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Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Cultural Humility in Addiction Treatment


It is absolutely vital when treating individuals with substance use and mental health issues that the treatment not only respects but also incorporates their unique identities and cultures into the process. If we have learned anything from these past few months of increased cultural tension, it is that our cultural differences are meant to be celebrated, not ignored.

Luckily, in the field of addiction treatment, with addiction as the great equalizer, we have a long-standing history of creating appropriate and accepting places of healing. As diversity is evident among clients, it is important for diversity as a value to be a tenant of treatment and programming. 

Cultural competency has long been considered an important part of incorporating diversity within treatment and organizations. However, the more evolved idea of cultural humility embraces the knowledge and respect of cultural competence, while also inviting individuals to examine their own cultures, identities, bias, and beliefs. 

What is Cultural Humility?

In the 1980’s, cultural competence emerged as a value that companies, agencies, and organizations strove to include in the workplace. 

Cultural competence is defined as “a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system, agency, or among professionals that enables effective work in cross-cultural situations.” 


By being aware of and respecting various cultures in the workplace, proponents of cultural competence argued that workers would be more efficient, work together in a more unified way, and have more inclusive policies and procedures. While this helped to stimulate diversity, research has shown that cultural humility is better to reflect these ideals.

Cultural humility is defined by The National Institutes of Health (NIH) as “a lifelong process of self-reflection and self-critique whereby the individual not only learns about another’s culture, but one starts with an examination of her/his own beliefs and cultural identities.” 


Cultural humility requires us to examine our own biases or assumptions, actively work to challenge our assumptions about other cultures, and adopt a learner’s stance. By being aware of our own cultures and how that has shaped our values and beliefs, we can better understand the background and context of another’s life.

How is This Different From Cultural Competence? 

While cultural competence was a beneficial start for many organizations to include diversity, cultural humility takes a more person-centered approach. 


Where cultural competence says “I learned about how your culture (often an assumption based on race, or even a visual assumption of race) thinks and feels, therefore I will adapt to respect your culture,” cultural humility says “while I have this knowledge, I understand that you are an individual with complex and unique characteristics influenced by multiple cultures and contexts. Help me to understand you and your culture better so I can best understand and support you.” 


Rather than assuming one’s race indicates a particular culture, cultural humility understands that there is diversity within race, and ethnicity, as well as that culture is not limited to race but also created by communities, family of origin, and experiences.

Why is it Important for Treatment to Incorporate Cultural Humility?

 There are numerous benefits to having treatment centers and programs operate with the lens of cultural humility. Some of these benefits include:

Person-Centered Approach

Engaging in the practice of cultural humility limits assumptions and establishes a person-centered approach to treatment based upon the individual. 

Better Outcomes

By organizations and treatment engaging in cultural humility, the needs of individuals are acknowledged, respected, and incorporated into their treatment plan. This also allows to better incorporate what they learned in treatment into practice since it fits within their cultures and identities.

Diverse Treatment

By practicing cultural humility, an organization understands that they serve individuals from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Therefore practices or modalities that were designed by a majority culture for a majority culture may not be as helpful to those from minority cultures. By understanding this disparity, organizations can make efforts to research and implement practices that are proven effective for a wide variety of clients.

Improved Work Culture

When staff members are trained in cultural humility, conditions are better for the individuals they treat and also among management and staff.

Ways to Engage in Cultural Humility

Cultural humility is a lifelong process that transcends from personal life to professional values and creates the foundation for authentic relationships and meaningful connections. 

The first step to engage in cultural humility is awareness

Pay attention to the beliefs you hold about other people, places, or things and think about where these beliefs come from. Are the teachings passed down through generations? Messages from the media or the community you grew up in? A few personal experiences that caused you to develop a widespread belief? 


Often by being aware of these values, beliefs, and biases, we slow down our thinking- sometimes we aren’t even aware we are stereotyping or believing something that could be harmful to ourselves or others! 

Another aspect of cultural humility is to learn about other’s experiences.

While this often means to listen empathetically to others who are different from you, it is also important to research and educate oneself utilizing the many resources and materials online. 


By practicing cultural humility, treatment centers and organizations are more equipped to meet the individual needs of their clients, provide better outcomes, and establish a diverse, empathetic, and respectful environment.

Cultural Humility at The Haven at Pismo

Here at The Haven, we are committed to working to make ours a treatment environment that is a healthy, safe, respectful, and peaceful setting for you to be able to focus on the hard work of recovery. We truly believe in and follow the tenets of our core values that inspire the work we do with the guests who come to us for treatment. If you or your loved one is in need of a lifeline to get back on the right track, don’t hesitate to reach out to us today!