concerns 
  • Training on being an anti-oppressive therapist working with LGBTQ+ People of Color
  • Training in working with transgender clients
  • Training in the social justice implications for evidence-based treatments
  • Training in understanding white privilege and allyship in therapy  

Additionally, Lyra empowers providers to incorporate CRC modalities into their care strategies by integrating them into a community of similarly-minded mental health professionals. This means that therapists in our Blended Care Therapy program have access to consultation groups and other experts who can help determine the best treatment options and approach for clients. Lyra also supports providers in doing the work they love with the groups they are most passionate about serving, which makes for a more positive therapeutic experience for both the client and provider.

In a time that’s rife with cultural tension and growing demands for inclusive and comprehensive care, it’s more crucial than ever to ensure that your mental health benefits strategy is rooted in a philosophy of culturally responsive care. Your employees have diverse needs that shift as current events impact them and their communities–it’s critical for them to know that their mental health care providers will be compassionate and understanding of these needs. A network of providers who are trained in CRC is key to making sure your employees have a safe space to process all of their experiences, including those influenced by their cultural identities. When evaluating a mental health benefit, make sure to find out about their approach to CRC–it can make all the difference for your diverse employee population.

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DISCLAIMER:

The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Dr. Cottonham is a licensed psychologist in California and serves as the Clinical Manager for Lyra Health’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, & Belonging initiatives. Her clinical and research expertise include: PTSD and co-occurring substance use disorders, race-based traumatic stress and the impact of racial discrimination on mental health in the Black community, and culturally informed evidence-based practice. Dr. Cottonham’s work is rooted in her experience as a Black woman who was born and raised in southern Louisiana. She has a passion for destigmatizing mental health in minority communities and providing safe spaces that promote connection, authenticity, and healing.