7. Therapist Cross-Cultural Guide - RonaldMah

Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist,
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7. Therapist Cross-Cultural Guide

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

As a case has been made for viewing all therapy as cross-cultural therapy, the therapist should try to reveal the cultural origins of communication styles, roles, and expectations.  These may be from the families-of-origin, economic/social class training, religion, ethnicity, nationality, and so forth.  The functionality of cultural patterns of behavior should be examined, specifically to see if they fit in the new context of the individual's needs and relationships.  McCurdy (2007) recommends that, "couples counselors can use the construct of the Crucial Cs… to gain a better insight into how childhood messages influence each partner's lifestyle and how these translate into the current relationship lifestyle and fictions that exist in the relationship.  The Crucial Cs consist of the abilities to connect to others, to feel capable, to feel like one counts, and to have the courage to be imperfect" (page 279)

In the new context of a relationship, patterns of behaviors for feeling capable or feeling like one counts, may be more or less functional.  Individuals may not have developed courage to assert their needs to others.  Which attitudes, values, beliefs, and their accompanying behaviors from previous experience work well?  Which don't?  Which are easy to change or adapt?  Which behaviors are deeply embedded and thus, difficult to change?  The therapist may need to elicit the origins of old behavior in order for everyone to understand current behaviors.  "Partners can come to understand how their early relationships were influenced by the Crucial Cs and how these influence the games and the mistaken goals of misbehavior that disrupt their current relationship. With this knowledge, partners can work to replace mistaken beliefs and strategies in an attempt to meet each other's Crucial Cs and attain a closer love dyad" (page 281).

Cross-cultural translation by the therapist is often necessary for individuals to understand the behavior of others, including partners and family members.  McCurdy described four mistaken goals of misbehavior that children often use to reinforce their perception of their place in the world.  They are behavior to get attention, seek power, revenge, and display of inadequacy.  The mistaken goals prompt behavior usually displayed in relationships.  For example, a student seeking attention may constant talk out of turn in class despite being told to be quiet.  Lifestyles or patterns of behavior are formed in early childhood and the mistaken goals directly influence their perception of their place in the family and society.  As a result, adult choices often include these misbehaviors. These misbehaviors play will influence relationships with others (page 281).  The misbehaviors can be described as the games that are destructive to a couple's relationship by creating conflict, disrupting communication, and attacking partners' self-esteem.

1. I'm right: You're wrong! The goal here is to attain dominance over a partner, control the relationship, and subjugate one's partner.

2. I've got a debt: You've got a credit! The goal here is to constantly be on guard so that one is not taken advantage of by a partner.

3. Pay attention! The goal here is that the proponent is seeking involvement with the partner; being ignored is comparable to not existing.

4. I don't want to discuss it! The goal here is reciprocal of paying attention, where one partner refuses to participate in a game, thereby taking a one-up position over the other partner.

5. This is war! The goal here is for one partner to cover up that he or she feels hurt by the other and now he or she is hurting back by attacking the other partner in an escalating confrontational manner.

6. It's all your fault! The goal here is for one partner to deny any covert responsibility for a problem by emphasizing the obvious liability or perceived ineptitude of the other partner in the situation.

7. Where would you be without me? The goal here is for one partner to defend against perceived inferiority, (page 283)

(page 283)

Any of these games can be hurtful to partners or intimate other persons.  They can be particularly problematic when members in a relationship have "matched" mismatched patterns.  When two people come together in an intimate relationship- particularly as a couple, their game playing may intensify each individual's already dysfunctional life patterns.  Such patterns of maladaptive behaviors can throw the relationship out of balance and into conflict, harming intimacy. For example, both individuals may try to dominate the other by competing over being right or wrong.  Or, a behavior may have different meanings or symbolism for each individual.  For one individual, raised voices may have been merely a way to be heard amongst a large family, but for another, a loud voice meant emotional humiliation was imminent as a child.  Dad had been triggered and someone would be dressed down for sure.  In the present, individuals argue over who is right or wrong and whose fault it is that there is a fight.  In another example, direct eye contact may be seen as respectful or attentive from one individual's family context, but as defiance or disrespect in the other's family.  Misreading eye contact may cause one individual to feel dismissed and trigger hurt and rage, along with a demand for attention.  The therapist can help individuals negotiate understand the origin and meanings of behaviors that pre-date the relationship, and help teach new cultural attitudes, values, roles, expectations, and behaviors.  Therapy may become the forum to develop a new set of expectations and behaviors that both draws upon and rejects elements of various original patterns.  The result may be entirely new standards for relationship interactions- that is, a new functional relationship culture.

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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