Child Psychiatry Consult

New Americans: Considerations for culturally collaborative care


Adam is a 14-year-old who presents for “behavioral concerns” as recommended by his teacher. He is in the eighth grade and is struggling academically and socially. He has intermittent outbursts and poor engagement with other children, and often refuses to do schoolwork. He is seen in the outpatient primary care clinic, usually with his mother and two older siblings, one of whom typically translates for his Arabic-speaking mother. Adam is bilingual, although he prefers Arabic. It is difficult to understand the presenting concern as Adam states that he is doing well and is unsure why the teacher would have made such a report. Mother notes that she does not see these behaviors at home either.

What must we consider? Are there potential barriers, alternate ways to engage, and what role may culture have?

There are many things to consider in the above case, including language barriers, nuanced interactions, and cultural expectations and norms. To understand the scope, statistics reveal that the United States leads the world in its immigrant population with about 44.8 million foreign-born persons in 2018, which accounts for approximately 13.7% of the U.S. population.1 In 2019, 30,000 refugees were resettled in the United States.2 In 2017, immigrant children made up 27% (19.6 million) of U.S. children, of which second-generation children (born in the United States to immigrant parents) were the vast majority at 16.7 million.3 Given this information, it is self-evident that we live in a multicultural society; it is imperative to consider the cultural context in which our patients and families are presenting.

Mother and daughter are indoors in a hospital. The daughter is about to have a checkup. Her mother and doctor are trying to comfort her. FatCamera/E+

Culture is defined as a set of shared beliefs, norms, values, and behaviors exhibited by a group. Culture plays a role and impacts children in various ways throughout their development. Health care providers would benefit from aspiring to exude cultural humility – learning with and from patients and their families with openness, kindness, and a desire for collaboration. The provider also must consider a family’s history of migration as the response to migration may vary based on age, personal experiences, age at which migration occurred, language abilities, and amount of cultural engagement in the new country (i.e. acculturation).4,5

Cultural framework model

One example of a potential framework to use to engage within a cultural context includes the LEARN (Listen, Explain, Acknowledge, Recommend, Negotiate) model,6,7 which initially was developed to be used within a family medicine clinic. It includes the following:

Listen with sympathy and understanding to the patient’s perception of the problem. Try to understand their perspective of symptoms through considering their thoughts regarding etiology and treatment options.

Explain your perception of the problem. Have a dialogue about what you perceive is the likely cause based on a medical perspective.

Acknowledge and discuss the differences and similarities. Engage in open conversation while being cognizant that there may be similarities and differences in the perception you may have versus your patient’s perception. Try to find areas that can be engaged in and an alliance built upon, as well as respectfully and humbly addressing any concerns about potentially harmful patient understandings.

Recommend treatment. Present a treatment recommendation that considers both yours and the patient’s perspectives.

Negotiate agreement. Discuss, collaborate, and finalize a treatment plan that considers a biopsychosocial and spiritual/religious model of care that is patient-centered and personalized such that the main goal is optimal health and wellness for the patient/family.


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