When I was in grad school, we talked a lot about how important it is to be a culturally competent psychologist. According to the Georgetown Health Policy Institute, cultural competency is the ability of health care providers to effectively deliver health care services that meet the social, cultural, and linguistic needs of patients. Culture matters in health care, and it matters even more in behavioral health care. People from different cultures respond to stressors in different ways and a good therapist recognizes this and adjusts their treatment accordingly. What it comes down to is that people want to feel understood by their health care team, and understanding the person’s culture and speaking their language – both literally and figuratively – goes a long way.

I get a lot of calls from people looking for a therapist who ‘gets’ diabetes. They tell me stories about how with other therapists they’ve had to spend a lot of their time in therapy educating their therapist about diabetes and they walked away wondering why they wasted their time. These folks don’t want to have to explain what a low blood sugar feels like, or why their phone is alarming during session. Many people with diabetes want a therapist who understands them and who can treat them within the context of their life with diabetes.

Simply put, understanding diabetes and the specific challenges of living with diabetes is a type of ‘cultural’ competency. While having diabetes is not a culture in the traditional sense, it has a lot of the same attributes that cultures have. Diabetes has its own lingo and it impacts family and social relationships in some very specific ways. Also, diabetes is associated with some specific behaviors and emotions that need to be looked at in the right context in order to provide effective treatment. People with diabetes deserve mental health providers who are ‘diabetes competent’ and mental health providers who work with people with diabetes have a responsibility to become competent or refer their patient to someone who is. If this doesn’t happen, people with diabetes may not get the high quality mental health treatment they deserve.

Are you a mental health professional looking for training to become ‘diabetes competent’? Here are some resources that might help:

Mental Health Provider Diabetes Education Program

Addressing Mental Health Concerns in Patients with Diabetes

Are you a person with diabetes looking for a mental health provider who is ‘diabetes competent’? Check out this directory:

American Diabetes Association Mental Health Provider Directory