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Cultural Differences in Perceived Locus of Control
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In the last section, we discussed Atkinson’s Minority Identity Development Model and its five stages. The five stages of the Minority Identity Development Model were the Conformity Stage, the Dissonance Stage, the Resistance and Immersion Stage, the Introspection Stage, and the Synergetic Articulation and Awareness Stage.
In this section, we will discuss the culturally different client’s Locus of Control. Obviously a client may have one of two Loci of Control. Your client may have either an Internal Locus of Control or an External Locus of Control. Later in this section we will discuss the Locus of Responsibility. Again, there may be either an Internal Locus of Responsibility or an External Locus of Responsibility.
♦ Locus of Control
Clearly, culturally different clients with an Internal Locus of Control believe that reinforcements are contingent on their own actions. Those who have an Internal Locus of Control believe that people can shape their own fates.
On the other hand, culturally different clients with an External Locus of Control believe that reinforcing events occur independently of their actions. As you are aware, those with an External Locus of Control believe that the future is determined by chance and luck.
Ethically you as a therapist should consider your culturally different client’s Locus of Control in counseling him or her. A high Internal Locus of Control is correlated with greater attempts at mastering the environment, superior coping strategies, better cognitive processing of information, lower predisposition to anxiety, higher achievement motivation, greater social action involvement, and placing greater value on skill determined rewards. As you are probably aware these are all attributes that are highly valued by the traditional white American society and constitute core features of mental health.
However, culturally different clients often have a high External Locus of Control. Thus, a counselor who doesn’t take this External Locus of Control into account in counseling a client of a different culture may inaccurately interpret the client as being inherently apathetic, lazy, or depressed.
As you can see, an inappropriate application of the Internal or External Locus of Control fails to take into consideration the different cultural experiences of the client. Clients of another culture may have learned that control operates differently in their lives as opposed to how it operates for society at large. In addition culturally different clients may associate external forces differently than traditional clients.
From the typical white American perspective, as you are well aware, the External Locus of Control is simply based on chance and luck. I have found that these two forces of chance and luck tend to be impersonal and have little value. However, in both Chinese and Native American culture for example, the External Locus of Control is often greatly valued. Among Chinese, the External Locus of Control places the importance on the family, traditions, and social roles, which are highly valued in their culture.
In Native Americans, the External Locus of Control is reflected in the concepts of noninterference and harmony with nature. As you know these concepts, which encourage accepting the world rather than changing it, are highly valued in the Native American lifestyle.
Thus, in both Chinese and Native American culture, the External Locus of Control is not only accepted, it is valued as well. As you can see, if you as a therapist do not adopt an attitude reflecting an appropriate Locus of Control with your culturally different client, you are likely to encounter an ethical dilemma regarding appropriate counseling methods.
♦ Case Study Analysis: Chieu's External Locus of Control
Chieu (pronounced Chew), age 20 Chinese American junior at a prestigious university studying biology, first attended a counseling session because she needed academic direction. Chieu stated, "I need help making a vocational choice. I don’t know what I want to do with my life." In the first few sessions I tried to help Chieu explore her options and how she felt about each of them. However, Chieu did not contribute much in the sessions. Chieu rarely looked me in the eye and avoided expressing her feelings. It seemed she often was simply waiting for me to do all the talking.
Do you see Chieu’s External Locus of Control in this situation? How would you have handled the situation?
If Chieu had been a traditional white client, I would have suspected that she had many repressed feelings. I then would have had her take a personality test to better guide the counseling process. However, because Chieu was Chinese, I knew that this behavior was typical and reflected her cultural values of the External Locus of Control. Make sense?
♦ Locus of Responsibility
While the Locus of Control reflects where the client tends to place control, the Locus of Responsibility reflects where the client believes society places responsibility. Clearly typical counseling situations tend to adopt a person-centered view, or an Internal Locus of Responsibility. It goes without saying that this is because Western society tends to hold individuals responsible for their problems. This attitude leaves the onus of responsibility for change on the culturally different client.
In such person-centered therapy situations, the counselor who endorses the Internal Locus of Responsibility often emphasizes the understanding of the client’s motivations, values, feelings, and goals; believes that success or failure is attributable to the individual’s skills or personal inadequacies; and believes that there is a strong relationship between ability, effort, and success in society.
However, instead of an Internal Locus of Responsibility, culturally different clients may require an External Locus of Responsibility, which places responsibility on society. As you are well aware, because racism still exists in society, ethically, an External Locus of Responsibility may be appropriate in some situations. For clients who may need to adopt an External Locus of Responsibility, counseling that operates on an Internal Locus of Responsibility may reinforce inappropriate blame the client is feeling.
For example, if a black male was not hired for a job because he was black and the counselor approaches therapy with an Internal Locus of Responsibility, the counselor may be reinforcing the inappropriate blame the client may be assigning to himself when the situation really calls for an External Locus of Responsibility, blaming the discriminatory hiring policies. In other words, in this situation the Internal Locus of Responsibility stresses the blame on the client, whereas an External Locus of Responsibility would appropriately stress the blame on society.
As you can see, an Internal Locus of Responsibility may be considered "normal" for the white middle class, but for culturally different clients facing racism in society an Internal Locus of Responsibility may be extreme and intropunitive.
What is your culturally different client’s Locus of Control? What is his or her Locus of Responsibility? What ethical implications might his or her Locus of Control and Locus of Responsibility have on your counseling methods?
The NBCC Code of Ethics states, "Through an awareness of the impact of stereotyping and unwarranted discrimination, that is, biases based on age, disability, ethnicity, gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation, certified counselors guard the individual rights and personal dignity of the client in the counseling relationship."
In this section, we have discussed the culturally different client’s Locus of Control, as well as the Locus of Responsibility. Your culturally different client may have either an Internal Locus of Control or an External Locus of Control. In counseling, your culturally different client may adopt either an Internal Locus of Responsibility or an External Locus of Responsibility.
In the next section, we will discuss the treatment of fear in culturally different clients who are coping with the loci of control and responsibility discussed in this section and the five stages of identity development discussed in the previous section.
- Atkinson, D.R., Morten, G., & Sue, D. W. (1979). Counseling American Minorities: A Cross-Cultural Perspective. Dubuque, Iowa: W.C. Brown.
- National Board for Certified Counselors, Inc. and Affiliates. (2016, October 7). NBCC Code of Ethics. Retrieved from https://www.nbcc.org/Assets/Ethics/NBCCCodeofEthics.pdf
- Sciarra, D. T. (1999). Intrafamilial Separations in the Immigrant Family: Implications for Cross-Cultural Counseling. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 27(1), 31-41. doi:10.1002/j.2161-1912.1999.tb00210.x.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Cheng, C., Cheung, S. F., Chio, J. H.-m., & Chan, M.-P. S. (2013). Cultural meaning of perceived control: A meta-analysis of locus of control and psychological symptoms across 18 cultural regions. Psychological Bulletin, 139(1), 152–188.
McGinnies, E., Nordholm, L. A., Ward, C. D., & Bhanthumnavin, D. L. (1974). Sex and cultural differences in perceived locus of control among students in five countries. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 42(3), 451–455.
Sodowsky, G. R., Kuo-Jackson, P. Y., Richardson, M. F., & Corey, A. T.
(1998). Correlates of self-reported multicultural competencies: Counselor multicultural social desirability, race, social inadequacy, locus of control racial ideology, and multicultural training. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 45(3), 256–264.
In counseling a culturally different client with an External Locus of Responsibility, to whom is blame assigned?
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