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Cross-Cultural Considerations

A major criticism of psychoanalytic theory is based on the argument that it oversimplifies cultural paradigms because of the idea that humans are driven by sexuality and appears to ignore other factors such as class, race, sexuality, gender, disability, and many others that shape culture. Samuels (2001) suggested that psychoanalytic theory has not taken into account the unconscious foundations of cultural formation, and Layton (2007) further suggested that within mainstream psychoanalysis, it is still controversial to even consider culture as a mediating influence in the development of the psyche.

Some practitioners suggest that psychoanalysis is entirely inappropriate for use with certain cultures because of the lack of structure, lack of direct problem solving, and a consistent emphasis on the reflection of childhood experience. Arguably, some psychoanalytic techniques are more appropriate for certain cultures than for others, but it is widely believed among many practitioners that psychoanalytic techniques can be adapted to different cultures, as long as the counselor genuinely understands the client's culture and how that culture influences the therapeutic dynamic and treatment plan. The use of certain defense mechanisms may be related to cultural values and may present as resistance, although they may actually be a logical response to historical oppression and discrimination. For example, feminist theory criticizes psychoanalysis as demeaning to women, suggesting that the theory generalizes concepts such as the Electra complex or penis envy without considering personal factors, and some further suggest that men experience feelings of inferiority because they cannot give birth to children. Layton (2007) suggested that to include modem cultural considerations into traditional psychoanalytic practice, a model is needed for understanding that the relation between the psychic and the social must account both for the ways people internalize oppressive norms and for the ways people resist them.

In their clinical work with clients of different cultures, counselors need to be genuinely neutral and nonjudgmental. The counselor's role in therapeutic practice is to help the client to consolidate his or her own identity and to exhibit total acceptance of the client by engaging in an ongoing, self-reflective awareness of bias leading to therapeutic ineptitude and impairment. Sue et al. (2007) found that microinteractions may express racist attitudes by counselors, including attitudes that are consciously dismissed or sublimated as cultural issues arise. These interactions reflect an unconscious worldview of the dominant culture and perpetuate biases that dismiss the reality of historically oppressed cultures (Sue et al., 2007). Eliminating such interactions and minimizing their impact on achieving equal access and opportunity to a culturally sensitive theoretical approach is an issue of vital importance for counselors who embrace a multicultural and social justice helping perspective (Sue & Sue, 2008).

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