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Culture and Diversity in the Field of Psychology

The United States of America is popularly known as a ‘melting pot’ with a “foreign-born population of about thirty million” in which in about 10% of the citizens have an “immigrant background” (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000), as a result of “the greatest migration in history” since the year 1990 (U.S. Department of Homeland Security). Due to this existing and ever increasing diversity and culture within the United States, a multicultural perspective in psychology is becoming more necessary than ever. Families and children belonging to ethnic communities are often challenged by the psychological adjustments they are required to make to the social environments while valuing and maintaining their heritage and cultures. Additionally, they are also required to learn the new language and adapt to the new society and culture, which puts a double burden on them.

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The importance of cultural knowledge and diversity in psychology can be gauged from the fact that “no adequate understanding of a particular individual may be attained apart from an understanding of a larger context — family or culture, respectively — that shapes that person” (Gushue & Sciarra, 1995). Immigrant families who co-exist with distinct communities and traditions may have several acculturation issues and problems adjusting to the different cultures. This inability to adapt to the “dominant host culture” due to the primary changes in “beliefs, values, and behaviour that result from contact with the new culture” (Tsai-Chae & Nagata, 2008) results in “dissonant acculturation”, whereby “the first and second generations learn the ways of American society at different rates” (Tsai-Chae & Nagata, 2008).

The field of psychology enables professionals to understand the “intra and interpersonal cultural dynamics, norms, and values” of individuals from distinct cultures and communities so that they can provide services that “appropriately address the unique needs of all clients” (American Psychological Association (APA), 2003; Sue, Arrendondo, & Mc-Davis, 1992; Sue et al., 1998). The United States Department of Health and Human Services (2001) affirms that the lack of competency in “cultural responsiveness” has the potential to cause misdiagnosis which could further result in the “lack of engagement and retention” coupled with inappropriate medical effects (Cheung & Snowden, 1990).

Multicultural psychology is gaining crucial importance in the pluralistic society of the United States which is useful to numerous varieties of professions including, counselors, social workers, teachers, and a variety of professions that they serve. Research confirms that professionals working in a backdrop of psychology such as mental health counseling and social work health services can only be effective if professionals can “integrate pluralism into their practice” (Trevino, 1991) failing which, efficiency and effectiveness, due to biases, stereotypes and cultural attitudes will be compromised (Wright, 1988).

Researchers have confirmed the numerous mental challenges faced by immigrants who are used to living in a culture that emphasizes interpersonal reliance as opposed to self-determination and independence prevalent in America (Bemak et al., 2003). As such, the field of psychology with distinct theories relating can prove to be highly useful to professionals who deal with diverse individuals from distinct cultures and communities including teachers, counselors, social workers, doctors, and many others who are actively involved with the multicultural community of America.


Cheung F. K. & Snowden L. R., (1990). Community mental health and ethnic minority populations. Community Mental Health Journal, 26, 277–291.

Gushue, G. V., & Sciarra, D. T. (1995). Culture and families: A multidimensional approach. In J. G. Ponterotto, J. M. Casas, L. A. Suzuki, & C. M. Alexander (Eds.), Handbook of Multicultural Counseling (pp. 586–606). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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Trevino, Beatriz (1991). Cultural Characteristics of Mexican Americans: Issues in Rehabilitation Counseling and Services. The Journal of Rehabilitation. Volume: 57. Issue: 4. National Rehabilitation Association.

Tsai-Chae A. & Nagata, D., (2008). Asian values and perceptions of intergenerational family conflict among Asian American students. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology. Vol 14(3), 205-214.

U.S. Census Bureau. (2000). Racial and ethnic classifications were used in Census 2000 and beyond. Web.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Center for Mental Health Services. (2001). Mental health: Culture, race, and ethnicity: A supplement to mental health: A report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD: Author.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security. (n.d.). The fiscal year 2002 yearbook of immigration statistics: Immigrants. Web.

Wright, T. J. (1988). Enhancing the professional preparation of rehabilitation counselors for improved services to ethnic minorities with disabilities. Journal of Applied Rehabilitation Counseling, 19(4), 4-10.

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