Culture & Discrimination in Psychology: Influence & Examples

Instructor: Gaines Arnold
Psychology has been and continues to be shaped by many different forces. This lesson looks at how psychology has been influenced by culture and discrimination, what those two terms mean and provides some examples.

Psychology's Impact on Culture and Discrimination

Sitting down with a therapist for the first time can be uncomfortable. There is often a stigma attached to people who seek the help of a therapist, but people in need just as often ignore any negative connotations that may exist. Unfortunately, this isn't always true. It is important to understand how one's culture views psychology and just as important to determine any bias that exists within the therapeutic relationship.

Throughout history people have experienced discrimination regarding access to healthcare whether it is for physical or mental health issues. Many have also seen therapy as problematic based on the reaction they may face from an unknowledgeable culture. How do culture and discrimination impact psychology?

Defining Culture and Discrimination

The terms culture and discrimination have unfortunately been linked throughout history as one group of people feels that they are somehow superior to another group and must act on that prejudice. Prejudice is the judgment of an individual or group that is lacking in knowledge about that person or group. Discrimination is actively trying to suppress that group, or harm them, in some way. A culture, often one of the discriminators or the people discriminated against, is a group of people who share common traits such as language, religion and ceremony.

How do Culture and Discrimination Influence Psychology

Many people will enter therapy already reluctant. Therapy comes with a stigma, but being uncomfortable before a counseling session is more about judgment than anything else. The individual worries that the counselor will judge them much as other people have, and this does not necessarily have anything to do with their psychological issue.

Culture can play a significant role in this discomfort. The individual may be uncomfortable because therapy is not an accepted means of problem-solving in their culture. Many cultures believe that people should either keep their problems within the group or figure it out for themselves. Both individualistic and corporate cultural beliefs can be problematic for the person who decides to enter therapy. The individual may also be uncomfortable because they are to be counseled by someone from a different culture.

If the historical interactions between two cultures have led to discrimination to one of the two groups, people from that culture will often feel that discrimination even if it is not present. This means that an individual from a Hispanic culture may be reluctant to see a White counselor because they are worried about how the therapist will treat them. This supposition can be a serious impediment to therapeutic success.

Because the different professions within psychology realize the need to build bridges between different cultures, there has been a great deal of research into culture and psychology. The goal is to eliminate any discrimination in any form and to make the therapists aware of cultural differences. The multicultural approach has become a significant part of psychological training in the last several decades. To be effective, counselors realize that they need to be aware of personal biases and work to rid themselves of these issues.

However, discrimination is not just a problem when it comes to racial and ethnic groups. Lately, because people have come to understand differences in sexual and gender preference, the question of discrimination in therapy has broadened. Therapists have to understand that these issues are just as important culturally as any other characteristic of the culture. The counselor has to be cognizant of their own issues regarding sexual or gender preference and understand that negative attitudes can lead to unwitting discrimination.


There are many examples of discrimination based on culture in counseling:

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