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Developing Cultural Competency

Cultural Knowledge, Awareness, Sensitivity, Competence

II.  Culturally Competent Programs

This section briefly covers the characteristics that culturally competent programs should exhibit and some cultural norms to be aware of and integrated into your programs.

Culturally Competent Programs should

  • Acknowledge culture as a predominant force in shaping behaviors, values, and institutions
  • Acknowledge and accept that cultural differences exist and have an impact on service delivery
  • Believe that diversity within cultures is as important as diversity between cultures
  • Respect the unique, culturally defined needs of various client populations
  • Recognize that concepts such as "family" and "community" are different for various cultures and even for subgroups within cultures
  • Understand that people from different racial and ethnic groups and other cultural subgroups are usually best served by persons who are a part of or in tune with their culture
  • Recognize that taking the best of both worlds enhances the capacity of all

Source: SAMHSA's National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI)

“Norms” to be aware of

  • Touch
    In most cultures, you must explain what will be done and why before touching. Your gender may not be an issue. Talk to the patient to learn more about their preferences.
    - Always make it a polite and friendly encounter
    - Show respect
    - Many norms concerning social situations, modesty, and touch are based on Islamic traditions
  • Eye Contact
    In many cultures, a person may avoid eye contact with healthcare professionals and people of authority as a sign of respect. In some cultures, it is impolite to make eye contact, especially with someone you do not know well.

    For many, eye contact is believed to be related to evil spirits, and illness may be attributed to an "evil eye" or "mal de oho."
    - Know when to avoid eye contact
    - Do not expect sustained direct eye contact
  • Other
    In some cultures, when a patient nods his or her head, it does not necessarily signify agreement but rather that he or she is listening to you. Silence is more likely a sign of not understanding or disagreement.

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