We’re all familiar with the Western model of 1:1 counseling in a therapist’s office. However, what many people do not realize is that this model is expanding. Solely relying on the Western model of therapy excludes many groups of individuals who come from cultural backgrounds in which mental health care is extra stigmatized, or in which mental health care has a history of being unavailable or ineffective. For these reasons, let’s explore the importance of inclusivity in mental health.


by Emma Burke

I recently attended a mental health conference at UC Irvine and many of the workshops were life-changing, as they irrevocably shifted my view on mental health and the direction in which the field is trying to move. However, the main thing that stood out through all of the different workshops was the idea of inclusivity for many underrepresented groups. For example, one workshop explored deaf culture and the way in which great emotional trauma effects many deaf individuals because we do not live in a society which is inclusive of them. Furthermore, when they experience such emotional trauma we have a huge deficit of therapists who know American Sign Language or have any understanding of what deaf individuals go through in their lifetime.

Along similar lines, the Diagnostic Statistical Manual has a long history of pathologizing the LGBTQ community. And regardless of the fact that there have been some more recent efforts by the American Psychological Association to make amends to this, many LGBTQ individuals do not feel comfortable seeking therapy where the Psychologist more often that not will identify their sexual orientation or gender identity as the root of all of their problems.

The history of Psychology is very much rooted in the push of the Western model of 1:1 therapy in the Psychologist’s office, removed from the rest of the world and separate from the client’s culture and identity. And while this model works for many people, it most definitely does not work for all, and this is an idea that is continually being more and more recognized in current practice. However, as the next generation of individuals who are interested in mental health advocacy and inclusivity, it is up to us to remain aware and educated about these issues and push for the use of more inclusive models of therapy.

The first day of the conference ended with an MFT candidate who had just finished creating an 8 week poetry therapy program. He promoted the idea that we cannot direct people not to be depressed, anxious, or angry when we ourselves all come from varying levels of privilege. Groups of individuals such as immigrants, refugees, people of color, or the LGBTQ community, who have been inherently oppressed or mistreated are going to deal with feelings and emotions that we cannot understand without experiencing their own unique struggles. And so rather than undermining these feelings and labeling them as “negative” he opted for an entirely new approach to therapy, using these emotions to fuel creativity in poetry and writing.

A poetry workshop is just one of many ways to think about the future of inclusive therapy. The most important idea is that we remain aware of these issues of cultural sensitivity and individuality  and find ways of therapy that work for all kinds of people so that we can truly support the mental health  of all individuals.