This article explains the meaning of ethnicity and summarizes migration and its five Different Phases of the Life Cycle. In regard to the meaning of ethnicity, it is important for people to know their ethnicity because it is part of building their identity. It is also important for humans to know how and where they originated. A basic human need is the sense of belonging. Ethnicity or a group’s peoplehood is a group’s common history or ancestry.
Ethnicity is retained, as its values perpetuates through generations. Ethnicity shapes thinking, feeling, behaving, eating, working, celebrating, making love and dying. Talking about ethnicity and referring to “we”, or “they”, or “other”, or “minority”, or “Americanized” can evoke deep and unconscious feelings. Ethnicity, or a cultural background, actually pertains and influence everyone’s value and behavior.
I created a demonstration pilot video of my practice and I was asked not to make any reference to clients’ heritage, such as, “South-American”, “Italian”, etc. I was asked to evaluate a business for a marketing company and I was specifically asked not to mention ethnicities. In clinical and therapeutical notes, references to ethnicity are also to be avoided. Anthropologists, instead, study cultural influences on emotions.
The tendency of countries, when the economy is bad, is to blame it on immigrants, instead of asking what they themselves did wrong. To become culturally aware, people must study and educate themselves with the history of cultures. Cultures change rapidly, but it is important to acquire a cultural and gender competence. Learning cultures means changing attitudes. Being open to cultural differences expands cultural understanding and awareness.
In regard to Migration and its five Different Phases of the Life Cycle, migrating is a stressor and a psychological trauma because it involves adjusting to a new culture. It is basically a life stage. I am testimony of that, having migrated to the United States from Northern Italy at age 20, 13 years ago. During the young adult phase, immigrants have the greatest potential for adapting to the new culture but they may be the most vulnerable to interrupting their heritage. Their adaptability allows them the opportunity to become more Americanized, which could possibly make them vulnerable to losing their own culture. During the phase of families with young children, immigrants are strengthened by each other but they are vulnerable to the hierarchy reversal, because parents may acculturate slower than children and the same parents may need the children’s interpretation.
To avoid parental leadership being affected, it is encouraged to use the help of the workplace, extended families and friends. During the children’s teen years, when adolescent rapport with their peers, problems may surface, which are solvable by teaching youngsters respect for the elders. Immigrant families with adolescents have less time together before the teens move out; therefore, several conflicts could arise. Distress can also arise from having ill grandparents far away. I have experienced exactly that. Migration during the launching phase is rare and hard.
Migration usually happens because the parents of young adult children cannot stay in the birthplace. The stress of leaving aging parents behind can be big. For these children, inter-marriage can be hard on their parents, who are already struggling with losing their original culture. During the last and fifth phase, migration can be difficult. The children of these older parents may want to be “Americanized” and speak much better English than their parents, who are already struggling with reclaiming their culture, especially at this stage. Intergenerational conflicts could arise. The third or fourth generation feels at more liberty to reclaim their lost culture that was sacrificed by their ancestors to assimilate.
An article about Native Americans and their relationship with psychotherapy illustrates how Native American descents deal with a history of genocidal sufferings (Warner, 2003). For them, as well as for Jewish people, remembering the sufferings is the way to heal. Native American’s culture and language have been destroyed. Symptoms of trauma and unresolved grief are psychosomatic symptoms, depression, stress, substance abuse, suicidal ideas and fear of death. Before the Europeans came to American, Natives were divided up in distinct, different, unique and separate tribes that had in common spiritual, economic and cultural skills. A few Europeans understood that the Natives’ life was practical, holistic, intact and not in need for “civilizations”.
Europeans pressured and forced the natives to surrender their land and confirm to their culture, that they believe was better. The war, the European diseases, alcohol abuse, and starvation decimated the Natives. The remaining natives, psychologically, and in some cases physically as well, resisted the cultural assimilation, such as Western boarding schools that cruelly separated kids from parents. All of this history is important for psychologists to know. When working with Natives, psychologists are recommended to use tools for cathartic release, acknowledge the historical traumas on family members, and investigate repression and racism. Therapists are also recommended to provide a sacred and safe space for emotions and feelings to arise. Therapists must help patients become non-judgmental.
Sessions are best to end with debrief and reassurance of confidence and esteem that the clients can rise above any negative feeling and that the clients is making great accomplishments. The therapists should encourage traditional ceremony and ways for anchorage, healing and emotional support. Because many people, including the Westerners who meant well, were involved in the past, healing must happen at the community level. An article about African Americans and their relationship with psychotherapy illustrates how Africans migrated to America involuntarily, as history well knows (Franklin, 2004). Just like with the Natives, Americans/Europeans wanted to annihilate their culture. Plantation owners, all throughout the American continent, enslaved the Africans to become wealthy and prosperous.
Many Africans died. Many American-Europeans attributed negative traits to the darker skin color, which became racism. I have heard from a few plantation owners successors that they treated their African “slaves” as members of the family, but history says that must have been the exception and not the rule. Little by little the US government started banning slavery and the African slaves rebelled in Brazil and other countries and forming countries like Haiti and Jamaica. Despite the banning, African American were not treated fairly and equally till recently, after many legal Acts, movements and efforts of many leaders, such as Dr. King and Malcolm X, just a few decades ago. African American is different from African immigrants and different from Africans migrating to the US from the Caribbean and South America. Africans nowadays immigrate for educational and economic reasons.
