Tag Archives: culture and psychology

When helping harms

Just before vacation I caught a PBS television show on how economic development (funded by international aid) often ends up hurting while trying to help. Here’s a link to the documentary website. The show covers two areas of Kenya and the pros/cons of trying to raise the living standards of those who live there.

This is not a new problem and reminds me again that there is a book I need to read (When helping hurts).

As a counselor who has traveled to Africa to try to help, I am very interested in finding appropriate methods to provide emotional support and care to traumatized peoples. What are some of the ways we counselors might unintentionally hurt those we want to help?

1. Pressuring clients to do something we think is important (e.g., stand up for yourself, say no to a violent spouse, speak the truth about your abuse, etc.) without considering the consequences. I once read about some African women who sought counseling for rape. Problem was that by going to the rape counseling center, they communicated to their village that they had been raped–and were later killed for being defiled.

2. Assuming that counseling can only be done by licensed professionals. We could train counselors in another country but if these folks couldn’t get paid to counsel because their clients are all subsistence farmers, we have only created additional frustrated individuals.

3. Similar to the last point, if the trainers are all westerners, then they will likely fail to understand culture specific resources/challenges and may reinforce the assumption that only westerners are competent to provide the care.

What are some other ways you have seen western counselors unintentionally harm the helpee?


Filed under counseling, counseling skills, Cultural Anthropology, Psychology, suffering

The science of happiness and why we are not

My latest Monitor on Psychologyfrom the APA (December, 07) has a couple of short articles on happiness. One mentions that 1998 study that found Midwesterners predicting Californians would be happier because of their climate. Apparently not true. The author suggests that we’re not that good at predicting what makes us happy and are likely to focus on one positive or negative and neglect other factors that might be important. This sound quite true to me. We tend to point to particular anecdotes from our day/life and use those to confirm our set opinion about whether we are happy or not.

One other little tidbit on p. 38. “White Americans expect to be happy, so day-t0-day positive events have less effect on their overall mood than such events have on Asians and Asian Americans… Negative events, however, are a different story.”

It appears that it takes two positive events to offset a negative experience for White Americans. For Asian Americans, it takes only one.

Interesting. The researching author is quoted as saying, “the happier you get, the more powerful negative events become.” I suspect the truth is more like this. The happier you think you should and can be, the more powerful negative events become. I’m not sure we are more happy. But, I am sure we think we should be.   

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Filed under counseling science, Cultural Anthropology, Psychology