Cultural Adaptation of Scalable Psychological Interventions

A New Conceptual Framework


  • Eva Heim
  • Brandon A. Kohrt


Background: The worldwide mental health treatment gap calls for scaling-up psychological interventions, which requires effective implementation in diverse cultural settings. Evidence from the field of global mental health and cultural clinical psychology indicates cultural variation in how symptoms of common mental disorders are expressed, and how culturally diverse groups explain the emergence of such symptoms. An increasing number of studies have examined to what extent cultural adaptation enhances the acceptability and effectiveness of psychological interventions among culturally diverse groups. To date, this evidence is inconclusive, and there is a lack of studies that dismantle the multiple types of modifications involved in cultural adaptation.
Method: Based on empirical evidence from ethnopsychological studies, cultural adaptation research, and psychotherapy research, the present paper offers a new conceptual framework for cultural adaptation that lays the groundwork for future empirical research.
Results: The cultural adaptation framework encompasses three elements: i) cultural concepts of distress; ii) treatment components; and iii) treatment delivery. These three elements have been discussed in literature but rarely tested in methodologically rigorous studies. Innovative research designs are needed to empirically test the relevance of these adaptation elements, to better understand the substantial modifications that enhance acceptability and effectiveness of psychological interventions.
Conclusion: Using a theory-driven approach and innovative experimental designs, research on cultural adaptation has the potential not only to make psychological treatments more accessible for culturally adverse groups, but also to further advance empirical research on the basic question about the “key ingredients” of psychotherapy.