12. Practical Functional Approach - RonaldMah

Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist,
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12. Practical Functional Approach

Therapist Resources > Therapy Books > All Relationships MultiCult

All Relationships and Therapy are Multi-Cultural- Family and Cross-Cultural Complications
by Ronald Mah

Elements from the five problematic approaches to cross-cultural and multi-cultural issues in therapy can be useful.  Each approach however is prone to simplistic and ineffective application however.  Since culture can be conceptualized as attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors developed, maintained, and practiced to survive in a given context, a practical or functional approach to therapy and relationship functioning becomes appropriate.  Relative to individuals, couples, families, and groups of people, the key issue in examining any culture is whether the attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors are positive or negative in facilitating survival in the specific context.  Brent Williams, a Marriage & Family Therapist in his couples work will tell them, "You can be right, or you can be married!"  Being morally superior, holding the ultimate wisdom, not being the guilty one, being the victim, or holding or expressing emotional energy matters little for keeping individuals together or making the relationship healthy and mutually fulfilling.  Quite a bit of time was spent revealing and examining how Adit learned how to be a husband and father from his father's model and what he learned about how a couple operates from watching his parents.  He asserted that he liked what how it worked for his father in the relationship.  And, how he wanted a marriage like his parents.  The therapist then asked Adit, "So, how does that work for you?"  It did not work which was why he and Helena were in couple therapy.  No matter what the behaviors may be or where and how they were developed, the question always needs to be, does it work in this relationship?  Is the relationship working?  As it is supposedly working, what are the costs to it working?  Relative to both relationships and therapy, the key issues need to be whether the practical and functional outcomes of the attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors are positive or negative.  This approach addresses cultural determinism or family determinism that individuals such as Adit and Helena assert that this or that behavior is how it is done- that it has been determined by culture (Saudi or Ukrainian) or family modeling.  It addresses cultural or family or individual relativism that asserts an experience cannot be truly understood by others from outside the culture or family or individual experience.  How the attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors were originally determined and whether they can be truly understood by others, the key framing re-directs the focus to whether they are practical and functional for the individual, couple, family, or group.

The therapist can say, "I get how you learned to believe and make choices this way.  It's clear it is the 'right' way for you.  But my job as a therapist is to help you find something that works… not to agree with you or your partner or another person about who is 'right.'  It, meaning the relationship… It, meaning your way… It, regardless of how much you believe in your way, is not working… or not working well enough.  If another important intimate person- your partner isn't happy and not treating you well, and you're not happy, it isn't working!"  The challenge for individuals, a couple, or family often becomes about being able to stop persisting with pre-determined behavior regardless of its effectiveness for healthy and fulfilling living.  Therapy becomes both a cross-cultural challenge and opportunity to develop new alternative attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors that have practical and functional application in relationships.  Ishiyama and Westwood say, "Counseling offers opportunities for validating discouraged clients' neglected competencies and potentials and for motivating them to acquire new skills, sensitivities, and behaviors appropriate in the host culture (1992).  The couple as a community is the host culture for the two individuals who have partnered.  The family is another host culture, as would be many other invested committed relationships.

"They may be underestimating their talents, inner resources, and positive cultural and personal traits and be focused on their adjustment difficulties and repeated failures.  The helper therefore needs to direct their attention to the positive aspects of clients themselves.  At the same time, clients may be helped to learn about the host culture and to examine and modify their own expectations and behaviors.  They may learn to set realistic personal and career goals, acquire necessary skills and sensitivities, work toward their goals, and appreciate every progress they make" (Ishiyama and Westwood, 1992).  Therapy for an individual, a couple, or a family, from a cross-cultural perspective activates individuals' abilities to empower them in a practical process of healthy relationships.  It helps each individual draw upon prior experiences, examine them for applicability to the new context of the relationship, and direct them to more functional approaches and choices to exist together as a unit.

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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