How are cultural behaviors treated in psychology?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The branch of psychology that specializes on cultural behaviors is called Cross-Cultural Psychology. Using qualitative research, cross-cultural psychologists and counselors use two approaches to understand and analyze culture-specific behaviors. These are the "etic" approach and the "emic" approach.

The etic approach uses current research-based theories and constructs to attempt to predict and make a profile of multicultural behavior. It starts from theory, all the way down to the individual being researched. Hence, it is basically the compilation of what is known from outside sources what helps to delineate what is expected and often viewed from specific culture as far as behavior goes.

The emic approach refers to the empirical and qualitative in-depth study of the social constructs, concepts, and relevant facts that are considered worthy, or valuable specific cultures. The emic approach leads to the development of Ground Theory because it does not use pre-ordained theoretical concepts as guiding factors; the application of the approach intends to discover and explore, rather than prove a fact.

This being said, the field of psychology uses the findings done in etic and emic studies and delineates what potential clients of a culture different than the clinician's own might expect. It would be impossible to cite exactly what type of interaction takes place in each separate instance of cross cultural counseling, but it may suffice to say that a trained clinician will consult the emic and etic findings to determine a methodology. A universal approach that is likely to work well is the client-centered therapeutic approach developed by Carl Rogers. In this method, the therapist finds specific ways to communicate with the client at an in-depth level by making appropriate questions that will provide information about what matters most to the client. This is a method that coincides with the manner in which researchers obtain emic data. Therefore, it is considered as a universal approach based on the specific personality traits of the client rather than on a directed method of treatment.

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