Cultural Competence in Substance Abuse Treatment

Course excerpt from Improving Cultural Competence in Substance Abuse Treatment

Improving Cultural Competence in Substance Abuse TreatmentJohn, 27, is an American Indian from a Northern Plains Tribe. He recently entered an outpatient treatment program in a midsized Midwestern city to get help with his drinking and subsequent low mood. John moved to the city 2 years ago and has mixed feelings about living there, but he does not want to return to the reservation because of its lack of job opportunities. Both John and his counselor are concerned that (with the exception of his girlfriend, Sandy, and a few neighbors) most of his current friends and coworkers are “drinking buddies.” John says his friends and family on the reservation would support his recovery—including an uncle and a best friend from school who are both in recovery—but his contact with them is infrequent.

John says he entered treatment mostly because his drinking was interfering with his job as a bus mechanic and with his relationship with his girlfriend. When the counselor asks new group members to tell a story about what has brought them to treatment, John explains the specific event that had motivated him. He describes having been at a party with some friends from work and watching one of his coworkers give a bowl of beer to his dog. The dog kept drinking until he had a seizure, and John was disgusted when people laughed. He says this event was “like a vision;” it showed him that he was being treated in a similar fashion and that alcohol was a poison. When he first began drinking, it was to deal with boredom and to rebel against strict parents whose Pentecostal Christian beliefs forbade alcohol. However, he says this vision showed him that drinking was controlling him for the benefit of others.

Later, in a one-on-one session, John tells his counselor that he is afraid treatment won’t help him. He knows plenty of people back home who have been through treatment and still drink or use drugs. Even though he doesn’t consider himself particularly traditional, he is especially concerned that there is nothing “Indian” about the program; he dislikes that his treatment plan focuses more on changing his thinking than addressing his spiritual needs or the fact that drinking has been a poison for his whole community.

John’s counselor recognizes the importance of connecting John to his community and, if possible, to a source of traditional healing. After much research, his counselor is able to locate and contact an Indian service organization in a larger city nearby. The agency puts him in touch with an older woman from John’s Tribe who resides in that city. She, in turn, puts the counselor in touch with another member of the Tribe who is in recovery and had been staying at her house. This man agrees to be John’s sponsor at local 12-Step meetings. With John’s permission, the counselor arranges an initial family therapy session that includes his new sponsor, the woman who serves as a local “clan mother,” John’s girlfriend, and, via telephone, John’s uncle in recovery, mother, and brother. With John’s permission and the assistance of his new sponsor, the counselor arranges for John and some other members of his treatment group to attend a sweat lodge, which proves valuable in helping John find some inner peace as well as giving his fellow group members some insight into John and his culture.

To provide culturally responsive treatment, counselors and organizations must be committed to gaining cultural knowledge and clinical skills that are appropriate for the specific racial and ethnic groups they serve. Treatment providers need to learn how a client’s identification with one or more cultural groups influences the client’s identity, patterns of substance use, beliefs surrounding health and healing, help-seeking behavior, and treatment expectations and preferences. Adopting Sue’s (2001) multidimensional model in developing cultural competence, this course identifies cultural knowledge and its relationship to treatment as a domain that requires proficiency in clinical skills, programmatic development, and administrative practices. This course focuses on patterns of substance use and co-occurring disorders (CODs), beliefs about and traditions involving substance use, beliefs and attitudes about behavioral health treatment, assessment and treatment considerations, and theoretical approaches and treatment interventions across the major racial and ethnic groups in the United States.

Improving Cultural Competence in Substance Abuse Treatment is a 4-hour online continuing education (CE/CEU) course that proposes strategies to engage clients of diverse racial and ethnic groups in treatment.

Professional Development Resources is approved to offer continuing education by the American Psychological Association (APA); the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA); the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR); the California Board of Behavioral Sciences; the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy, Psychology & School Psychology, Dietetics & Nutrition, Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, and Occupational Therapy Practice; the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board; the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs; and by the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists and State Board of Social Worker Examiners.