The Importance of Culturally Competent Care
Culture has many aspects that influences people in a variety of ways. Music is one aspect of culture that can also benefit a person’s health and well-being. This gives me as a music therapist a unique appreciation for the multidimensional role that culture plays in health. This appreciation, in turn, inspires me to practice music therapy in a culturally competent way. In this post, I’m going to discuss why culturally competent care is important and how music therapy fits with this.
Unequal Access to Health Care
If you’re a member of the cultural majority, you may be wondering why this topic is important. Culturally competent practices in health care are important because everyone needs to have access to health care when they need it. Yet the reality is that some people may not even seek health care due to health care disparities. These differences can exist in regard to a person’s ethnicity, race, gender, and gender identity, and/or sexual orientation.
Needless to say, this leads to unnecessary suffering for the person, as well as for their family and friends. But I argue that society also suffers from such disparities. For example, how does society benefit from shuttling young people of color into the juvenile justice system rather than addressing any underlying mental health issues? What kind of society (or culture) could we create if people could get the care they need when they need it?
Lack of Culturally Competent Health Care
One reason people may not seek care is because of a lack of culturally competent health care providers. We are all products of our culture, even health care providers. Therefore, implicit and/or explicit bias can have an effect on how care is provided, as well as how care is received. That is why I personally strive to remain open and aware of the biases I may have because I want to help, not harm.
Part of this is also influenced by a lack of diversity among health care professionals. Unfortunately, this is true for the music therapy profession as well. (Although this is a topic of an ongoing national conversation among music therapists.)
Music Therapy as a Culturally Competent Therapy
Culturally competent care respects diversity and the cultural factors that can affect health and health care. Some of these factors include language, communication styles, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. Because music is what it is, it can touch upon each of these areas in a personally meaningful way. This, in my opinion, makes music therapy a natural fit for culturally competent care.
As well, it can be easy to forget that music therapy is “therapy.” When you’re in a session making music you’re feeling good. You’re being creative. You can experience yourself in a new way.
Because of this, music therapy might be able to help reduce any stigma that may exist in some communities around certain health issues. This is especially true for mental health where a lot of social and cultural stigmas exist. In this way, it may be easier for some people to go see someone they can make music with and feel better.
As well, music can bring people from diverse backgrounds together. This is the part I love most. Sharing meaningful music allows people to be seen and heard. Along with this, it can help them to feel understood and, hopefully, learn from others. After all, even though we may come from different backgrounds, we all have similar needs in order to live a healthy, fulfilling live.