What Psychologists Report Learning from Their Clients: Cross-Cultural Comparison of North American and Brazilian Psychologists -- Adriana Kipper-Smith, Ph.D., Post-Doctoral Resident at Vanderbilt Psychological and Counseling Center, Nashville, TN
There is relatively little research on what psychologists learn from their therapy clients. Based on a protocol from Hatcher et al. (2010), this qualitative, cross-cultural design study investigated what psychologists from North America (United States and Canada) and Brazil report learning from their psychotherapy clients. This subject was explored across the following domains: general wisdom, relationships, resolving moral or ethical dilemmas, coping mechanisms, courage, the relationship between personality and psychopathology, cultural differences, and developmental life stages. These domains were investigated across different cultures: North America, figuring two individualistic cultures, and Brazil, a collectivist culture.
Particularly in the United States, a growing diversity has inevitably demanded therapists to face clinical issues and cultural backgrounds that are different from the mainstream culture (Leong & Lee, 2006). Increasing psychotherapy expertise requires greater multicultural competency (Jennings, D’Rozario, Goh, Sovereign, Brogger, & Skovholt, 2008). Additionally, cross-cultural research between Latin American countries and non-Latin North America is greatly needed. As a Latin American nation, Brazil holds an increasing status as a global force, representing a strong point of departure for the evaluation of many variables that are also pertinent to the rest of the world (Pearson & Stephan, 1998; Vistesen, 2008), particularly to other collectivist cultures. The analysis of participants’ narratives indicated that nearly all the categories that emerged from Brazilian participants contained references to the social role of psychotherapy or psychoanalysis, or to the context of private practice and contemporary subjectivity. In contrast, only very few categories of this nature emerged from North American participants. The findings from this research have confirmed the importance of highlighting Brazilian and North American cultural contexts in psychology, as mediums for a better comprehension of the immense complexity present in the territory of cross-cultural psychology. While the territory of psychology in Brazil seems to be part of a more flexible culture that still understands psychology more as art than science, and psychologists seem to be culturally expected to play a major role in the enhancement of the collective subjectivity, North American participants seem to be more focused on the structural and scientific sphere of the discipline of psychology, as they more often referred to components of the therapeutic process and individual personalities, such as coping mechanisms, self-esteem, resilience, relationship and communication processes, psychopathology, personality style, and personal power. The voices of North American and Brazilian participants seemed to reiterate the paradigms of North American and Brazilian psychological contexts, as they expressed the contours of individualistic and collectivistic practices. Finally, the statements of Brazilian and North American participants are powerful evidence of the role psychotherapy has on the therapists’ lives. This dissertation has promoted the construction of a cultural “quilt” that enlightens not only how therapists of varied stages of professional development experience their learning with clients, but also how they perceive such an influence across different cultures.