A career in cultural psychology can be one that is highly rewarding. Blending psychology with sociology, anthropology, and many other disciplines, cultural psychology takes a globalized view of human interactions. Researchers in this field examine cultural influences on behavior. Teachers in this field seek to teach students about multiculturalism.
Psychologists in this field use their knowledge of cultural practices to provide culturally sensitive therapies to their clients. In this regard, cultural psychology represents the future of the field of psychology by giving it a much more multicultural perspective.
What is Cultural Psychology?
Cultural psychology is a blend of many disciplines. It unites psychologists, anthropologists, philosophers, linguists, and others in a common pursuit to understand the impact that culture has on human behavior. Cultural psychology is not a distinct subfield of psychology, rather, it is a discipline that blurs the borders between various areas of study in order to reap the benefits of research in many fields.
This field of study is much more than examining language, food, traditions, and other common cultural practices. Instead, cultural psychology is an exploration of the manner in which culture helps construct meaning for an entire group of people. At its core, cultural psychology seeks to identify the underlying processes that drive the actions, idea formation, and attitudes of cultures around the globe.
What is a Cultural Psychologist?
Cultural psychologists are not like many psychologists who practice in a specific setting. Instead, some cultural psychologists focus on research, and, in this case, research into the sociocultural underpinnings that drive human behavior. Others focus on using their expertise in the field to help drive the development of culturally appropriate public policy. Yet others work in academia, educating psychology students on the importance of cultural influences.
Cultural psychologists are interested in a variety of fields, including morals and ethics, social decision processes, and ethnopolitical conflict. In particular, cultural psychologists endeavor to understand the nature of the relationship between these cultural influences and human thought and behavior.
What Does a Cultural Psychologist Do?
Cultural psychologists can perform a variety of tasks in various employment settings. Most cultural psychologists, however, conduct research. Obviously, the research that cultural psychologists conduct is centered around cultural factors and their influence on the way that peoples of different cultures behave and think.
For example, a cultural psychologist might conduct research into how people of different cultures express emotions, such as anger or joy. They would devise an experiment, recruit participants of varying cultural backgrounds, and test their hypotheses. Cultural psychologists would then collect, analyze, and interpret the data to develop a clearer picture of how culture influences behavior.
Some cultural psychologists work in academia as well. This might include research for universities, such as that outlined above, or it might include teaching psychology courses specific to the study of society and culture. Often, these two duties are intertwined, with professors spending some of their time teaching and other time conducting research and working on publications.
There are also many opportunities for cultural psychologists to work in public policy development. In this context, cultural psychologists might conduct research into a particular issue, and then utilize their findings to help officials devise programs and services to meet the needs of specific groups of people.
For example, a cultural psychologist might examine the most pressing issue for minority urban youth, such as poverty. They would then use the results of their studies to work with governments to devise and implement new policies to address poverty in urban areas. This might involve devising a public assistance program that provides basic essentials, such as food, water, and medical supplies, to urban minority populations.
Cultural psychologists are also developing an increasingly important role in the realm of clinical and counseling psychology. As the population in the United States continues to grow – and become much more diverse – the need for psychologists to have training and background in cultural issues is ever more important. Cultural psychologists that conduct therapy can use their knowledge to develop more appropriate interventions to assist clients with difficult life issues.
For example, a cultural psychologist would understand the social and cultural mores that drive the behavior of a Native American client. Rather than engaging the client in one-on-one counseling, in which the client is asked to talk about themselves and speak directly to the therapist while maintaining eye contact, a psychologist with training in this field would understand the influences of collectivism on the Native American client. Bearing that in mind, as well as knowing that making eye contact is disrespectful in many Native American cultures, a cultural psychologist might instead engage their client in group therapy.
Why is Cultural Psychology Important?
Psychology has, for many years, been accused of lacking a multicultural perspective. Too much influence from Western cultures, and not nearly enough from others, has led some researchers to call for the internationalization of psychology. This is the nature of the importance of cultural psychology.
Cultural psychology provides the multicultural perspective that psychology so desperately needs. In recognizing the influence of traditions, languages, religion, and other cultural factors on human behavior, psychologists in this field can provide a greater depth and breadth of knowledge in terms of understanding how and why humans do the things they do. This much more inclusive approach is critical to meeting the needs of diverse people.
What are the Career Opportunities for a Cultural Psychologist?
Because cultural psychologists work in a variety of settings, the job outlook is quite varied. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects psychology careers as a whole to grow at a rate of 11 percent over the course of the next several years. This rate represents only average growth. However, cultural psychologists can expect much stronger job growth depending on their place of employment.
For example, cultural psychologists that work in business and industry might benefit from the incredible growth in the industrial-organizational field of psychology. The BLS places growth in that sector at 8% through 2026. Since cultural psychologists are concerned with multiculturalism and diversity, they could utilize that expertise in an industrial-organizational setting as companies seek to improve their workplaces and facilitate cultural sensitivity among their employees.
Other job opportunities in the field of cultural psychology will see less robust growth. Cultural psychologists that work in a clinical setting, such as a mental health facility, should expect just 11 percent job growth over the next few years. Similarly, cultural psychologists that seek to work in a counseling setting, such as private practice, should expect only 11 percent job growth as well.
What are the Education Requirements to Become a Cultural Psychologist?
A significant amount of education is required to become a cultural psychologist. The process begins with an undergraduate degree. These programs prepare individuals for entry-level work in psychology, and also prepare students for advanced studies in graduate school. Typically four years in length, undergraduate studies in psychology are quite broad, and include introductory courses to social psychology, principles of learning, abnormal psychology, and basic research methods.
Graduate programs in psychology typically take 2-3 years to complete. These programs can vary from 30-60 credit hours, depending on the type of degree and the requirements of the program. Graduate programs in cultural psychology are becoming more prevalent, although, at most institutions students may have to pursue a doctorate to get the specialized training they need. Generally, the greatest numbers of job opportunities in the field of psychology are available to individuals with a doctorate.
Licensure is required to work with clients in a clinical or counseling setting. Cultural psychologists that wish to practice in this manner must obtain licensure in the state in which they live. The requirements for licensure vary from location to location, but typically require practitioners to have a doctoral degree from an accredited institution, certain number of hours of supervised clinical practice, and a passing score on a written examination. Cultural psychologists that work in education, public policy, or research settings may be exempt from licensure requirements. However, in most states, licensure is required to use the title “psychologist”.