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Decolonizing Psychology, Research, and Practice: An Asian American Perspective

I have devoted my energy and focus to culture and psychotherapy for more than half my life, particularly working with Asians and Asian Americans. I always fear what I share on the subject will be either pigeonholed or interpreted the wrong way. Asian Americans are not monolithic but composed of many nationalities with roots from East Asia, South Asia, and the Pacific Islands. The term “Asian American” was first crystalized in the late 1960s by student activists in California, inspired by the civil rights movement, hoping to activate a coalition of immigrant groups to organize against structural inequality. However, building solidarity among Asian Americans has been formidable due to historical friction and structural foibles meant to internally divide. From different migration journeys to varying rates of acculturation split generationally across family members, the Asian American experience is neither linear nor homogenous. Even as an experienced therapist who has supported many Asian American clients throughout the years, I cannot claim comprehensive expertise of any one group due to layered complexity. The most I can share is my personal experience reflecting on my learnings as a psychologist.

Asian American Immigrant Community

Asian Americans are often identified as the “model minority,” but this myth was constructed after the US government lifted its 1965 immigration ban, which only granted visas to the most educated and highly trained migrants. What is seldom acknowledged is that Asian Americans represent the highest income disparity of any racial group in the US.1 As an undergraduate student at UCLA, I used to take an hour-long bus ride on Wilshire Boulevard to volunteer and tutor immigrant children living in Koreatown. As I passed through the affluent Westside to the streets of the Eastside, it was not difficult to see segregation and how classism has been the invisible structure upholding the racial divide in this country. Contrary to the popular myth, I saw how many Asian American children lived in poverty and came from broken homes.

Shortly after my husband and I were married and finished our programs at Fuller (my husband in the MDiv program and myself in Marriage and Family Therapy), our first ministry was working with young people living in Koreatown. In our ministry, we encountered many unexpected situations, but two stand out even to this day. Two students with different last names had the same residential address; on one of our home visitations, we learned they were step-siblings but kept it a secret in the youth group because they were ashamed of their parents’ marital status. We also discovered that another teen lived with only his younger brother in a rundown apartment after his parents divorced and went their separate ways, leaving these minors behind. There is no doubt that these children bore the greatest brunt and vulnerabilities of their parents’ separation. At the same time, I knew the underlying issue was much more pervasive and systemic. It was not as simple as merely casting blame on the parents and seeing their separation as a single event that occurred within a vacuum. Rather than shaming the parents for the divorce or abandonment, it was important to uncover root causes and understand that the parents themselves were casualties of trauma, structural oppression, and poverty.

Stories like these and other untold stories of the shame and brokenness felt by immigrant families—which I never heard inside the church walls, academia, or popular media—propelled me into graduate studies to become a therapist.

Culture and Western Psychology

During the 1990s, I worked at community mental health clinics with diverse clients, but Asian Americans hardly utilized those services due to stigma. After obtaining my license, I actively reached out to Asian American churches by providing psychoeducational groups and seminars while slowly building my private practice. With Asian American clients, I noticed two general trends: (1) immigrant parents only sought help when adolescents were in trouble with school or the legal system for short-term crisis management, and (2) only acculturated individuals were open to long-term growth-oriented work. With the first group, I was thankful for my training to work with children, adolescents, and families. With the latter, the more I did good long-term work with clients, the more troubled I became about whether I was helping them to be truly “healthy” and “mature” individuals or to be better adjusted to dominant Western cultural values and expectations. After wrestling with this question for a while, I eventually decided to let go of my private practice and start all over again with doctoral training in counseling in search of an answer—how culture could be addressed more responsibly and ethically outside of Eurocentric norms.

In my doctoral studies, through critical examination of the history of modern psychology, I discovered the complexity of culture was never adequately addressed, yet the myth of the universality of psychology was fiercely garnered. It has been nearly 70 years since Kroeber and Kluckhohn’s seminal book identified more than 200 different definitions of culture, in which culture has been described as “the most central problem of all social sciences.”2 However, psychology as a discipline still has not reached any agreement on a coherent definition or concept of culture, even with all the recent emphasis on multiculturalism and diversity in American psychology. “Culture,” in psychology, is still a generalization without deep understanding.

Because modern psychology emerged in the past hundred years in primarily Western industrialized countries, the field largely reflects the values of North America and Europe. Thus, psychology is indigenous to a Western context. However, because the values of Western psychology are used to describe, theorize, evaluate, and research individuals whose way of life may be different, ethnocentrism or cultural bias is a critical problem in psychology where white-normative beliefs are frequently assumed to be universal truths.

