Individualism and Collectivism: What Do They Have to Do with Counseling?

Article excerpt

The author defines individualism and collectivism before examining how they are integral parts of the counseling process for clients and counselors. Although individualism has been assumed to be the norm for the counseling culture in the United States, recent work notes the influence of collectivism on professionals and clients in the counseling system.

El autor define el individualismo y el colectivismo antes de examinar como ellos son partes esenciales del proceso que aconseja para clientes y consejeros. Aunque el individualismo se haya asumido para ser la norma para la cultura que aconseja en los Estados Unidos, el trabajo reciente nota la influencia del colectivismo en profesionales y clientes en el sistema que aconseja.


Since the early 1980s, individualism and collectivism have been concepts of much investigation in the field of cross-cultural social psychology. Together they have stimulated more thinking and research in cross-cultural psychology than any other single issue" (Kagitcibasi, 1989, p. 66) and have been included in trends that are seen as warranting close attention in cross-cultural research in the future (Kagitcibasi & Berry, 1989).

The aim of this article is to provide readers with an overview of the concepts as well as an application of them to the counseling profession, focusing on clients' help-seeking attitudes and counselors' perspectives. Although it has been assumed that many counselors in the United States are more individualistic in their cultural orientation, recent articles point to the strong collectivistic influence of counseling professionals. This realization may have important implications for the counseling profession.


Defining and describing individualism and collectivism can be difficult tasks. Chiu (1990), for instance, maintained that the two concepts have referred to different things in past studies. Wheeler, Reis, and Bond (1989) stated that the pair was dichotomous, whereas Triandis (1990) claimed that the concepts can coexist. Even the labels themselves have been controversial, for both can be perceived as pejorative (Sinha & Tripathi, 1994).

The individualism-collectivism dimension involves "the degree to which a culture encourages, fosters, and facilitates the needs, wishes, desires, and values of an autonomous and unique self over those of a group" (Matsumoto, 2000, p. 41). Hofstede (1980) defined individualistic cultures as those whose members primarily exhibit independence from groups, organizations, or other collectives. Emotional independence from in-groups, then, has been one defining element of individualism.

Collectivism involves subordinating one's goals to the goals of the larger organization or in-group. Ady (1998) defined it as "individual people holding their goals as second to those of a group of people to which they belong" (p. 112). Collectivistic cultures have fewer, yet more stable, in-groups (e.g., church, community, family, school) than individualistic cultures. This type of culture can be found more often in Asia, South America, and the Pacific (Triandis, Brislin, & Hui, 1991).

Both concepts describe cultural orientations and, as such, are used to describe cultures. In speaking about individuals within cultures, the words idiocentric and allocentric are used to describe individualism and collectivism, respectively. As outlined in Triandis, Chan, Bhawuk, Iwao, and Sinha (1995), consequences of the core themes of both individualism and collectivism include (a) the self as being independent or interdependent, (b) personal goals having priority over goals of the in-group (or vice versa), (c) individuals focusing on exchange rather than communal relationships (or vice versa), and (d) social behavior being due to attitudes more than to norms (or vice versa). Furthermore, allocentrism-idiocentrism may be situation dependent. Triandis et al. (1995) indicated that, in order to predict behavior, the person's level of allocentrism--idiocentrism as well as his or her definition of the situation must be known. …