Overall, European Americans have a conflict between trying to homogenize with the American society and keeping their ethnical family background, or a conflict between individuality and group/community. Besides race and religion, another interesting therapy issue is class. Americans do not believe in class differences, and consider them a taboo topic. This might not be the case for all Americans. This the case for the majority based on my research. The US was built on the concept of freedom and equality, although there have been instances of not much freedom and inequality. Class identity was stripped from the popular culture, to avoid topics of conflict and exploitation, given the harsh American history. Assets, income, social factors and living locations, all influence class.
Ethnic differences for European Americans, who are from a rural peasant background, remain, even after class advancement. Certain groups, such as Poles and Italians, unlike Jews, have reservation about moving up in class. Education is a way to move up, but different generations and different groups have different values. Although, for the most part, ethnicity depends on culture, sometimes, religion and class are linked and the link shape behaviors, beliefs and values. Therapists must explore how class, gender, ethnicity, race and religion influence Euro-Americans. A hypothetical example of this issue could be an Italian American, coming from a low/medium class, marrying a high class Jewish. The two people may not even be aware of their class and they may not even be aware that class differences shape different behaviors, beliefs and values. The therapist would then explain cultural history and differences and make sure an understanding and a compromise from both parties take place.
Another therapy issue is the persistence of ethnicity, which shapes identity, as Freud and Erikson, both Jewish, discovered. All the following White ethnical characteristics may be latent and are often present, especially in educated middle-class families. Anglo Americans promote independence, exploration and emotional control. Each family member is quite independent. Jewish Americans encourage children to talk about family problems, which is therapeutic. It is important to help sick people and marry within the Jewish community. Italian Americans value family more than anything and sharing a meal with the whole family. Men are dominant. Children are loved, spoiled and allowed to sleep with their parents.
Italian Americans believe in personal connections to move ahead and in life enjoyment. They express their own emotions, help others and keep conflicts in the family. For Irish Americans, the church power is important. Suffering is an individual divine punishment. Complaining is unacceptable and social drinking is acceptable. Children are not praised so they do not become narcissists. Sex is a taboo topic of discussion. Women are supposed to listen. Emotional control is important. Greek Americans, like the Italian-Americans, babies are spoiled. Sex is not discussed. Like the Italian-Americans again, males are dominant and women must know what to do and their place. Parents warn kids about the wild world and want them to be successful. Elders are considered wise and respected. A hypothetical therapy example could be an Irish person and a Greek person partnering up in business.
They could have religious conflicts due to their different beliefs and ethnical backgrounds, and difference of opinions and style in training kids or younger employees for the job, again due to their family upbringing. The therapists must explain that there is no absolute right or wrong and could try a role-play so each party understands the other’s perspective and point of view.
A third treatment issue is intermarriage. Until the 60s, marriages were within the same kind (Italian American with Italian American, etc.). In the late 60s, 5% of White ethnics intermarried. Today intermarriages among Whites are the norm (more than 50%). 50% of Asian Americans marry Whites. 33% of Hispanics wed out. White-Black marriages grew sevenfold over the last 40 years. Although in theory there is a chance to lose individual ethnicity in intermarriages, in reality ethnicity remains. Ethnicity is what someone may be attracted to in a partner. The greater the cultural differences are, the more difficult the marriage adjustment is.
An Anglo man could find the expressiveness of an Italian lady as crazy and the Italian lady may find his emotional distance as cold or catatonic. In similar situations, therapists must become intercultural translators, negotiators and mediators and promote the value of differences. Even having each spouse or couple member read chapters of a book or articles about each other’s ethnicity and discuss them is very helpful. To conclude, cultural issues are often the problem. Sometimes, though, they are only a rational way to displace anger from other difficult problems.
More Jews (Friedlander, et al, 2010) than other ethnic groups use psychotherapy. Most Jews are very opinionated. There are Jews and Jews. Some consider themselves as Jews for their ethnicity and some feel Jew for their religion. Now, more than ever, Jews are less discriminated against and freer to abandon their faith and ethnicity. Jews are perceived as rich and powerful but they are not a homogenous group. Jews are committed to therapy although they may question it.
Therapists must remember that they need to support clients in resolving their issues to meet their needs and obligations, even if they are different than the therapists’ ones. Sometimes clients are ready for a life style change, but sometimes they are not. When working with Orthodox families, therapists must bridge the Orthodox community with the surrounding secular world, helping them with networking and collaboration.
Russian Jewish families have a background of resilience and success drive, but also a background of loss and trauma. Back in the old Soviet Union, before it collapsed, the family was the most important nucleus. Immigration caused further destruction of the family nucleus, causing a big distress. Therapists must respect family boundaries and loss, gender and sexual orientation, with this population.
Israel has a particular and important history and a particular religious history. Multiple ethnicities, including Russians and Ethiopians, united by Judaism, are present in Israel. Some Jews are ultra-orthodox and they are against modernization and hardly open to psychotherapy. Financial success is important to Israelis and it may come before relationships. In general, the world perception of Israeli emigrants is still negative. Israelis adapt to the US very well and they speak English well. They miss Israel (this is a frequent issue brought up in therapy, towards which they are open) and they usually say they are in the US temporarily, even if they are here permanently. They marry Jewish partners as they do not tolerate interfaith marriages, as it is seen as a threat to the Jewish community. Lastly, they do not fully accept homosexuality, due to their religious beliefs.