As with many of my clients, I found in my personal life that integrating East and West was like mixing oil and water. Traditional Asian cultural values and spirituality encouraged what Sampson (1988) calls “ensemble individualism” (i.e., putting the family, community, and others above self), while all my Western education and training in psychology pointed to self-contained individualism (i.e., putting needs of self before others) as a model of health. Perhaps in my twenties I could flip back and forth, code-switching and adapting my behavior depending on the context of the group. But as I approached midlife, I was questioning more than adjustment, searching for meaning and coherence. I was seeking to integrate not only psychology and theology but also culture at a deeper level, and I wondered which side Jesus would be on—East or West? Would he be on the side of the family and tell me I should sacrifice myself for my children and give up my doctoral studies as a mother? Or would he tell me I had the right to pursue my individual desires and a fulfilling career?

Racial Trauma, Emotion, and Psychotherapy

Looking at current events, not much has changed structurally for the fabric of contemporary Asian American racial dynamics in the US. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, violence against Asian Americans has become increasingly more visible in mainstream media.3 According to Asian American studies scholar Lok Siu, the structural and historical roots of anti-
Asian racism in America go back to the late 1800s, and racial violence has erupted episodically during times of economic, social, and political crisis in this country and abroad (e.g., violence against Chinese railroad workers, Japanese American internment during WWII, Cold War McCarthyism in the 1950s, and the civil unrest in Los Angeles in 1992).4

Like many immigrants, my parents believed racial or structural barriers could be overcome by working hard to achieve the “American dream.” Just as they worked more than 18 hours a day in small businesses
because they were unable to make it in the American mainstream to put all their children through college, I similarly bought into this narrative, feeling compelled to be equally diligent in my studies to prove my individual worth and fight against racism and marginalization. However, as Cathy Park Hong in Minor Feelings: Asian American Reckoning states, we become compulsive in our strivings to “do better, be better,” struggling to prove ourselves into existence until we vanish.5 The author de
scribes minor feelings as the racial trauma of living in ongoing structural inequality.

Over the years, what I have observed in my students, clients, congregants, and even in my own daughters is a multigenerational effect of historical and racial trauma. Many Korean immigrants and even their second-generation adult children show the impact of Korea’s national emotional experience called han6 (a mixture of inward frustration, shame, and lament), revealing the depths of human suffering—grandparents and parents living under colonialism and neo-imperialism in Korea, to continually existing under the structural and racial oppression of being “perpetual foreigners” in the US. As a mother, it is painful to see my daughters struggle with structural racism, classism, and sexism as they try to find their voice as Asian American young women in predominantly White elite institutions from university to the workplace. My eldest daughter, after the recent expression of racist misogyny with the Atlanta Spa shootings, struggled to find solace and the space to reconcile the layers of oppression embedded in not only the violent crime itself but also the ways in which the media was facilitating misdirected conversations that proved to be more frustrating and isolating. Again, the Asian immigrant experience is not homogeneous. There are structural and cultural inequalities perpetuated by both the country of origin and the country of migration that feed into each other to leave certain social groups more vulnerable and voiceless than others.

In one of my studies, narrative analysis of second-generation Korean American young women’s life stories demonstrate how everyday “activities” are psychically internalized into roles that are configured to give life purpose and meaning.7 Although my participants externally appeared acculturated or “Americanized” on a behavioral level, their idea of “success” was shaped by traditional cultural notions of collective family security (e.g., financially able to provide for their aging parents and younger siblings) on the level of core values. Interestingly, this definition of success was influenced by their earliest memories of stories they had heard growing up about their parents’ initial struggles to survive in the US as immigrants. Thus, their parents’ experiences of marginal status and poverty set the tone for their motivation to “succeed” in the next generation. The interviewees did not realize they had internalized their parents’ insecurities despite organizing their life purpose and goals to find “security” for their family. Though we-consciousness or collective family-oriented security is a common cultural practice amongst Korean families, these participants did not have explicit knowledge of what they had embodied throughout their whole lives. This illustrates how cultural phenomena are multiplexed and deeply rooted in everyday practices, needs, and emotions. People often cannot articulate at a verbal or cognitive level why they do what they do. As Bourdieu (1980/1990) points out, all psychological characteristics are personally embodied and organized to structure people’s actions known as habitus; because they are located so deeply in the body, people only have limited access to conscious awareness and reflection. This very structure, however, is where the individual and social, cultural, and religious institutions intersect. Consequently, researchers are only able to tell half of the story without analyzing activity and meaning.

Most clients who have the courage to overcome stigma are folks who have experienced tremendous pain in their lives and, even more, have the resounding strength to seek help. Even though I frequently work with individuals, with my Asian clients it often strangely feels like conducting family sessions. Individual issues are so entangled with their family that both independent and interdependent self-construal as well as the dynamic interaction between both must be attended to throughout the session, moment by moment. With graduate students I clinically supervise and mentor, we have been able to chart how effective emotional processing involves addressing all three levels of interactions with equal frequency in a single session.

