An attempt has been made in this chapter to delineate and discuss selected assumptions or perspectives within multicultural therapy that may be problematic and impede the advancement of therapy with diverse ethnic and racial clients. The extent to which multicultural psychology and therapy become sociopolitical endeavors rather than academic endeavors may prevent multicultural psychology from having the scientific credibility and clinical utility that it might have otherwise. Naturally, multicultural research cannot be separated completely from the confluence of social issues often associated with multicultural topics. Nonetheless, the politicized aspects of multicultural psychology might be attenuated with collective commitments by researchers towards grounding multicultural psychology in empiricism, including empirically derived theories and therapeutic techniques.
A distinction often made in multicultural literature is between etic and emic perspectives regarding behavior. An etic perspective refers to viewing behavior in light of some set of universal standards for behavior, whereas, an emic perspective is viewing behavior within the unique standards of a particular culture (Draguns, 1981). A valid concern of multicultural psychologists is that mainstream U.S. psychologists often perceive diverse clients' behaviors and formulate subsequent treatment plans all from a U.S. emic perspective with little if any reservation because the therapists assume that their values more or less reflect universal values. To whatever extent this occurs would be tantamount to therapists imposing their cultural values onto clients whose worldviews and beliefs may differ vastly from those of the therapists.
An example of this comes from a colleague of mine who had a single therapy session with a young Salvadorean woman who had come to the United States 10 years ago and lived alone with her mother. One of the client's presenting problems was that she increasingly found herself wanting to go out and do things, such as date, but was distressed over what might become of her mother if she were to become seriously involved with a man and marry and leave her mother behind. My colleague's counsel was to inform the client that her mother was an adult and could fend for herself; the client had every "right" to pursue her own life and should not feel guilty for disconcerning herself over her mother's welfare.
Although my colleague's advice might have been valid for clients who are highly acculturated to mainstream United States culture, the advice probably was incongruent with the client's cultural values and illustrates a case in which U.S. emic values were promoted as if they were etic values. The Salvadorean client likely perceived the advice to disconcern herself with her mother in order to pursue her own goals as a recommendation to abandon her mother because feeling responsible for aging parents generally is more pervasive among Latin Americans than among North Americans (Falicov, 1982).
The point here is that both etic and emic perspectives have merit when conceptualizing psychopathology but must be applied judiciously to the specific problems presented by diverse clients. There are situations in which the culture of diverse clients is relevant to their problems and occasions when culture is irrelevant. Also, there are times when treatment should be congruous with clients' cultural norms, and times when "the objective of treatment is to change culturally prescribed behaviors' (Rogler, Malgady, Costantino, & Blumenthal), 1987, p. 568). Therapy is a collaborative venture between therapists and clients with both parties making informed decisions in the mutual pursuit of making clients' lives better. Culturally sensitive therapists must be willing to entertain multiple explanations for diverse clients' behaviors, be culturally empathic, and question their assumptions about the nature of human behavior in all of its vicissitudes (Lopez, et al., 1989; Rogler, Malgady, Costantino, & Blumenthal, 1987).
In closing, the fact that race, ethnicity, and culture have become a pivotal contemporary focus in psychology is belated but commendable. Multicultural psychology reminds us that people are, in varying degrees, influenced by their racial or cultural heritage and that psychologists and social scientists should be cognizant of this when studying human behavior and when providing psychological services to diverse populations. Moreover, multicultural psychology has greatly contributed to increasing clinicians' and counselors' sensitivities to potential cultural concerns of minority clients. It is hoped that this chapter will generate further discussion on the topics presented herein and that clinicians and researchers interested in multicultural issues will pursue empirical research more vigorously in order to shed more light on some of the questions raised throughout this chapter.
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