Being Humbled by Cultural Humility

By Jade Lawless


The work of therapy requires, at its most basic core, unconditional positive regard, empathy and congruence. We are committed to walking alongside the other, without judgement while maintaining an openness that embodies humility in the human condition. Most of us would pride ourselves in our ability to look beyond presenting issues and straight through to the equal human in front of us with acceptance and warmth.


Within that way of therapy, there is an ethical obligation to be competent in our ability to work therapeutically with whomever enters our room. It is quite the norm to categorise competencies into various presenting issues, such as addiction, or client groups, such as children, but what about competency across the spectrum of difference in minority and diverse populations?


There is something amazing about the thought of seeing everybody as equal, and it need not be said that the therapist should never discriminate, but it is absolutely essential that at a minimum we see and acknowledge difference and diversity, and that means acknowledging inequalities that may be present between ourselves and the client from a minority group. This is part of cultural competency in that we “effectively work, interact and develop meaningful relationships with people of various cultural backgrounds.”1 We do this through a type of ‘social fluency’ whereby we learn about and understand another culture’s beliefs, language, and customs, etc. However, there is a danger in this that we could apply a one size fits all approach, albeit well meaning, that can be harmful and create a bridge which further isolates those from backgrounds that are not the same as yours or mine. Cultural competency is a good start, but it is not enough. Where do we go from here? Enter Cultural Humility.


Having attended The Race for Cultural Humility Conference hosted by Ejiro Ogbevoen founder of Black Therapists Ireland, Ravind Jeawon of Talk Therapy and Ray O' Neill of DCU, the importance of the voice of the minority individual in really understanding their lived experience was explored. The power of engaging in conversations with open curiosity, not just in an attempt to understand more about the other but to enhance this knowledge through essential self-evaluation in relation to our own inherent biases, assumptions, privilege and microaggressions is the key towards the true path of empathy, congruence and unconditional positive regard. When we embrace cultural humility we are committing to a life-long journey of learning from the other and an openness to learning about our own shadow side and blind spots in the process. Cultural humility is powerful because it ‘’involves understanding the complexity of identities — that even in sameness there is difference — and that a clinician will never be fully competent about the evolving and dynamic nature of a [client's] experiences.”2 This in itself shifts the inherent power balance back towards a steady equilibrium.


There were some meaningful take homes for PCI College in attending this conference and we were grateful to be afforded the opportunity to dialogue, without prejudice of our own shortcomings, with the hosts, their speakers, professionals and students alike at the event. We are committed to integrating Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity more overtly into our programmes in order to further support our students, and in turn their clients. We look forward to making further strides in this area as we embrace cultural humility as an educational provider.


1. de Guzam, M.R.T., Durden, T.R., Taylor, S.A., Guzman, J.M. & Potthoff, K.L. (2016). Cultural compentence: An important skillset for the 21st century. Youth and Families, Families.,of%20people%20from%20various%20groups.

2. Kahn, S. (2021). Cultural humility vs cultural compentence and why providers needs both. Health City Newsletter: Boston Medical Centre




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