Image representing Cross-cultural counseling service offered by Jenai Wu Steinkeller.

Cultural Crossroads

Psychotherapy at Cultural Crossroads

Culture is relevant in psychotherapy in a variety of ways. Viewing culture as a “special” topic is perhaps misleading as culture is actually everywhere; it forms the fabric of our society. Only when conflicts occur in cross-cultural relationships or in cultural value differences in the family or the workplace does culture become visible. Cultural and religious prescriptions about behavior can be a powerful force in our psychology, often regardless of how closely we adhere to them.

Culture and ethnic identity in psychotherapy

Colorfull assortment of food representing Dr. Wu’s approach in helping you to understand your cultural and ethnic identity is to work through the balance between individuation, relatedness and rootedness. To some, culture and ethnicity are very important to their sense of identity, while others wish it weren’t so. It can seem that others identify you by your ethnicity, race, or skin color more than you might do yourself. The role one’s culture or race or religion plays in one’s sense of self is often closely tied to one’s family and its history. Some immigrant families associate their cultural background with traumatic events or experiences, and would rather forget, while others cherish their culture and work hard to keep their traditions alive. Holding tight to such identity and traditions can be a source of strength, but it can also be experienced as a limitation. The experience of culture, and the conflicts that arise from it, therefore, are often deeply interwoven with family.

Dr. Wu’s approach in helping you to understand your cultural and ethnic identity is to work through the balance between individuation, relatedness and rootedness. It can be a lifelong process. Psychotherapy can help you to navigate sometimes thorny issues of identity, loyalty and the role of culture in your life.

Culture and Gender

Gender—how one views one’s self along the spectrum of femininity and masculinity—is powerfully determined by culture. Culture has a big role in how masculine and feminine roles are defined. Even in developed industrialized societies where men and women have greater parity in the workforce, cultures tend to stereotype gender from the beginning of a baby’s life. These cultural gender role expectations can feel like a heavy mantle, for both men and women and can expose fault lines in bicultural relationships. For example, men labor under the expectation that they should be “strong” or unemotional, something they have been trained to internalize even as children. Psychotherapy for individuals or couples can help to tease out deeply internalized and sometimes unconscious habits, attitudes, and identifications.

Culture and Diversity

In a diverse culture individuals may become aware that they are viewed, or feel themselves to be viewed, as outsiders to a majority group. This is a subject of psychotherapy and coaching, and in severe cases, forensic consultation, as it may involve the challenges of actual discrimination, or mutually reinforcing self-fulfilling processes. Personal, subjective feelings of inclusion and exclusion, and the social and interpersonal dynamics that parallel those feelings, can be very intense, with high stakes. In such cases the neutrality of a psychotherapist can identify work that belongs to the individual and work that belongs to the group at large.

Cultural Crossroads

  • Cultural identity
  • Bicultural and multicultural relationships
  • Adoption
  • Cultural value conflicts
  • Diversity
  • Any other keywords that counselingwise might consider helpful

Suggested reading:

Ethnicity & Cultural Identity

  • Akhtar, S. (1995). A third individuation: Immigration, identity, and the psychoanalytic process: Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association,43, 1051-1084.
  • California Newsreel. (2003). Race: The Power of an Illusion: The Difference Between Us. (Video).
  • Kashiwabara, A. (1996). Vanishing Son: The Appearance, Disappearance, and Assimilation of the Asian-American Man in American Mainstream Media.Berkeley: University of California Library.
  • Roland, A. (1994).Identity, self, and individualism in a multicultural perspective. Race, ethnicity, and self: (Ed. E.P. Salett & D.R. Koslow). Washington, D.C. National Multicultural Institute. 11-23.

Culture & Psychology

  • Kakar, S. (1985). Psychoanalysis and non-western cultures: International review of psycho-analysis, 12, 441-448.
  • Kitayama, S., Markus, H. R., Matsumoto, H., & Norasakkunkit, V. (1997). <Individual and collective processes in the construction of the self: Self-enhancement in the United States and self-criticism in Japan: Journal of personality and social psychology, 72, 1245-1267.
  • Massimini, F., & Delle Fave, A. (2000). Individual development in a bio-cultural perspective: American Psychologist, 55(1), 24.
  • Oyserman, D. (1993). The lens of personhood: Viewing the self and others in a multicultural society: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65(5), 993.
  • Roland, A. (1991). In search of self in India and Japan: Toward a cross-cultural psychology: Princeton University Press.

Bicultural & Mixed Race

  • Wilson, A. (1987). Mixed race children: A study of identity: Allen and Unwin London.
  • Root, M. (1992). Racially Mixed People in America: Sage Publications.
  • Prasad, C. (2006). Mixed: An Anthology of Short Fiction on the Multiracial Experience: Norton.

Race, Ethnicity & Trauma

  • Antze, P., & Lambek, M. (1996). Tense past: Cultural essays in trauma and memory: Psychology Press.
  • Apprey, M. (1993). The African-American experience: Forced immigration and transgenerational trauma: Mind and Human Interaction, 4, 70-75.
  • Eyerman, R. (2001). Cultural trauma: Slavery and the formation of African American identity: Cambridge University Press.
  • Friedlander, S. (1992). Trauma, Transference and” Working through” in Writing t