Knowing What You Don’t Know: Cultural Competence–The Practical Side

When you think of the word “competent,” what comes to mind? The first thing that comes to mind when I think of this word is a skilled and experienced worker. And if you want the complete visual, I picture a woman in business casual attire going about her workday looking confident and professional. I probably picture a woman because I am a woman. Who or what do you picture?

To help us on our imaginative journey of envisioning competence it might help to unpack the word competent. Merriam-Webster defines “competence” as, “the quality or state of having sufficient knowledge, judgment, skill or strength (as for a particular duty).” In lay terms it is a person who is really good at what they do. To build on that, becoming really good at something requires knowledge and practice. You cannot just learn about something, you also have to apply it. I once heard a speaker say that to become skilled at something it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours of practice. 

When I think about needing the knowledge and the practice—a minimum of 10,000 hours—I realize I am not competent at many things. At least many difficult things. Sure, I am competent at making a sandwich, or doing laundry. But I am much less competent at doing my taxes or completing a house repair or even training a puppy.

When you apply the word competence to relationships it becomes even more daunting. Am I a competent wife, mother, daughter and friend? Am I skilled and experienced at contributing to healthy relationships? One thing I can say, is that as a therapist, I am called to be competent. Called to be a competent counselor (and trained for this in school and real experiences such as practicums, internships, continuing education and trainings along with life experiences) and to be sensitive to diverse cultures, races and people groups. 

It is absolutely impossible for me to be culturally competent about every single culture. There are just too many. However, I can learn some more about the cultures and people groups I interact with most and use this knowledge to treat others with respect. Something I have learned in many years of counseling that guides me in working with people who may have different life experiences than me is to be mindful of what I do not know. And, if possible, be sensitively inquisitive about what I don’t know in order to become more competent. I will elaborate on this thought in the personal blog on this topic.

For now, if you are feeling stuck, anxious, depressed or incompetent in some life area, a licensed mental health counselor can help you. She can help you learn the skills you need and practice them in order to achieve your goals. Please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment. 


Yolanda Brailey