Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

Dialogical Relationship and Cultural Imagination: A Hermeneutic Approach to Intercultural Psychotherapy

Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

Dialogical Relationship and Cultural Imagination: A Hermeneutic Approach to Intercultural Psychotherapy

Article excerpt

Effective intercultural psychotherapy generally has been conceptualized in terms of a specific knowledge and skills base, combined with relevant attention to the practitioner's cultural attitudes and beliefs. Although such an approach continues to be the gold standard in the field, it has yet to be demonstrated that these components are either necessary or sufficient for effective treatment. This paper presents an approach to intercultural therapy based on Gadamer's philosophical hermeneutics. Humans are always in the process of making sense of the world around them, a process which is predicated on culturally given preunderstandings. Cultural difference means that the preunderstandings are rarely mutual, and therefore, communication and psychotherapy are often problematic. These preunderstandings often show up in the form of racial and ethnic prejudice and the therapist is rarely aware of this. Therapist preunderstanding influences all aspects of the psychotherapy process, such as treatment planning, interventions chosen, and the therapeutic relationship. Recommendations are given for improving the intercultural therapy process, and draw strongly on the twin notions of the dialogical relationship and cultural imagination.

INTRODUCTION

The need for culturally appropriate approaches to psychotherapy has generated considerable interest in recent years and has given rise to a large volume of publications and conference presentations. It has most notably resulted in the development of the Multicultural Counseling Competencies (MCCs) (Arredondo et al., 1996; D. W. Sue, Arredondo, & McDavis, 1992; D. W. Sue et al, 1982; D. W. Sue et al., 1998). As the conceptual formulation of the MCCs continues to be refined, researchers have increasingly devoted their efforts to determine if the MCCs are associated with more effective intercultural psychotherapy1 (Constantine, 2002; Constantine, Kindaichi, Arorash, Donnelly, & Jung, 2002; Constantine & Ladany, 2000; Fuertes, Bartolomeo, & Nichols, 2001; Fuertes & Brobst, 2002; Ladany, Inman, Constantine, & Hofheinz, 1997; Sodowsky, KuoJackson, Richardson, & Corey, 1998; Worthington, Mobley, Franks, & Tan, 2000), the results of which remain inconclusive. Furthermore, a minority of prominent multiculturalists openly question the validity and indeed the utility of the MCCs (Patterson, 2004; Vontress & Jackson, 2004; Weinrach & Thomas, 2002). It may well be the case that doubts associated with the MCCs are related to the overall lack of a solid theoretical foundation.

Multicultural counseling and therapy in general, and the MCCs in particular, do not comprise a theory nor a method but rather an orientation (D. W. Sue, Ivey, & Pederson, 1996), and as such appear to lack a theoretical foundation (Ponterotto & Casas, 1991). This lack is evident in the as yet unresolved dispute as to whether or not multicultural counseling is predicated upon or is distinct from general counseling (Coleman, 1998; Fuertes, Bartolomeo, & Nichols, 2001; Fuertes & Brobst, 2002). In addition, empirical support for the theorized factor structure of the multicultural counseling competences is inconsistent (Constantine, Gloria, & Ladany, 2002; Constantine & Ladany, 2000; Worthington, Mobley, Franks, & Tan, 2000). Thus it is not clear, for example, to what extent specific knowledge about a client's culture contributes to positive outcome. The importance of the therapeutic relationship, on the other hand, has received both theoretical and empirical support (Franklin, Carter, & Grace, 1993; Fuertes & Brobst, 2002; Sodowsky, Taffe, Gutkin, & Wise, 1994).

Philosophical hermeneutics shows promise as a theoretically grounded approach to multiculturalism in psychology (Christopher, 2001; Christopher & Powers, 1998; Powers & Richardson, 1996). It has received increased interest in psychology in general (Chessick, 1990, 1993; J. …

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