13. Basic Definitions - RonaldMah

Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist,
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13. Basic Definitions

Therapist Resources > Therapy Books > All Relationships MultiCult

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

In order to examine multi-cultural principles in relationships and therapy, it is important to understand the difference among terms, cross-cultural, multicultural, and diverse (or, cross-cultural-ism, multiculturalism, and diversity).  Diversity is a lot of differences.  For example, American society in general, many communities in particular, and most professions are more diverse than ever before because of the greater number of different peoples in them.  The clientele that presents itself for psychotherapy is more diverse than before.  Where psychotherapy began as an upper class treatment primarily focused on European women and evolved to remain more utilized by Jewish and European-American middle and upper class people in America, the current clientele of psychotherapists tend to reflect the diversity of the general community.  However, is the therapy essentially executed in a singular manner or is it also diverse in its application and theory?  Cross-cultural situations occur when there is an interaction between two people (or communities) whose cultural backgrounds do not match.  There is also an implicit or explicit direction to cross-cultural processes, especially if there is greater benefit in one culture versus another.  For example, Head Start programs are explicitly cross-cultural.  They are designed to help move families from under-educated and economically marginalized socio-cultural conditions of the underclass or lower class into more mainstream educational, economic, social, and political opportunities.  Adolescent therapy can be conceptualized as helping teens cross from teen functioning to more mainstream adult functioning academically, socially, culturally, and economically- literally, helping them cross from the semi-dependent adolescent world into the self-sufficient adult world.  Multiculturalism, as defined for this discourse develops when there is integration among different cultures with coinciding integrity and respect among the cultures.  In other words, there are many communities and situations from a couple to a classroom to a neighborhood, business, community or neighborhood, or country that are diverse but not multi-cultural.  Individuals and groups may co-exist without true integration of integrity and respect, much less equal opportunities, access, and power.

Culture is expressed in many ways within an individual, a couple, family, as well as larger conglomerates of people: identity, as a guide for the future, generational transmission, community rules, and so forth.  However, it is useful theoretically and functionally to define culture as being made up of or expressed in attitudes, beliefs, values, and behaviors.  Attitudes, beliefs, and values are the underpinnings or motivation of culture, but it is the behavior (or lack of behavior or action) that is experienced by others in the community or relationship.  Rather than focus on immense sets of idiosyncrasies including patterns of attitudes, beliefs, values, and behaviors, it is more useful to ask, "What is culture?"  What is culture for?  What does culture serve?  At its very core, culture is for survival.  Culture serves survival.  To flourish is a secondary goal of culture after survival has been assured.  American society and culture, due to its combination of historical circumstances, political system societal ethic, and abundant natural resources offers a goal and possibility of attempting to flourish for a larger percentage of its population than from precious times and in other societies.  This is unprecedented in history.  Most historical communities and societies have focused primarily on survival.  Modern humanistic (American) therapy and human services offers to individuals, couples, and families opportunities and the possibility of emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually qualitatively fulfilling lives.  For some people still however, survival would be more than outstanding and unprecedented.  Most individuals, couples, and families aside from situations of extreme domestic violence present for therapy with emotional, psychological, and spiritual goals that presume secure basic physical survival needs.

Survival is relevant in societies, but also in the basic unit of society, which is the family.  What is the culture of survival in a family?  What are the attitudes, beliefs, values, and behaviors the serves survival in the family-of-origin?  What are the consequences of the greater society in which the family exists (country, neighborhood, social economic class, historical era, etc.) versus the consequences of the family dynamics?  Expanding to larger groups, the same questions can be asked of communities and how they may be able to survive. Specific to the leadership of families, that is, the couple or of individuals in any relationship, the same questions about what is the culture of survival become relevant.  

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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