Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Differentiation of Self, Personal Adjustment, Problem Solving, and Ethnic Group Belonging among Persons of Color

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Differentiation of Self, Personal Adjustment, Problem Solving, and Ethnic Group Belonging among Persons of Color

Article excerpt

Within the field of counseling, there has been growing interest in the theories and practice of family systems therapy (e.g., Gelso & Fretz, 1992; Schneider, Watkins, & Gelso, 1988). According to family systems theories (Bowen, 1976; Kerr & Bowen, 1988; Minuchin, 1984), individuals define themselves and function not in isolation, but rather in the context of significant relationships with family, friends, and loved ones. Likewise, systemic theories, with their emphasis on the interrelated and socially imbedded nature of individual life, provide promising conceptual frameworks for understanding individual functioning from a variety of cultures (e.g., E. Carter & McGoldrick, 1999; Gushue, 1993; McGoldrick, Giordano, & Pearce, 1996; Neville & Mobley, 2001).

Although the role of family is central, most major approaches to family systems therapy tend to overlook the implications of ethnic/cultural diversity in their theories (Nichols & Schwartz, 2000; see Minuchin, 1984; Minuchin, Montalvo, Guerney, Rosman, & Schumer, 1967, for exceptions). However, in recent decades, efforts have progressed in the field, resulting in seminal theoretical (e.g., Berg & Jaya, 1993; Boyd-Franklin, 1989; Falicov, 1998; Gushue, 1993; Hardy, 1996; Lee, 1997; McAdoo, 1988; McGoldrick et al., 1996) and empirical (e.g., Szapocznik & Kurtines, 1993) developments regarding the role of the family in diverse ethnic cultural groups. Nonetheless, examination of the cross-cultural validity of many basic constructs in family systems theories has been scarce. Consequently, counselors who use a family systems framework in therapy with diverse clients will find little empirical guidance for tailoring and evaluating their approaches to conceptualizing and treating clients of color. Research is needed to evaluate the validity of family systems theories for counseling researchers and practitioners investigating and treating diverse client populations. The purpose of this study was to determine whether Bowen family systems theory (Bowen, 1976, 1978; Kerr & Bowen, 1988) was relevant for persons of color.

E. Carter and McGoldrick (1999) argued that Bowen family systems theory is a powerful theoretical framework for use among diverse cultural groups because the "increasing multiculturalism in the United States makes the work of emotional connectedness and social inclusiveness more important than ever" (p. 436). Indeed, the continuum of individualism and collectivism is considered the most salient dimension along which cultures differ (Kagitcibasi, 1996). Individualist cultures such as the United States and Western Europe tend to emphasize and respect independence, whereas collectivist cultures of Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Native American Indian societies emphasize and value interdependence (Kao & Sinha, 1997; Markus & Kitayama, 1991). In an effort to explain individual functioning from a systemic perspective, Bowen (e.g., 1978) was unique among family systems theorists in asserting that both the capacity for autonomy and emotional connection are necessary for maturity and optimal personal adjustment (E. Carter & McGoldrick, 1999; Kerr & Bowen, 1988). Bowen developed the concept of differentiation of self--thought to embody the dialectic between two life forces of togetherness/ connection and independence/autonomy--defined as the ability to balance achieving an autonomous sense of self and maintaining close connections with important others, most notably with one's family. On an intrapersonal level, differentiation 7of self involves the capacity to regulate one's emotions, engage in thoughtful examination of situations, and experience comfort with one's feelings. Greater differentiation enables one to take "I" positions in relationships (i.e., to acknowledge ownership of one's thoughts and feelings and maintain an inward directedness; Tuason & Friedlander, 2000) while valuing intimacy and connection with others (Bowen, 1978). …

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