Human beings all over the world are characterized by unique belief systems, perceptions, and attitudes towards life which can be collectively referred to as culture. These different cultures have been found to significantly influence virtually all fields of life especially psychological studies (Hall, 2009).
Various efforts have been made to understand the different cultural orientations. Psychological researchers have investigated culture in relation to psychology resulting in the development of a new field in psychological studies known as multicultural psychology.
This research paper provides the definition of multicultural psychology as well as its historical development. It also examines the rationale for the establishment of multicultural psychology as a subspecialty of psychology.
The society has always been faced with the challenge to understand the different cultures that are practiced by mankind. There has been need to establish a specific field in psychology to provide explanation of these notable differences. Multicultural psychology refers to the systematic investigation, analysis and assessment of human behaviors as they are experienced in surroundings where people of different cultural backgrounds interact (American Psychological Association, 2003).
This field is mainly concerned with the understanding of the cultural differences in various aspects of day to day life experiences. These include but not limited to the various thought processes, acceptable versus unacceptable behaviors, and ‘normal’ versus ‘abnormal’ behavior orientations in life. Multicultural psychology has helped in identifying a person within different cultures and also to facilitate interaction between individuals from different cultural backgrounds.
In the United States, for instance, people from different parts of the world (immigrants) came together to form the present day America. Despite their varying cultures, these people must encounter each other in their day to day life activities. Multicultural psychological researchers, therefore, must take into consideration the aspect of culture during their investigations.
Multicultural psychology is one of the most recent and dynamic fields in psychology and has been identified as a crucial component in understanding the role of culture in psychological studies. Over the past 30 years, the study of culture (racial and ethnic) minority issues in the field of psychology has grown to what can now be seen as a significant and dynamic subspecialty in the context of American psychology.
Multicultural psychology is currently considered as the ‘fourth force’ in psychological studies after the much advanced behavioral, psychodynamic theories, as well as the humanistic approach to psychology (Hall, 2009). Understanding of its historical development is essential.
Multiculturalism can be traced to the Civil Rights Movement that started in 1964 in the United States since this event provoked a new way of regarding the people who were initially considered inferior (Hall, 2009). Minority ethnic groups were demanding for equal treatment especially on shelter, education, and employment opportunities.
The study of psychology was also affected by this transformation in the society since every field was then culturally diverse yet mutually operational. Prior provisions that guided the practice of psychology were not culturally sensitive until some psychologists pushed for the necessary changes.
It was not until the beginning of the 21st century that notable changes were effected. In 2002, the APAs “Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct” were revised to include the diverse cultural issues (APA, 2003). The American Psychological Association has also established specific provisions for the enhancement of multicultural psychology (2003).
There are several reasons why it was necessary to develop multicultural psychology as a unique field of study. With the development of the 2002 guidelines for multicultural psychology, this field has made significant progress as a subspecialty of psychology. Many people in the United States with different cultural backgrounds can interact mutually since they have come to appreciate the fact that the society is multicultural.
Groups of people and organizations have their uniquely identifiable belief systems, values, practices, and norms that define them. The understanding of these differences facilitates healthy interactions between people.
Moreover, the earlier approaches of studying psychology employed scientific dimensions in understanding human behavior. However, with the emergence of multiculturalism, a lot of emphasis has been put on culture. Subsequent psychologists have not ignored the aspect of culture in their studies. Culture is a very broad concept and some of the variables include: race, ethnicity, gender, sex, and class.
The broadening of perspective of psychological research to include cultural considerations has helped in the elimination of stereotype tendencies. Most of the earlier studies did not consider culture in selecting the participants which implied that the conclusions that were made were not inclusive. Multiculturalism, therefore, has helped in addressing serious problems that could not be dealt with by earlier researchers.
Furthermore, the world is increasingly becoming globalized as people continue migrating resulting in multicultural societies. The development of multiculturalism as a subspecialty of psychology has made it easy in conducting investigations in these diverse societies. In fact, psychology is a broad discipline dealing with human behavior in general and hence the need to develop multicultural psychology as an independent field.
Understanding the differences that exist among people will also make it easy to provide appropriate interventions for the problems that psychologists face. Multiculturalism has helped in the alleviation of hatred and discrimination (APA, 2003). This subspecialty can be seen as enhancing the fields of psychology since cultural differences are viewed as part of humanity.
Individual human beings need to be identified with a unique culture which shares the same interpretations and meanings of life experiences.
This implies that psychological researchers must take cultural differences into consideration when carrying out their studies (Hall, 2009). The introduction of multiculturalism, particularly in the United States, has enriched virtually all psychological investigations.
From the above discussion, it is evident that multicultural psychology is crucial in the development of the broad field of psychology. It has significantly helped in understanding human behaviors from a cultural perspective where people with different cultural backgrounds co-exist.
Individuals or groups have unique cultures and should be respected as such instead of being discriminated as inferior or otherwise disregarded. This field has a very recent historical background but it has proved to be a notably dynamic field of study.
It is also very important to acknowledge that multicultural psychology has brought numerous benefits on the society as well as the field of psychology in general. We can conclude, therefore, that multicultural psychology is a dynamic subspecialty of psychology that is transforming the way of looking at cultural diversity, particularly in the study of human behaviors.
American Psychological Association (2003). Guidelines for multicultural education, training, research, practice, and organizational change for psychologists. Journal of American Psychologists, 58, 377–400.
Hall, N. G. C. (2009). Multicultural psychology (2nd ed.). Prentice Hall