Academic journal article The International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy

Acceptance-Based Coping and the Psychological Adjustment of Asian and Caucasian Americans

Academic journal article The International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy

Acceptance-Based Coping and the Psychological Adjustment of Asian and Caucasian Americans

Article excerpt

Coping with unwanted psychological experiences is important to mental health. Adjustment strategies can be control-focused or acceptance-based (Hayes, 2004). Control-focused coping involves direct manipulation of private stimuli such as unwanted thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations; an acceptance-based approach involves the deliberate taking in or actively contacting psychological experiences without needless defense. There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that acceptance-based coping is predictive of more positive outcomes across a broad array of human problems (e.g., Hayes, Luoma, Bond, Masuda, & Lillis, 2006; Hayes, Strosahl, et al., 2004).

There is a need for culturally relevant information on these strategies, and Asian Americans are a particularly important group to study for two reasons. First, studies repeatedly have shown that Asian Americans are at risk for developing mental health problems (Abe & Zane, 1990; Hurh & Kim, 1990) and yet tend to underutilize mental health services (e.g., Sue, Fujino, Hu, Takeuchi, & Zane, 1991). The lack of culturally-responsive care is generally pointed to as a possible source of such findings (Sue & Sue, 1990), but to be more specific about this idea it is necessary to understand some of the specific factors that might influence the therapeutic process in different cultural groups. Secondly, the distinction between these control and acceptance strategies relates to two strong Asian cultural and religious traditions. Some have argued that Asian Americans, influenced by Buddhism and Taoism, tend to employ more acceptance-based strategies (Ho, 1984), while others have pointed to the role of Confucian philosophy and argued that Asian Americans try to control their psychological events through personal will power and discipline (Sue & Sue, 1990).

The ultimate goal in Buddhism is self-liberation, and the practice of mindfulness and self-surrendering is a pathway to this goal (Snelling, 1943). Mindfulness entails contacting experiences without attachment or judgment (Snelling, 1943). Tao philosophy likewise embraces acceptance in its emphasis of equilibrium of elements in the universe. All emotions such as joy, fright, anger, grief, pensiveness, melancholia, and apprehension are viewed as complimentary: one emotion cannot exist without the other (Rhee, 1980). Conversely, the most salient value in Confucianism is harmony in relationships; the interest of the group often takes precedence over the interest of the individual (Caplan, Whitmore, & Choy, 1989). Behaviors such as self-control, self-discipline, suppression of both negative and positive emotions (Caplan et al., 1989), and being conciliatory and receptive (Tung, 1985) are valued as a result. Asians have been argued to be more likely to believe that avoidance of unpleasant thoughts prevents them from having "inappropriate emotions," and that the unwanted cognition can be controlled by the exercise of willpower and one's determination (Huang, 1991). This style of adjustment seems very different than the tradition of mindfulness and self-surrender in Buddhism.

Empirical studies of these factors in Asian American populations are limited and suffer from a lack of conceptual clarity in key areas. A number of crosscultural studies have found that Japanese Americans were less expressive in their emotion when compared to Caucasian counterparts (Hsu, Tseng, Ashton, McDermott, & Char, 1985; McDermott et al., 1984; Morris, 1990), but this may be more a matter of the control of the social display of emotions than felt emotion (Ekman, Friesen, & Ellsworth, 1972).

Hwang (1979) found that traditional Chinese men in Taiwan who used more acceptance coping in dealing with crowded conditions were found

to exhibit fewer psychosomatic symptoms compared to men who used coping strategies such as assertiveness. Another study (Grover & Fry, 1982) found that Asian elders who endorsed more acceptance-based coping styles tended to be more depressed, but a closer look shows that the concept of acceptance tested was closer to resignation. …

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