Often when client’s presenting issue is of abusive relationships, one of the possible reasons is they lack of the skill of being assertive. So sharing the information about self-identity, boundary issues, and teaching the skill of being assertiveness become an inseparable part of counselling.
However, the topic of being assertiveness has to be handled sensitively for clients who come from different cultural backgrounds, such as Chinese. Chinese value the virtues of tolerance, harmony, and of sacrificing their own needs for the sake of other parties, and also give up their desires. So the teaching of being assertive, speak up for yourself, declare your own need may sound like the opposite, going against all of their old doctrines.
When the Chinese client comes in for counselling, they may feel depressed because of the abusive situation. While, within their mentality, most of the times they still want to believe that what they have done is worthwhile, has value and meaning. They believe people will respect them by their acts of sacrifice, tolerance, and their resilience. So when a counselor introduces the concept of assertiveness, standing up and speaking for their feelings, thoughts, ideas; it could cause tremendous stress to client, which may lead to a certain level of confusion and the client may reject the suggestion.
This reaction could be caused by the different virtue systems between the Eastern and the Western. The Western emphasizes individualism, wherein each person has their own right; each person is entitled to express his/her own thoughts, feelings, and ideas. Respect is common ground, and is based on mutual direction. However, in Eastern cultures, the identity is collectivism; it values harmony, and encourages the cultivation of the virtue of tolerance. Therefore, implementing the concept of assertiveness may not be a good start.
So what do we do as a counsellor who is educated in Western system, and living in the Western environment, and counseling a client who lives in a small collective identity context? From my experience, I would suggest that the counsellor at first could validate the client’s experience and feelings. Then confirm what they have contributed to the harmony of their family’s; the value in their actions. We respect client’s values, instead of correcting their behavior or implementing our own values. Only when the client feels comfortable about the progress, then counselor may go on to the next step, educating them, introducing the concepts of individualism and collectivism, boundary issues, “ I” communication…and about being assertive. And then invite the client to make her decision, to what extent she would like to exercise being assertive or choosing to be tolerant.
Our job as a counselor is to invite the client to make their own decision. This is the process of empowerment.
Hailing Huang MTS CCC-CCPA www.kwfellowtraveler.com English and Mandarin
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA