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What is Cultural Competence?

October is the National Substance Abuse Prevention Month. This commemoration began in 2011 and since then, it has been a month to highlight the important role of prevention in substance abuse in both, individually and collectively.

Substance abuse is not a condition in which a person must be labeled or stigmatized, it is a health problem like any other and as such, it must be addressed with professionalism and equality.

We have heard in several times about cultural competence when it comes to receiving any service or treatment from an organization or agency, but what does it really mean?

According to a publication from SAMHSA, cultural competence is “a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system, agency, or among professionals and enable the system, agency, or professionals to work effectively in cross-cultural situations”. In other words, they provide services equally regardless of the cultural conditions of the individuals and this makes quality and equity services.

Another way of defining cultural competence is: the ability to understand sociocultural influences on patients' health beliefs/behaviors, and how they interact, and transform that knowledge into specific "standards, policies, practices, and attitudes that are used in appropriate cultural settings to increase the quality of services”.

It is not just about knowing, it is about applying cultural competence regardless of economic and/or socio-cultural differences or conditions. It occurs through attitudes, interaction, effective communication, dynamism, and development between different cultures. By considering cultural competence at the different levels of operation of the instances, opportunities are opened and barriers are broken down, people are brought closer to services and trust is strengthened.

When it comes to services that are related to substance abuse or mental health, there is much to be done since they are diseases that are in the shadows and communities need to be opened to have a good support system and seek effective care when needed.

On the other hand, the professionals or agencies in charge of providing services to the communities must have the necessary capacity to create environments where users feel considered, cared for, heard without being judged and that, above all, services are provided to them by equal.

The community has a task to accomplish to enforce these good practices. It is also necessary to consider that, in order to promote these environments, it is not just in how to receive a good treatment, but in the way in which they are requested or committed.

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