Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

The Relationship of Culture and Empathy in Cross-Cultural Counseling. (Practice & Theory)

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

The Relationship of Culture and Empathy in Cross-Cultural Counseling. (Practice & Theory)

Article excerpt

Empathy is a core condition for providing effective psychotherapy. There has been overwhelming agreement that empathy is central to counseling and psychotherapy and transcends developmental stages in the counseling process (Gladstein, 1983; Hackney, 1978; Rogers, 1975, 1980; Truax & Mitchell, 1971). Empathy has been described as the counselor's ability to enter the client's world (Rogers, 1961), to feel with the client rather than feel for the client (Capuzzi & Gross, 1999), and to think with the client rather than for or about the client (Brammer, Abrego, & Shostrum, 1993). Empathy requires the therapist's ability and effort to place him- or herself symbolically in the position of the client and understand the client's world. However, empathic understanding alone is not effective. The therapist must also have the ability and skill to communicate and demonstrate empathic understanding. According to Rogers (1951), empathy is considered to be communicated only if the client perceives and believes the therapist to be empathic. Therefore, empathy relates to the dyadic relationship between therapist and client and is an interactive process. Glauser and Bozarth (2001) identified empathy as an "extratherapeutic" variable, emphasizing the counselor's ability to understand the client's world while validating their personhood and facilitating the relationship in a way that promotes growth and development.

Empathy has been well defined in the literature by Carkhuff (1969), who developed a scale to measure empathetic understanding; Egan (1998), who wrote about the three elements involved in empathy (perceptiveness, know-how, and assertiveness); and Patterson and Welfel (1994), who described empathy in two stages (primary empathy and advanced empathy). With the exception of Glauser and Bozarth (2001), there has been a noticeable lack of attention to empathy as a concept to consider across cultures. Despite decades of identifying empathy as a core concept, the literature has primarily focused on the use of empathy with mainstream populations. Therefore, the question remains: How applicable is the use of empathy, as described in the mainstream literature, to cross-cultural counseling? It has been well established that counselors must be aware of, understand, and appreciate how culture influences the therapeutic process (Pedersen, 1991), yet with a concept as critical to core conditions for healing as empathy, there has been minimal attention given to cross-cultural differences. In fact, what may be an effective counseling approach for mainstream populations may be ineffective, and in some cases offensive, if used in the same manner with different ethnic or cultural groups. Given the complexity of culture, an issue for the counselor to consider is how one displays empathy effectively across cultures. This article begins with an exploration of cultural differences in worldviews, followed by a discussion on the interaction of culture and empathy, and then recommendations for achieving cultural empathy.

CULTURAL WORLDVIEWS

Culture is defined by Pedersen (1991) as learned perspectives that are unique to a particular culture and common ground universals that are shared across different groups (p. 6). Thus culture is a tool that defines reality for those who belong to the culture. Within this reality or worldview, the individual's purpose in life is defined, and properly sanctioned behavior within the group is prescribed. The beliefs, values, and behaviors of a culture (its norms) provide its members with some degree of personal and social meaning for human existence and are learned through tradition and transmitted from generation to generation (Kagawa-Singer & Chung, 1994). Culture serves two functions: (a) integrative--the beliefs and values that provide individuals with a sense of identity and (b) functional--the rules for behavior that enable the group to survive physically and provide for its welfare while supporting an individual's sense of self-worth and belonging. …

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