4. TrapsChallenges-Determinism Rel - RonaldMah

Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist,
Consultant/Trainer/Author
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All Relationships and Therapy are Multi-Cultural- Family and Cross-Cultural Complications
Chapter 4: TRAPS AND CHALLENGES IN THERAPY: DETERMINISM & RELATIVISM
by Ronald Mah





Cultural determinism asserts that how one acts has been predetermined by the culture.  This asserts that there is little or no possibility of alternative behaviors or belief systems.  Cultural determinism asserts that the customs into which an individual is born shapes his or her experiences and behavior at least significantly if not absolutely.  Within a short chronological and developmental time span, the individual habits, beliefs, and so forth are determined.  And, therefore it is implied individuals cannot change.  This also presents stuckness in the behavior and dynamic that disables the possibility of growth and change.  "I have to do that because I am a woman... because I am black... because I'm Irish… that's how it is in the hood... because that is how my father did it.  I cannot change."  In a relationship, one individual may assert that his or her behavior or belief has been predetermined by status or definition from the group (as opposed to the family-of-origin history), claiming rhetorically, "What else can I do?"  It can be the basis of the assertion of "I'm right and you're wrong!" and manifested in rigidity and rejection.  Determinism can be religious in origin.  For example, Joanides, et al (2002) discuss how strict adherence to Greek Orthodox doctrine created problems for couples with a Greek Orthodox and a non-Greek Orthodox partner.  "Orthodox ecclesiology asserts that the Orthodox Church is 'the One, Catholic and Apostolic Church'… This doctrine created challenges for most IPR (Interfaith Research Project) participants. Specifically, couples reported struggling to respect this theological assertion.  Many stated that when the Orthodox spouse insisted on emphasizing this doctrine, the non-Orthodox spouse felt disrespected and couple conflict often ensued—especially among couples where both partners had high religious attachments.  Those who successfully resolved this challenge stated that they sought to keep 'religious wars' out of their home.  Others stated that they 'agreed to disagree,' and believed that God did not desire that their religious differences create individual, marital, and family instability" (page 380).

On the other hand, cultural relativism asserts that the thought process, the emotional foundation, and so forth are uniquely relative to the experience of the person from the culture.  Anyone else outside the culture (for example, a therapist... or the partner) cannot understand nor appreciate the attitude, beliefs, value, or behavior.  Adit can assert that Helena cannot understand because she is not Saudi, not raised Moslem, not a man, or not raised with the expectations of his family.  Helena denies that Adit can relate to her female perspectives as a man, how it is to bear the weight of Ukrainian history, Catholic guilt, or been raised by an alcoholic father.  Relativism asserts a narcissistic superior or intolerant stance that refuses to be available to adaptation or consideration of an alternative perspective.  This disables empathy and compassion. Cultural relativism asserts that any phenomenon must be and can only be understood and evaluated in terms of the culture of in which it was formed.  This then prevents potential curiosity, inquisitiveness, new learning, dialogue, and subsequently, the possibility of change or adaptation.  Culture then exists in an autonomous realm that, because of the doctrine of cultural relativism, is immune to criticism from outside.  Thus, culturally derived behaviors cannot be challenged.  "You don't understand, because you were middle-class... are a professional ... from New York... weren't abused... aren't an immigrant... didn't grow up with my mother... don't work for a big corporation.  You cannot understand or relate to me."  In a relationship, one individual may assert to the therapist, "You don't know how it is to live with him/her."  In a later section, an approach will be presented to psychodynamically and psycho-culturally examine and treat individuals and couples stuck with certain clearly dysfunctional attitudes, beliefs, values, and behaviors.

ADDRESS:
433 Estudillo Ave., #305
San Leandro, CA 94577-4915
Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, MFT32136
CONTACT INFORMATION:
office: (510) 582-5788
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