Monday, July 17, 2006

Specific Populations

There are several factors that therapists should be aware of when counseling members of different cultural groups. These factors include: language, acknowledgement of a specific ethic identity, an understanding of how the client views the world, clarity in treatment and goals, recognition of the role that discrimination plays in the lives of culturally diverse populations, be wary of overgeneralizations, encourage clients when discussing differences, and finally don’t assume that all behaviors are dysfunctional because some might derive from culturally significant phenomena.


Without over-generalizing, several ideas should be considered when beginning therapy with an African-American. Therapists should pay heed to a people orientation, the extended family (including church), and a particular form of cultural paranoia. In African-Americans, a healthy form of cultural paranoia exhibits as a reaction of mistrust due to inherent racist structures in the predominant American culture. On the other hand, this must be distinguished from functional paranoia which is the general mistrust of all people and structures. This form of paranoia is seen as maladaptive to the individual.

Some guidelines when working with African-American clients include: adopting a problem-solving approach (such as solution-focused therapy), understanding the systemic influences on particular behaviors, fostering empowerment, attending to nonverbal behaviors, and don’t avoid the issue of racism.

American Indians

Some characteristics that American Indians might share include: a naturalistic outlook that views harmony between humans and nature as a good thing, an emphasis on extended family, present oriented, cooperative, and will listen more often than speak. Therapy can take on a collaborative approach that emphasizes problem-solving while validating the client’s experiences and culture. Trust and flexibility are a must. As well, therapists should understand that particular behaviors may have cultural roots rather than pathological roots. Finally, the use of the community as part of the healing process can be helpful as well.


When working with the Asian population the therapist can expect the client to understate the problems they are experiencing. Furthermore, modest can be expected as well as difficultly talking about family matters and sexual issues. One source of stress for the immigrant population is assimilation especially at the end of the first year. In addition, conflict between generations and degree of acculturation often occur. The therapist should use a directive approach to alleviate specific symptoms and expect more nonverbal and indirect communication from the client. The therapist should focus on establishing creditability, providing immediate benefit and being aware of issues of shame.


Hispanic clients vary depending on issue of acculturation. They are more likely to emphasize family over individual welfare, focus on interdependence, have difficulty discussing problems, are more concrete, and have “magical” beliefs about God or other powers. Family therapy can be helpful because of its extended reach and multi-focus inventions. Exploring the information that the client shares is important for both rapport and interventions.

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