11. Cultural Goals - RonaldMah

Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist,
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11. Cultural Goals

Therapist Resources > Therapy Books > Therapy! What's Therapy?

Therapy can be about clarifying cultural expectations or roles.  Individuals may have conscious or unconscious culturally based goals in therapy.  Individuals may want to return their partner or family members to some traditional role or the role they were used to from prior relationships, culture, or family-of-origin.  Sigmund Freud proposed psychodynamic theories of personality in the late 1800's.  While various theories have been refined or replaced Freud's initial theories, many theorists still follow psychodynamic principles that assert that human behavior is governed by patterns that are developed from early experiences (Peluso and Macintosh, page 247).  Adler for example calls individual's subjective reality develops starting from a very early age in the family.  The individual develops a "private logic" by about 6 years old, which includes attitudes, reactions, and behavior about his or her place in the world.  "At this stage of development, individuals make decisions about their place in the world, what behaviors or strategies they will need to employ in order to belong in a social group, and how this belonging to a social group will help them get basic physical and emotional needs met.  The social feeling… that the individual innately has, and the extent to which it gets expressed, is tied into the overall family atmosphere and the conclusions that the individual draws from it.  Hence, the family, as the prototypical social group for the child, plays a crucial role related to the development of this 'private logic' and eventual lifestyle.  This lifestyle becomes the response set for life, and it is the common thread that weaves an individual's thoughts, feelings, and actions into a coherent pattern… once it is set in place, the lifestyle remains relatively stable through adulthood… This is not to say that the lifestyle is static and unchanging but that it represents the stable and predictable aspects of a person throughout his or her life.  In fact, Adlerian practitioners believe that individuals can learn how to make their particular lifestyle work better for them either through life experiences or psychotherapy" (Peluso and Macintosh, page 248).

Changing one's lifestyle is essentially intra-psychic cross-cultural change.  In relationships, there may be explicit cross-cultural goals to convert another individual to a new or preferred role.  Therapy would be helping individuals, couples, or families examine for acceptance or rejection of old cultural roles and integration of new cultural roles.  For example, one partner may be trying to enlist the other partner to enforce traditional roles for children.  On the other hand, one partner may be trying to convert the partner to accept new roles for the children that involve integrating new cultural roles.  A common goal may be to establish or re-establish harmony as it was previously culturally defined from an ethnic community or family-of-origin.  Closing off another individual, the couple, family, or children from modern cultural influences is a common particularly problematic goal.  Mono-cultural goals tend to cause more relationship problems.  Harmony is assumed to come from sameness.  Different perspectives, feelings, or behaviors are deemed disharmonious.  However, forcing or coercing another individual to give up his or her attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors unilaterally to adhere to another's, almost inevitably causes problems in a relationship.  On the other hand, goals that are cross-cultural or multi-cultural are more realistically managed and negotiated in therapy and in the home life.  The therapist should frame relationship harmony as mutual acceptance of multi-cultural or cross-cultural goals.  In particular, the individual, partner, or family member that makes selfish mono-cultural demands needs to be converted to the more inclusive goals.

What Adlerians call the private logic and lifestyle dynamics of the client may keep them stuck in an old pattern of behavior.  Therapy may want to explore early recollections when the individual was under the age of 10.  This can draw out the client's view of him or herself, others, and the world around him or her.  Some old memories are not experienced as historical, but what the individual feel about the current life.  Memories may reveal the culture of survival that developed years ago and which has become so problematic in current dynamics.  "The underlying assumption is that the individual chooses particular memories that best reflect their current struggle and that include the client's preferred solution that fits his or her lifestyle" (Peluso and Macintosh, 2007, page 260).  Some memories may create anxiety as today's cues threaten or imply old consequences in present time and relationships.  Memories that express the client's idea of a perfect life are another common theme.  Individuals in relationships can be encouraged to be able to talk about goals, wishes, and dreams and how they can help each other obtain them.  There may be other elements in the memory that may reveal childhood experiences and relationships.  They may contribute to understanding current functioning and offer insight for handling goals.  Therapy that begins and proceeds without clarity of goals (individuals, couples, or therapists) often runs into significant problems.  Goals may be at cross-purposes with each other or may be complementary if examined and tweaked somewhat.  

Often individuals are surprised to discover that there are conflicts.  After all, many or most invested individuals spend significant time getting to know each other to check for how in sync they were about numerous important issues.  These experiences determine mate selection.  "In terms of partner selection and couples treatment…partners are chosen based on the compatibility of lifestyles, goals, and belief systems.  The couple comes together and forms a relational dyad that is influenced by each partner and creates a system whereby the individual choices of each partner have a unique bearing on the functioning of the system.  The thoughts, feelings, and attitudes all influence the behavior of either person as well as the direction of the couple system… when there is stress or discord, those elements in one's partner that attracted one become the same behaviors that create problems.  This is why, according to Adlerian theorists, the choices that a couple makes are not accidental and are (ideally) directed toward the goal of communication and respect as equals... However, this does not always materialize, as individual private logic, goals, and lifestyle dynamics can guide the system into either function or dysfunction.  Hence, the behavior that is exhibited by a couple, even if it is destructive on the surface, may actually represent a creative attempt at negotiating a balance between each partner's needs" (Peluso and Macintosh, page 249).  Be aware that individuals may have secret or unarticulated goals that compromise or sabotage therapy or the relationship.  The psychic "weight" of secret goals can create significant difficulties when they try to balance one another's needs.  There may be goals beneath the goals beneath the goals!  When therapy reaches stagnation, it may be useful to return to and renegotiate the original goals of the therapy.  Have they changed or should they be renewed?

3056 Castro Valley Blvd., #82
Castro Valley, CA 94546
Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, MFT32136
office: (510) 582-5788
fax: (510) 889-6553
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