There have been less and less residential segregations in the US. I live in Los Angeles and I still observe segregation here, unfortunately. Like other ethnic immigrant groups, some of the African immigrants deal with the separation from family in their country of origin. I personally have not encountered many illegal African immigrants in the States. I have encountered more illegal European immigrants. In Europe, when I go back and visit family, I see several illegal immigrants from Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa, but most European governments are more tolerant than the US government to Immigration. I am testimony of it, being a European immigrant to the States. It was very important to me that my therapist, when I first migrated, understood my experience and that she kept all the Immigration details in strict confidence.
Some questions the therapist could ask follow. How did you decide to migrate? Who did you migrate with and how? How did you benefit from it? Was anything lost? Do you interact with other people from your birthplace? This way clients understand it is still loyal to celebrate the new world and they can still grieve the separation. Three out 4 African Americans in the US are religious or spiritual. The Black church was the first place to offer refuge, counseling and community to African Americans. African Americans believe in the egalitarian work and family model, according to which both, males and females, are in charge. Male violence towards women and racism are reoccurring issues in counseling, which could be depression.
The counselor must help understanding gender role expectations and institutionalized racism. America is class silent and saturated, besides being focused on consumption. American censuses reflect the wealth disparity between Whites and Blacks. High credentials, in someone’s place of origin, does not equate to the same high paid jobs in the US. I am testimony of that. There are still segregated all Black neighborhoods. Most African Americans value education and socioeconomic advancements, but there are exceptions. Homosexuality is taboo for many Africans and African Americans, as they already struggle with some racism and brutality. Africans, in history, have been labeled pathological, because of their resistance to adapt.
Families of African origins have a history of injuries, colonization, losses, oppression, fear and injustice and they need help adjusting to reality. Therapists are best to acknowledge their resiliency and provide a safe place for feeling expressions. Some good questions to ask are: What happened to yourself and to people of your origins? How what happened affects you? Despite the past, how can you and you all succeed? What do you need to heal? This will validate their experience and help them share, give it meaning to, and use tools. This will also help African descents reconnect with their values.
An article about West Indian Americans and their relationship with psychotherapy illustrates how British West Indian families are Black people from the Caribbean, such as Jamaica (Akbar, 2001). They tend to keep their problems for themselves. Jamaica became independent from the Great Britain not even 50 years ago.
The Indians, who lived on the Island before slaves were brought over, died of abuse, disease and harsh labor. There are other minority communities there. They speak English and some African dialects. They want to distinguish themselves from other populations. They value English. In the past, Jamaicans migrated to find a better economy and escape colonialism and slavery. Jamaican immigrants separated from families, felt dislocated, isolated and disconnected, while adjusting to urbanization and colder climates. Jamaican related families, to save money, live all together in the same house.
Nowadays, there are Jamaican stores, groups and houses of worship. The proximity of Jamaicans helped their economy. Due to racism, Jamaican immigrants have had to identify themselves as American Black. On the other hand, they wish to separate themselves because of the negative stereotypes linked to American Black. And American Blacks do not appreciate the Jamaican refusal to unify. It is like Sicilian Americans who do not wish to identify with other Italians, although they are Italians. In Jamaica, lighter skinned people are considered closer to Europeans and of higher status, whereas in America, they are considered as Black.
Many American Blacks, unlike Jamaicans, believe there will always be injustice against Black people and for some it is learned helplessness. Unlike American Blacks, Jamaicans feel empowered because they fought off colonialism. Unlike American Blacks, Jamaicans have lived in predominantly black societies. Generally, the Jamaicans who make it are the ones who are familiar with European culture. Jamaicans are fiscally conservative and sacrifice for a delayed but brighter gratification. Many Jamaicans in history married British ladies, creating Creoles. In Jamaica, higher socio-economic status is obtained by marriage and/or education.
Girls are not taught sex education and are taught obedience and house duties. They tend to date family friends. For a Jamaican man to have a mistress means success, high status and wealth. If that mistress is a discrete arrangement between the two spouses, the therapist should not make an issue about it. If there is not an arrangement, then the therapist could have a dialogue with each spouse separately. In Jamaican culture there is double standard for men and women and affairs. Supposedly, according to Jamaicans, adultery can dissolve a marriage.
In terms of raising children, it is acceptable for Jamaicans to spank, scold, hit hands with a ruler and lash with a belt. I find this horrible. Respect for elders is mandatory. Poor fathers have to search for work far away from the community. Child lending is when students are sent to live with extended families. Jamaicans tend to blame the subject that has issues. Jamaicans interpret psychological issue as spiritual or medical disturbance. I have to say that this is a bit primitive and ignorant of them. Upper class Jamaicans believe in organized religions. Lower class ones use African folk beliefs. Most Jamaicans still believe in the African witchcraft to remove evil, which helps them with hope and self-efficacy.
In conclusion, Jamaicans treat witchcraft, or obeah, as psycho-therapy. Even if families have a hard time admitting their child has a problem, when school gets involved finding a therapist, then Jamaicans will take it seriously, as they value doctors and professionals. Similar culture and values between the therapist and the client is important to Jamaicans.
Akbar, M. (2001). Racial identity, Africentric values, and self-esteem in Jamaican children. Journal of Black Psychology, 27(3), 341-358.
Franklin, A.J. (2004). From brotherhood to manhood. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Warner, J.C. (2003). Group therapy with Native Americans: Understanding essential differences. Group, 27(4), 191-202.
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