Culturally Sensitive Counseling for Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders

By Schoen, Alexis Ann | Journal of Instructional Psychology, September 2005 | Go to article overview
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Culturally Sensitive Counseling for Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders

Schoen, Alexis Ann, Journal of Instructional Psychology

There is a constellation of considerations for counselors dealing with Asian American/ Pacific Islander clients. In order to provide culturally sensitive counseling, counselors need to know and respect the traditional values of the particular ethnic group. Beyond this, the counseling process may be enhanced by attention to other salient factors involving acculturation, enculturation, personal issues, and environmental variables. The task demands idiosyncratic tailoring of the counseling process to meet the diverse needs of this growing ethnic minority group.


The strong multicultural component of the United States population has prompted the need for counselors to consider multicultural factors when communicating with their clients (Zhang & Dixon, 2001). Consequently, policies and practices in counseling have and continue to be revised to address this need. For example, new guidelines on multicultural education, training, research, practice, and organizational change have been drafted to reflect the knowledge and skills needed for the counseling profession in the midst of dramatic sociopolitical changes in our society (American Psychological Association, 2002).

Among the many cultural groups, Asian Americans are the second fastest growing ethnic minority group in the United States (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2002). When Asian Americans are grouped with Pacific Islanders, this population makes up the fastest growing ethnic community (Maki & Kitano, 2002). As of 2000, there were reportedly 10.2 million individuals of this cultural group living in the United States, representing an increase of 46% since 1990 (Kim & Omizo, 2003). Recent immigration levels suggest that this number will grow rapidly in the near future.

Within the population of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders, more than 20 nationality groups exist. Some of these include the Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Asian Indian, Korean, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Hmong, Laotian, Thai, Hawaiian, Samoan, and Guamanian. Of these groups, the Chinese, Filipino, Korean, and Vietnamese populations have increased in number at a fast pace (Maki & Kitano, 2002). In general, these groups settle along coastal areas of the United States, especially in the states of California, New York, Hawaii, Texas, and New Jersey (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1997).

Much diversity exists within this population of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders. There is a wide variety of identities, languages, and cultures. Even within each ethnicity, differences in values, behaviors, and attitudes will vary based on the generation, ethnic experience, socioeconomic status, acculturation, enculturation, age, gender, religion, region, sexual orientation, visibility (appearance), and history of discrimination. These factors will mold a person's perspective of himself or herself as well as how life is viewed. Naturally, counselors working with Asian American/Pacific Islander clients will need to complement their understanding of the basic information about the original culture with an exploration of these additional factors.

The Basic, Traditional Cultural Values

Initially, counselors must be knowledgeable of the basic traditions that have been recognized in this multicultural group of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders. Generalized values, behaviors, and attitudes cannot be unilaterally affixed to each client; however, an awareness of such traditions is an essential foundation for counselors' appreciation of the client's cultural background. A myriad of value categories have been empirically identified in the literature related to this cultural group (Kim, Atkinson, & Umemoto, 2001; Maki & Kitano, 2002). These categories are identified and described below.


Self-control is highly valued among this ethnic group. Self-control may be demonstrated by exercising poise and calmness in the face of highly emotional experiences, maintaining dignity when confronted with pain or suffering, and sustaining modest and appropriate behavior.

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