The Therapist Lens

Richard Wenthen, LMSW, shares why identities matter in and out of the therapy room.

Richard Wenthen
Richard Wenthen, LMSW

Why is cultural competence important as a mental healthcare provider?

One of the strongest indicators of a successful therapeutic experience is the quality of the relationship between client and clinician. As mental healthcare providers, it is vital that we demonstrate competence around the identities our clients hold—especially when those identities are marginalized—crafting a comfortable and non-judgmental atmosphere. Having an understanding or shared experience of cultural identity can greatly strengthen the therapeutic alliance, ultimately increasing the likelihood of beneficial outcomes.

Why is cultural competence important to you personally?

As a person who is queer in sexuality and gender, along with a host of other things (as many of us are), I know how important it is for all parts of myself to be understood. It is meaningful when space is held for the inherent intersectionality of identity, especially when society is designed to pare down these complicated aspects of ourselves—a drive that is unfortunately often internalized. For me, it is important that my cultural experiences be understood in their complexity, co-existence, and cohesion.

How do you incorporate queer competence in your mental health practice?

I try to exist as authentically as possible from the outset, embodying my own queerness as I meet the client where they are. I discuss and clarify how queerness feels and presents for them, as well as the language they use to describe their own experience—each person has a completely unique subjectivity, no matter how many identities we may seem to share. I believe in entering the therapeutic relationship with humility and curiosity, and in decentralizing the cishet experience to craft something personal with each individual client.