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Cultural Diversity & Ethical Boundaries: Overcoming Barriers to Counseling Effectiveness

Manual of Articles Sections 7 - 14
Section 7
Acculturation & Ethnic Identity

Question 7 | Ethics CEU Answer Booklet | Table of Contents
Social Worker CEUs, Counselor CEUs, Psychologist CEs, MFT CEUs

Ethics - Acculturation
Acculturation refers to changes in identification, social skills, attitudes, values, and behavioral norms that groups and individuals undergo when they come in contact with another culture (Rosenthal & Feldman, Ethnic Cultural Practices Cultural Diversity mft CEU course 1990). Acculturation has been conceptualized as a resocialization process (Taft, 1985, 1986), with the assumption that increased contact with the host culture will lead to a shift away from the values, attitudes, and behaviors of the culture of origin. While some immigrants adjust willingly and easily to the new culture, other immigrants have strong attachments to their culture of origin and find such a transition difficult (Cheung, 1989). Several studies (e.g., Sodowsky, Lai, & Plake, 1991; Padilla et al., 1985) have found that first-generation Asian Americans experience significantly more acculturative stress than second or later generations.

Research on new immigrants and refugees has largely focused on adults, and the immigrant youth has been neglected (e.g., Roysircar-Sodowsky & Maestas, 2000; Sodowsky & Carey, 1987; Sodowsky et al., 1991). Due to the fact that adolescence is a critical period of development (Herring, 1997), examining the adjustment process of adolescents is especially relevant.

Berry and colleagues (Berry, Kim, Power, Young, & Bujaki, 1989; Berry & Sam, 1997) have identified four coping strategies that individuals use in the acculturation process: assimilation (interaction with individuals from the host culture and devaluation of one's own culture), integration (maintenance of one's culture as well as interaction with individuals from the host culture), marginalization (rejection of one's culture of origin as well as avoidance of individuals from the host culture), and separation (maintenance of one's culture of origin and minimal interaction with other groups, especially individuals from the host culture). While it is possible that the acculturation process will proceed without any problems, it may also be stressful and result in adaptation difficulties (Berry, 1997).

The strategies described above are just some of the factors that have been found to be significantly associated with the mental health of immigrants and refugees in the United States (Krishnan & Berry, 1992; Sam, 1994; Sam & Berry, 1995), with integration identified as the most adaptive and marginalization as the least adaptive (Berry, 1997; Berry & Sam, 1997; Sam & Berry, 1995). Further, LaFromboise, Coleman, and Gerton (1993) have proposed that individuals may develop the ability to negotiate two cultures comfortably without sacrificing their identification with either culture. It is also important to understand that race and ethnicity play an important role in the identity and acculturation processes (Alvarez, Kohatsu, Liu, & Yeh, 1996).

Ethnic Identity
Ethnic identity is another factor that contributes to the complex process of acculturation for immigrants. It has been described as an enduring, fundamental aspect of self that includes a sense of connection to an ethnic group, and the attitudes and feelings associated with membership in that group (Bernal & Knight, 1993; Keefe, 1992; Phinney, 1990). Ethnic identity has also been conceptualized as multidimensional and dynamic (Phinney, 1996; Jeffres, 1983; Sue & Sue, 1990; Yeh & Hwang, 2000), involving attitudes, values, and behaviors, and evolving with changes in social contexts, family interactions, and geographic location (Yeh & Huang, 1996).

For adolescent immigrants, ethnic identity is particularly important. A number of studies (e.g., Phinney, 1989; Tajfel, 1981; Tajfel & Turner, 1986) have found that a strong sense of ethnic identity is related to higher self-esteem. However, ethnic minority adolescents may experience discrimination, which could compromise their sense of pride in their culture of origin and limit their aspirations and achievements. In addition, adolescent immigrants are also at a stage in life where they are struggling with issues of autonomy and separation from parents (Rosenthal & Feldman, 1996). The process of identity formation may be especially challenging for immigrant youths because they are simultaneously trying to learn a new language, dealing with a new culture, relating to peers, and experiencing academic and parental pressures (Lynch, 1992; Zheng & Berry, 1991).

Ethics - Mental Health Concerns
Previous studies have examined the unique mental health concerns of immigrant youth (e.g., Florsheim, 1997; Morrow, 1994; Sam, 2000). In a review of literature on the prevalence of adjustment problems among immigrant children, Aronowitz (1984) noted that language difficulties, school-related and social stressors, and disturbances and disruptions in family relationships are the major causes of adjustment difficulties. Further, differential acculturation has been found to create generation gaps in terms of values, expectations, attitudes, and behaviors among family members, which may heighten family conflict (Cheung, 1996). In fact, researchers have found that immigrant youth experience more conflict with their parents and are at higher risk for experiencing difficulties during adolescence than nonimmigrant youth (Rosenthal, 1984).

Chinese American and Japanese American students have been found to experience more isolation, loneliness, nervousness, and anxiety, as well as less autonomy, than other students (Sue & Frank, 1973). They have also been found to have lower self-concept scores (Pang, Mizokawa, Morishima, & Olstad, 1985) and greater levels of intrapersonal and interpersonal distress (Abe & Zane, 1990) than their white peers. Similarly, first-generation Japanese have reported greater stress, lower self-esteem, and more external locus of control as compared to later-generation Japanese Americans (Padilla et al., 1985). Homma-True (1997) further indicated that compared to U.S.-born Japanese Americans, recent Japanese immigrants are confronted with the stress of adjusting to a new environment, specifically linguistic, cultural, and lifestyle differences.

One of the major difficulties immigrants face is the language barrier (Yeh & Inose, 2002). Regarding English as a second language, Japan is ranked in the top 5% of nations in the world in terms of reading comprehension, but is ranked in the bottom 10% in terms of conversational ability (Enloe & Lewin, 1987). In a study of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean immigrant high school and junior high school students, Yeh and Inose (2002) found that communication difficulties due to insufficient proficiency in English posed the largest challenge, which may lead to mental health concerns if this issue is unaddressed.
- Yeh, CJ, Arora AK, Inose M, Okubo Y, Li RH, & P. Greene, The cultural adjustment and mental health of Japanese immigrant youth, Adolescence, Fall 2003, Vol. 38, Issue 15

Personal Reflection Exercise Explanation
The Goal of this Home Study Course is to create a learning experience that enhances your clinical skills. We encourage you to discuss the Personal Reflection Journaling Activities, found at the end of each Section, with your colleagues. Thus, you are provided with an opportunity for a Group Discussion experience. Case Study examples might include: family background, socio-economic status, education, occupation, social/emotional issues, legal/financial issues, death/dying/health, home management, parenting, etc. as you deem appropriate. A Case Study is to be approximately 50 words in length. However, since the content of these “Personal Reflection” Journaling Exercises is intended for your future reference, they may contain confidential information and are to be applied as a “work in progress.” You will not be required to provide us with these Journaling Activities.

Personal Reflection Exercise #1
The preceding section contained information about acculturation and ethnic identity.  Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.

Why is ethnic identity particularly important for adolescent immigrants? Record the letter of the correct answer the Ethics CEU Answer Booklet.

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