One thing on which the United States of America prides itself is its foundation in and status as a “melting pot”, welcoming people of all races to our shores – and the USA is not unique in this way. All around our world, our communities encompass a colorful palette of races and social cultures, each with many unique collective experiences and perspectives.
These distinctive cultures make up many minority sets that have each developed their own cultural identities that differ (sometimes drastically) from “the norm”.
In our work with suicidal members of these communities, it may be tempting to gloss over these differences – especially if they make us uncomfortable. Furthermore, we’re often encouraged in society to practice “color blindness” in order to treat everyone equally and avoid any possibility of appearing racist, homophobic, politically incorrect, out of touch, or any other undesired label.
However, sweeping cultural differences under the rug and ignoring the unique experiences of suicidal minority patients undermines our ability to connect with our clients and build trust.
Acknowledging Cultural Differences
Instead of overlooking the cultural identities of suicidal ideators that differ from our own, acknowledging those differences – and even seeking to understand them – demonstrates interest in them as valid human beings and helps to build trust.
A few examples of how to acknowledge cultural differences with patients might include:
- “Is that common to your culture? How does that work normally?”
- “Hmm… now that’s a term I’m not familiar with. Can you explain it to me?”
- “Ah, I didn’t know that. I’m glad to learn something new about your culture.”
Showing interest in culture and seeking to understand its inner workings and perspectives not only helps to foster rapport and trust, it may also help some clients better understand their own circumstances and how to incorporate those differences into a plan for reducing suicidal thoughts in their lives.
Equally important to acknowledging cultural differences is to affirm the validity of their unique experiences and feelings as a member of their minority. Validation does not simply mean that you understand or agree – it is the act of letting your clients know that you acknowledge, recognize, and support their experiences.
- “I can tell that you’re uncomfortable talking about this, and that’s perfectly normal. It’s not easy to share sensitive things like this, but I want to understand your feelings. Can you keep going?”
- “I can understand how being the only transgender person in your small town made you feel very alone and scared. I guess I would feel that way, too.”
- “I imagine that can’t be very easy to deal with. Can you share more about how that makes you feel when that happens?”
It’s not always easy to talk about deeply personal experiences with a therapist, so be sure to thank the person for sharing with you.
Incorporating these two practices into therapeutic sessions will go a long way in establishing trust and building rapport with our suicidal minority clients.
For more information
To learn more about effective methods for working with suicidal minorities, read “5 Effective Approaches When Working with Minority Clients” by Tanisha Esperanza Jarvis, M.A.