Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Communication Styles, Cultural Values, and Counseling Effectiveness with Asian Americans

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Communication Styles, Cultural Values, and Counseling Effectiveness with Asian Americans

Article excerpt

The field of counseling has a long history of commitment to providing culturally competent services to diverse client populations, including Asian Americans (Leong et al., 2006). As a minority group within the United States, Asian Americans face psychosocial stressors such as racism, acculturative stress, and microaggressions, all of which can contribute to mental health problems (Nadal, Griffin, Wong, Hamit, & Rasmus, 2014). Despite these risk factors, Asian Americans tend to underutilize counseling services (e.g., Gloria, Castellanos, Park, & Kim, 2008), and even when they do seek services, they exhibit a relatively high dropout rate (e.g., Cheng, Kwan, & Sevig, 2013).

In light of this information, researchers have examined ways in which the problems of underutilization and premature termination can be addressed, one of which is the use of culturally adapted therapies. For example, Griner and Smith (2006) conducted a meta-analytic review of culturally adapted interventions for racial minority clients, including Asian Americans, and found that the cultural adaptations (e.g., matching client-counselor language and race/ethnicity, incorporating clients' cultural values, increasing access to treatment, facilitating indigenous support) were important predictors of counseling effectiveness.

In line with these findings, one type of cultural adaptation that might lead to increased counseling effectiveness with Asian Americans is in the realm of culturally congruent communication style by the counselor. In their meta-analysis, Griner and Smith (2006) found that studies examining communication styles focused only on language match between clients and counselors. However, most counseling professionals do not speak the language of their Asian American clients; thus, it could be useful to study whether there are other communication styles that could lead to counseling effectiveness. Therefore, the main purpose of this study was to examine whether Asian Americans would view a communication style that is congruent with Asian culture more favorably than a communication style that is incongruent with Asian culture.

Asian cultural norms differ from Western norms with respect to the use of direct and indirect communication styles. In a study by Gudykunst (2001) that compared Asian Americans with European Americans, Asian Americans used a more indirect communications style that included an emphasis on maintaining interpersonal harmony, whereas European Americans used a more direct communication style that is characterized by being dramatic, open, precise, and contentious. Similarly, Trubinsky, Ting-Toomey, and Lin (1991) found that when Asian college students were in a conflict situation, they used more obliging and avoiding styles than their counterparts in the United States, who were more direct in addressing the conflict.

These differences in communication behavior of indirectness versus directness can be attributed to the following five factors: (a) cultural differences between low- and high-context communication styles, (b) interdependent and independent self-construal, (c) conversational constraints between Asian and European American cultures, (d) avoidance of loss of face, and (e) influence of traditional Asian and European American cultural values in terms of maintaining interpersonal harmony and emotional self-control.

The first factor, low- versus high-context communication, refers to how people use the context of the interaction to exchange meaning over and beyond the verbal channels (Hall, 1976). Asian cultures tend to use high-context communication, in which "most of the information is either in the physical context or internalized in the person, while very little is in the coded, explicit, transmitted part of the message" (Hall, 1976, p. 79). In contrast, Western cultures tend to communicate in a low-context fashion, in which the "mass of the information is vested in the explicit code" (Hall, 1976, p. …

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