Getting help for addiction can be hard for lots of different reasons. Cultural influences and factors can impact a person's ability to reach out for care and support. Cultural dynamics also figure into the appropriateness and effectiveness of those services.
As a mental health clinician and educator, Princess Drake, MS, PsyD, is doing everything she can to advance culturally responsive care.
"Culturally competent addiction treatment involves providing help in ways that best meet the individual's specific needs," she explains. "This requires us to see a person for all of who they are, not just through the lens of diagnostic criteria."
In other words, the most-effective care isn't a one-size-fits-all proposition.
"As clinicians, if we minimize a person's cultural influences and attributes, we might be overlooking the very factors and strengths that could become important tools in their treatment experience and long-term recovery," Dr. Drake notes. "We could likewise overlook significant factors that could hinder their recovery process."
A person's culture can be defined broadly in terms of customs, values, language, foods and other features specific to ethnicity, racial groups, geographic location or social groups. Culture can also be thought of in terms of personal identity and interactions—the factors that shape and influence how a person views the world and functions in it.
In creating a treatment plan that's a cultural fit for the patient, Hazelden Betty Ford clinicians typically start in the same place—with evidence-based practices shown to be effective across a broad scope of individuals. From there, treatment planning incorporates attentiveness to the individual's recovery needs.
"If I'm working with a person who is from a tribal community, there might be approaches or considerations around spirituality for me to think about in providing culturally responsive care," Dr. Drake explains. "If I'm working with a person of color (POC) in an urban setting, I might be exploring the availability of resources they will need to be able to function optimally within their recovery community. If I'm working with an older, white farmer in a rural area with limited access to recovery meetings, I might need to think about alternative options for support that would make sense for them."
Culturally responsive care at Hazelden Betty Ford also involves community partnerships and collaborative approaches, Dr. Drake adds. She points to ongoing partnerships with two Twin Cities organizations—Turning Point, serving African American communities, and Rainbow Health, serving people who identify as LGBTQIA+—as especially promising.
"Our organizational mission and my personal passion revolve around helping as many people as possible. Collaborating with Turning Point, Rainbow Health and other organizations allows us to build relationships with community providers while strengthening our field as a whole in providing care."
Donor support, like that from Tela Mathias of the Phoenix Group, makes these partnerships possible. "Hazelden Betty Ford saved my life," she says. "As a white, cisgender, mostly heterosexual woman I have tremendous privilege. I give, and my company gives, because we want every individual and family struggling with the disease of addiction to have access to life-saving care and recovery resources without shame."
In helping a person find healing and hope, cultural competency matters just as much as clinical knowledge or technique, says Dr. Drake.
"Everyone deserves to be seen for the wholeness of who they are," she affirms.
Nowhere is that more important than in a therapeutic relationship where the most helpful, fitting and compassionate response can't always be found in the clinician's manual.
Beyond the clinical setting, we can all develop greater cultural awareness and sensitivity in our personal interactions and relationships.
One place to start? By talking less and listening more. Another? "Immersing yourself within a different culture."
Dr. Drake reflects on her own experience of cultural immersion in moving to Minnesota from Florida, and originally from Nashville, Tennessee. She could have remained within a familiar comfort zone. Instead she actively sought out experiences and opportunities to learn about Minnesota culture through new friendships, activities, foods and more.
Seeking to understand cultural differences from a place of wanting to know rather than wanting to judge makes a difference in how people perceive our curiosity and our questions, Dr. Drake advises. "It's all about intent. Is my intent to grow as a person and make connections, or is it to reinforce my biases and prejudices?"
These are questions that can open our minds and change our hearts. "We all have room to grow, learn and advocate for the betterment of all, not just those individuals who look like us."