Summary: Cross-Cultural Counseling

Cross-Cultural Counseling

Case Study - Japheth felt that with interpersonal skills he acquired at the university, he could easily counsel with the people in his government office. However, as the weeks rolled into months, he became embroiled in a controversial relationship with one of the girls in the office. Even though Japeth was well intentioned, the girl mistook his efforts to counsel her about spiritual matters as a sexual advance. It troubled Japeth that he could not seem to off advise in this strange cultural environment without causing offense. Japeth wondered why his advise was misinterpreted. He believed that through Christ he had unique freedoms from certain human regulations. Japeth was not used to meeting with such rejection. It seemed that nearly everyone in his urban office looked at him with suspicion. Finally, Japeth concluded that his office colleagues were prejudiced against his own Gbagyi cultural background.

Even though God has created us all in His image, we are born and raised in a variety of cultures. It is within these cultural environs that social values and reactions are shaped. We all experience a conditioning of our approaches to people and problems. Despite peoples’ unique cultural background they are still more alike through their Creator than different because of their cultural influences. It is for this primary reason that we first of all want to learn a few counseling universal guidelines. After we are equipped through our knowledge, beliefs, and skills in counseling then we are ready to approach the intricacies of counseling over the complex bridges of culture.

First of all, each culture gives us unique insights into how people view life. Culture has a way of affecting what is important to us; what forces seem most powerful; how we learn to react to people; how we view our self worth; how we view the supernatural world; how we determine our priority values; and even how we approach God and the greater questions of eternity. Therefore, a cross-cultural counselor needs to understand others’ world views. Each person’s perspectives is made of their basic outlooks of their reality (Basic allegiances), truths, experiences, values, beliefs, emotions, and acceptable and non-acceptable behavior. Each culture contains its unique set of socialized norms that are kept to consciously and unconsciously. Through these norms of belief, knowledge, and behavior people are deemed acceptable or unacceptable. When a person wants to counsel another, one should learn how to approach people through the normal gates of that individual’s cultural emotions, behaviors, beliefs, values, truths, and realities. Otherwise, the counseling will lack a contextualized edge of effectiveness.

Various rites of passages are included in each cultural hierarchy to show a gradation of maturity in terms of each culture. When a boy is ready, for example, to assume manhood, many cultures expect him to take a wife, start a family, and assume full responsibilities as a household head. Furthermore, a good cross-cultural counselor will understand what gives people their primary meaning, security, goals, and sense of balance. Through relationships with people from other cultures, counselors should try to build bridges of understanding and trust. By comparing and contrasting these factors with those of our own cultural backgrounds we are given clarity into how to counsel to those with distant or similar cultural backgrounds. For example, when I first came to Nigeria thirteen years ago, I learned the importance of going through mediators in counseling. This seemed like an invasion of one’s right to privacy at first, but most Africans implicitly trust the role of the mediator as one intercedes, clarifies, and serves as an advocate for another’s problems. This has helped to bridge many gaps of understanding in working through difficult cross-cultural counseling problems through my years at the seminary.

Recent anthropological studies have emphasized four different types of cultures - Western guilt related culture which puts emphasis on one’s individual responsibility to God. The second type is the animistic fear culture which points out the importance of subscribing to as many supernatural powers for protection. In this cultural perspective, people are often afraid of retribution from the ancestors, spirits, or outside forces. Thirdly, the tribal shame culture which urges individuals to give respect to elders less they find themselves rejected, shamed, and disgraced by fellow villagers. Fourthly, the synthesis of the three emphasis - guilt, shame, and fear which is displayed for example in African who have acculturated to urban life and western education. (Kasdorf, Christian Conversion in Context, p. 113)

Some psychologists see cross-cultural counseling more in terms of where the responsibility and control centers lie. Derald W. Sue make the distinctions in four categories:

1. Internal control & Internal responsibility - He sees this person as a more western oriented individualist. This person controls his decisions and who is responsible for his actions. When counseling with this person, one should aim to show him how he can control his actions, attitudes, and beliefs through the power of the Holy Spirit as directed by the scriptures. Intense private counseling with this person should emphasize one’s individual responsibilities and decision-making controls.

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