Developing Cultural Competence in Disaster Mental Health Programs

Developing Cultural Competence in Disaster Mental Health Programs: Guiding Principles and Recommendations


The increased focus on cultural competence also stems from the desire to better serve a U.S. population that is rapidly becoming more ethnically and culturally diverse. To respond effectively to the mental health needs of all disaster survivors, crisis counseling programs must be sensitive to the unique experiences, beliefs, norms, values, traditions, customs, and language of each individual, regardless of his or her racial, ethnic, or cultural background. Disaster mental health services must be provided in a manner that recognizes, respects, and builds on the strengths and resources of survivors and their communities. … The purpose of this guide is to assist States and communities in planning, designing, and implementing culturally competent disaster mental health services for survivors of natural and human-caused disasters of all scales. It complements information previously published by FEMA and CMHS on disaster mental health response and recovery. FEMA provided the funding for this guide as part of the agencies’ ongoing effort to address the needs of special populations in disaster mental health response and recovery.

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Resource Details

US Department of Health & Human Services


68 pages

Cultural Competency

Table of Contents

Background and Overview

Section One: Culture and Disaster

  • Understanding Culture
  • Diversity Among and Within Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups
  • Cultural Competence: Scope and Terminology
  • The Cultural Competence Continuum
  • Cultural Competence and Disaster Mental Health Services
  • Disaster Phases and Responses
  • Cultural Competence and Disaster Mental Health Planning


Section Two: Guiding Principles and Recommendations

  • Guiding Principles for Cultural Competence in Disaster Mental Health Programs
  • Principle 1: Recognize the Importance of Culture and Respect Diversity
  • Principle 2: Maintain a Current Profile of the Cultural Composition of the Community
  • Principle 3: Recruit Disaster Workers Who Are Representative of the Community or Service Area
  • Principle 4: Provide Ongoing Cultural Competence Training to Disaster Mental Health Staff
  • Principle 5: Ensure That Services Are Accessible, Appropriate, and Equitable
  • Principle 6: Recognize the Role of Help-Seeking Behaviors, Customs and Traditions, and Natural Support Networks
  • Principle 7: Involve as “Cultural Brokers” Community Leaders and Organizations Representing Diverse Cultural Groups
  • Principle 8: Ensure That Services and Information Are Culturally and Linguistically Competent
  • Principle 9: Assess and Evaluate the Program’s Level of Cultural Competence


  • Appendix A: Cultural Competence Resources and Tools
  • Appendix B: Disaster Mental Health Resources from the Center for Mental Health Services
  • Appendix C: Sources of Demographic and Statistical Information
  • Appendix D: Sources of Assistance and Information
  • Appendix E: Glossary
  • Appendix F: Cultural Competence Checklist for Disaster Crisis Counseling Programs

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