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Section 3
Cultural Adaptation

Question 3 | Ethics CEU Test | Table of Contents
Social Worker CEU, Psychologist CE, Counselor CEU, MFT CEU

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In the last section, we discussed the Four Common Approaches to Multi-Cultural training. These four common approaches were the Universal approach, the Ubiquitous approach, the Traditional approach, and the Race-Based approach.

In this section, we will discuss cultural adaptation methods. I have found that there are Five Cultural Adaptation Methods. These Five Cultural Adaptation Methods are Assimilation, Integration, Alternation, Rejection, and Marginalization. Sound interesting?

Let’s look at each of the five methods more closely. Following the descriptions of the five cultural adaptation methods, we will consider a brief case study from an ethical perspective and determine which method that culturally different client is using.

Five Cultural Adaptation Methods

♦ Adaptation Method #1: Assimilation
The first of the five cultural adaptation methods is Assimilation. As you know, assimilation is the process of boundary reduction that occurs when two or more cultures meet. The assimilation process occurs by blending various cultural identities to form one new identity. Obviously, the process of assimilation is based on the establishment of a  positive relationship with the dominant culture. As you are well aware, the traditional metaphor associated with assimilation is that of the melting pot; However, this melting pot metaphor clearly has some flaws because it implies dominance of the white American culture over other minority cultures.

I have found that the new identity spread by the melting pot metaphor became an expectation for all minority groups to assume the white American identity. As a result, minorities had to reject their own cultural background and become totally absorbed by the dominant majority culture. You can clearly see the ethical conflict here. Assimilation implies a unidirectional movement in culture, as well as the superiority of one particular culture over others.

♦ Adaptation Method #2: Integration
The second cultural adaptation method is Integration. Unlike the assimilation process, integration is a boundary reduction process that seeks to not only establish a positive relationship with the dominant culture but also to maintain that positive relationship. As you know, integration allows the culturally different client to identify with the minority culture while becoming competent in the majority culture. However, integration does have some similarities to assimilation. Integration still implies the acquisition of the dominant culture, as well as unidirectional movement. In addition, integration also still implies a hierarchical relationship between the two cultures, with the dominant culture being seen as superior to other cultures.

♦ Adaptation Method #3: Alternation
After assimilation and integration, the third cultural adaptation method is Alternation. Alternation assumes that it is possible to know and understand two different cultures. I have found that it also assumes that it is possible to maintain a positive relationship with both cultures by altering one’s behavior to fit the particular cultural context.

As you can see, alternation allows for biculturalism, or the ability to develop and maintain competence in two different cultures. Obviously, alternation is different from the first two cultural adaptation methods of assimilation and integration in that it implies a bidirectional movement instead of a unidirectional movement. This bidirectional movement also implies a nonhierarchical relationship between the two cultures. By that, I mean the two different cultures are equal.

♦ Adaptation Method #4: Rejection
The fourth cultural adaptation method is Rejection. Obviously, rejection does not seek a positive relationship with the other culture. As you know, rejection of the non-dominant culture by the dominant culture leads to separation. On the other hand, I have found that rejection of the dominant culture by members of the non-dominant culture, such as a culturally different client, often results in withdrawal.

This withdrawal is caused by a high identification with the culturally different client’s minority culture and a low identification with the dominant majority culture. In this adaptation method, a culturally different client may maintain his or her cultural identity. However, unlike with other adaptation methods, the adaptation method of rejection eliminates the possibility of biculturalism.

♦ Adaptation Method #4: Marginalization
Finally, the fifth cultural adaptation method is Marginalization. As you are aware, a culturally different client may be using this adaptation method if he or she identifies with neither the dominant nor his or her non-dominant culture. I have found that a marginal client cannot surrender the influence of the dominant culture, but at the same time does not feel comfortable with their native culture. You may know this method better as "deculturation." A marginal client is generally out of cultural and psychological contact with both their traditional culture as well as the dominant culture of society. As you can see, this is a contrast to biculturalism.

Now let’s consider the case study of Sumey (sue’-me). As I describe her situation, see if you can determine which cultural adaptation method she is using. Is she using Assimilation, Integration, Alternation, Rejection, or Marginalization?

Sumey, age 21 an Asian American, is in her final year of college and studying sociology. Sumey sought therapy because she was suffering from depression. She stated, " I  feel worthless and feel like committing suicide sometimes. I just can’t concentrate a lot of the time. My schoolwork is really suffering!" I just broke-up with my white boyfriend, Greg." After her intake, Sumey was originally assigned to an Asian American therapist.

However, Sumey was switched to a white therapist when it became apparent that Sumey resented the fact that she had been assigned to a "less-qualified," as she put it, Asian American because of her race. In sessions with the new therapist, Sumey expressed resentment and hatred for anything that reminded her of her Asian heritage.

What cultural adaptation method do you think Sumey is using? Clearly, I feel Sumey is using assimilation. She is trying to adopt the American culture while completely rejecting the Asian culture. Sumey also views the Asian culture as inferior, as shown by her statement that the Asian American therapist was "less qualified."

The social work Code of Ethics states, "Social workers should understand culture and its function in human behavior and society, recognizing the strengths that exist in all cultures." Think of your culturally different client. Which cultural adaptation method is he or she using; Assimilation, Integration, Alternation, Rejection, or Marginalization? For effective ethical counseling, how should your counseling techniques be influenced by your client’s method?

In this section, we have discussed Five Cultural Adaptation Methods. These Five Cultural Adaptation Methods are Assimilation, Integration, Alternation, Rejection, and Marginalization.

In the next section, we will discuss acculturative stress as it compares to the "Culture Shock" syndrome. We will also discuss the five factors that regulate the relationship between acculturation and stress. These five factors are mode of acculturation, phase of acculturation, nature of the subculture, characteristics of the adapting group, and characteristics of the acculturating individual.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Barrera, M., Jr., Castro, F. G., Strycker, L. A., & Toobert, D. J. (2013). Cultural adaptations of behavioral health interventions: A progress report. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 81(2), 196–205. 

Chu, J., & Leino, A. (2017). Advancement in the maturing science of cultural adaptations of evidence-based interventions. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 85(1), 45–57. 

Hall, G. C. N., Kim-Mozeleski, J. E., Zane, N. W., Sato, H., Huang, E. R., Tuan, M., & Ibaraki, A. Y. (2019). Cultural adaptations of psychotherapy: Therapists’ applications of conceptual models with Asians and Asian Americans. Asian American Journal of Psychology, 10(1), 68–78.

What are the five cultural adaptation methods? To select and enter your answer go to Ethics CEU Test.

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