Slavic Americans are willing to adapt which helps their ethnical healing problems. Polish Americans are proud to have overcome historical obstacles and long-suffering. They are ceremonial, defensive, loyal, hard-working and religious. They long for social belonging and class status. There sometimes are ashamed and afraid of their heritage. Most Poles are catholic. Many of them have an inner need to complete tasks not just for themselves but for the community. To accept and reinvent oneself, one has to learn about his or her ethnic roots. Even Polish immigrants can learn to be successful and still be true to their heritage. Poland is part of modern Europe and is still redefining itself.
Czechs and Slovaks have been through long periods of wars and political upheavals, until very recently, a few years ago. Many of them are still recovering from them. Most of their immigration started after World War I. Slovakians are not prepared for the US individualism as in Slovakia, everything is family related. Their marriages are usually solid and they usually go to therapy for child focused issues or issues with parents.
Anglo Americans tend to be individualistic. Therapists have success with them when they address costs and benefits of emotionally self-contained individualism. Successful family therapy increases their skills to interact, to effectively use emotions, and to embrace an adventurous attitude in life.
Dutch people have a long history of struggle with elements outside their community, which were considered exploitive, threatening and controlling. Most of them are self-initiators, self-resilient and religious. They tend to be cautious about outsiders and react negatively to those who are not responsible and are not deeply religiously convicted, as they are. In therapy, Dutch Americans will persevere until they internally know it is “right”.
With Franco Americans, cognitive behavioral therapy with set goals is best. Their families seek therapy for practical behavioral solutions. They tend to have a sense of duty and a desire to have a supportive family environment. Coping strategies, cooperative problem solving and emotional reeducation are all helpful tools in therapy with them. Psychic restructuring and tangible behavioral insight and change are therapeutic measure of success, especially among youngsters and educated people. Usually, for now, French Canadians in the US reject an early focus on ethnicity in therapy. French Canadians tend to either assimilate with the American society or keep their ancestral and ethical roots. In general, French Canadians are dedicated to self-preservation and success, despite the odds.
Germans have largely contributed to the foundations of the US, but many Americans do not know it. The German American ethnic context is historically and socially complex. Many German Jews migrated before and during the Second World War. Some Jews still discriminate a little bit towards new German Immigrants. Obviously, in therapy, issues of loss, family history, cultural history, and possible discrimination must be addresses.
In the case of Hungarian families, ethnicity could be a big part of therapeutic issues. Hungarians are patriotic and proud. Some of them are Jews who escaped.
Irish tend not to enjoy therapy, tend not to believe in catharsis, and tend not to have and like heart to heart discussions. In therapy, they change slowly and little by little. It is important that therapists do not push or pressure them to do work that they are not ready to initiate. Even if they do not say much, they may like to continue therapeutic work on their own at home, due to their deep personal responsibility.
Most Italian Americans value family obligations and connection and defined roles. Family connection can be challenging when the family prevents the individual from achieving what he or she wants to do. I am exactly an example of this challenge, and ultimately, that is why I migrated to the US 13 and a half years ago and I am now officially an Italian-American, after being sworn in, this year. This challenge has the potential to be resolved in therapy. Related issues could be sexism, racism and classism. Therapists can help Italian American families to open the family system, and, at the same time, retain the positivity of close connections.
Most Portuguese families seek therapeutic help after a court order or a referral by their community worker or health care provider. They are not used to seek psychological help outside the family. Therapists have to deal with hierarchy, stigma and time. Clients may be not committed and may just be obeying to authorities. Therapist must work within the family to build trust first and then, later, new ideas. In Portuguese culture, there is no quality time with kids but only basic material needs, good manners, respect for authority, help the family and training kids. In the family there are gender specific roles. Their core values are: honor, respect, trust and generosity. It is best for therapist to work closely with the referral source to help clients get over the “embarrassment” of seeking help. Families may perceive the referral source as an honor violator. The initial therapy with Portuguese American families is successful with open-ended statements, storytelling, externalizing issues, active coaching, mirroring, negotiating, and/or echoing behaviors.
When working with Scandinavians, it is important to supply tools for growth and development in family interactions and dynamics. Scandinavians have many wonderful traits and values. They have dealt with weather darkness or little sunlight and geographical isolation. Most of them are Lutherans and practice indifference to emotions, which can result in psychosomatics.
Scots became Scott-Irish in history. Many of them migrated to the States in the 18th century. They have persistent folkways around family, gender, sex, child-rearing or will building, death, and religion.
Many Greek families immigrated to the States at the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th one, or before World War I. The migration was due to their failed economy. Most of them are Orthodox. Obviously Greeks have a legacy of so much culture and history, due to their old Greek Empire. Family is very important to Greeks. Their culture is patriarchal and male individualistic, so there are defined gender roles. Couple relationships are somewhat formal and male extra marital affairs are somewhat accepted and overcome. As a male dominant culture, they tend not to be very open to homosexuality, but they are open to intermarriages. Greeks tend not to like Turks because many centuries ago, Turks destroyed their Empire. Again, even in this culture psychosomatics is possible and it is something important for therapists to be aware of.
In conclusion, the White or Caucasian race is very diversifies, as other races also are. It is crucial for therapists to educate themselves with general ethnical patters. Lastly, therapists are also ethnical educators for their clients.
Friedlander, M., Friedman, M., Miller, M., Ellis, M., Friedlander, L., & Mikhaylov, V. (2010). Introducing a brief measure of cultural and religious identification in American Jewish identity. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 57(3), 345- 360. doi:10.1037/a0019577.
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