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Jareena Silva

What is ethnicity?

Race and ethnicity are two different concepts used to categorize people. Race is typically associated with physical characteristics, such as skin color, hair texture, and facial features, and is often considered something inherited. Ethnicity, on the other hand, is associated with culture and is more closely related to factors such as customs, history, language, and religion, which are learned.

Furthermore, an ethnic group is a subsection of a population that is united by shared cultural, social, and historic experiences. Additionally, these subgroups have unique values, beliefs, and behaviors, and a sense of belonging to the subgroup.

Is ethnicity important when finding a therapist?

Finding a therapist that you feel comfortable working with can sometimes be difficult due to a number of reasons. Finding a therapist is also an incredibly personal experience. When most people begin their journey in finding a mental health provider, most prioritize cost. Typically, people look for providers that can take their insurance or have sliding scales. However, for many, it’s important to also consider shared values, schools of thought, and identities. 

When selecting a therapist, considering ethnicity can be helpful when considering the type of support you’re looking for. For example, if you’re looking for support around stress brought on by cultural differences, racism, cultural competency, or other related experiences it can be beneficial to speak with a therapist that may have the same lived experiences as you when it comes to race or ethnicity. 

Benefits of working with a therapist that has a similar ethnicity

​​Our cultural background, beliefs, and values can play a significant role in our mental health and overall well-being. Therefore, as mentioned before, it can be important to work with a provider that identifies similarly as you. 

If you’re looking to work through specific experiences related to your ethnicity, culture, traditions, or immigration, you may feel more comfortable opening up to a therapist that may look similar to you, speaks similarly to you, and also has similar lived experiences. 

Many report that not only do they feel more comfortable with a provider that identifies similarly to them, but they also trust the provider more and they’re gaining more from their sessions. Providers that identify the same as their client can offer a unique perspective and level of competency that other providers may not. 

However, there are also many providers that have experience working with a number of different identity groups and may be culturally competent enough to support a particular population to a certain degree. 

Many people rely on mirroring identities as a way to quickly assess someone's cultural competency. While this may be an effective tool, similar identities do not guarantee similar experiences. Becoming culturally competent requires either shared life experiences or actively learning on the part of the therapist.

White therapists in particular must be aware of their own biases and be mindful of the verbal and nonverbal interactions they have with others. It is important for them to educate themselves on anti-racism and be aware of different cultures and religions.

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About the Author

Jareena is MyWellbeing's Community Manager and is dedicated to supporting MyWellbeing's providers in order for them to offer the best possible care for you. Jareena is a mental health advocate and aims to identify ways to destigmatize discussions around mental health and how to make care more accessible.