However, the therapist’s ability to attend to all three levels of an ethnic minority client’s emotional processing does not happen automatically, even if the trainee speaks the client’s primary language. I have supervised a variety of Asian American students—doctoral and master’s level, international, first- and second-generation. Surprisingly, even international students who are more fluent in their primary language can struggle to conduct psychotherapy in this language. What these students have discovered is that, in a relatively short time, they have been indoctrinated with modern Western psychological theories and trained to conduct American-centric therapy suitable for the prototypical White client. In spite of courses on diversity and multicultural competency, these concepts remain relatively abstract, and students have difficulty translating and embodying these ideas on the practical level.

Globalization and Indigenous Psychology

Indigenous psychology developed starting in the 1970s as a reaction to modern Western psychology being transplanted to non-Western cultural contexts. Because psychology originating from North America and Europe was introduced in many countries during the colonial period, researchers often perceived the indigenizing process of psychologies as a part of postcolonial movement in efforts to develop psychologies rooted in their own local cultural traditions. As a professor, I have had the privilege of traveling to Thailand, Turkey, China, and South Korea to not only teach and train missionaries and pastors but also collaborate on research projects with local scholars. Although there was a growing consciousness of historical colonial influence, many rapidly developing countries faced with rising social crises of the contemporary world were often pushed to import Western psychology without much time to critically examine, digest, or adapt the models within their particular local culture or system. The damaging impact of Western psychology in developing countries has been well articulated by numerous authors.8

As modern psychology is indigenous to the North American and European context, theoretical and methodological innovation is critical now more than ever in the global era. A major problem in American psychology is recognizing ethnocentricity and value-laden shortcomings, and psychology of religion is no exception. In spite of globalization, religion is intimately bound with cultural tradition, especially in the non-Western world, and a different kind of research is required than what is commonly practiced. Building culturally robust and intelligible theories capable of responding more effectively and sensitively to complex problems faced by a rapidly changing world calls for openness in theoretical innovation and methodological diversity.

Cultural psychology as an interpretive discipline stresses the importance of context for meaning. Cultural psychologists view human behavior to be meaningful only when interpreted in its social-cultural context, taking into account environment, history, culture, and complexity of real-life activity. Unlike cross-cultural psychology, cultural psychology does not treat culture as an independent variable but as an interpretive concept; rather than focusing on measuring behavior (stimulus-response), it conceives of culture on a different level by studying action (situated). Similarly, qualitative inquiry is designed to understand not only diverse human experiences in cultural contexts, but also new or hard-to-define phenomena related to meaning, purpose, intentionality, and spirituality and revealing their deep structure.9

Increasingly, investigators are called to critically examine existing psychological theories and explore the cultural, religious, and psychological structures and processes in more in-depth ways. Although the individual person has been long recognized as the unit of analysis in psychology, the rise of statistical methods has led to the dominance of nomothetic research, which some scholars have argued resulted in the current disciplinary crisis.10 Greater interdisciplinary integration and methodological innovations are necessary to keep the field viable, and qualitative inquiry rooted in interpretive and transformative traditions (e.g., narrative, case study, participatory action research) have much to offer future directions in cultural and community psychology with new integrative understanding, theory building, and social change.

Training the Next Generation

Within the short span of several decades, we have seen many countries around the world undergo dramatic economic and social change. Globalization and rapid modernization often collide with traditional cultural values, and people face the pressure and challenge by adapting complex strategies and responses. Building culturally robust, intelligible theories and research capable of responding more effectively to complex problems faced by a rapidly changing world is needed more than ever and calls for training our students to effectively work with diverse communities. This requires critically examining the Western foundations of psychology and educational practices that perpetuate deficit-based ideologies and continue to disenfranchise diverse clients and communities. We need to envision a culturally competent psychological practice that is congruent with a clients cultural values and norms, and consistent with the meaning of well-being and healing from their cultural perspective. We need less reductive and more reconciliatory practices. Within the fields of psychology, the attention on trauma has increased, but trauma-informed services with a focus on individuals from marginalized groups are still greatly needed. Due to historical and systemic injustices, members of marginalized groups are often most impacted by traumatic experiences, which can have complex and long-lasting influences throughout their lives. Differential resources and ineffective services that do not address their unique experiences of trauma need further attention. To keep psychology relevant, greater interdisciplinary integration and methodological innovations are necessary. As Fuller and other institutions commit increasingly integrated attention to matters of race and marginalization, the next generation of leaders must be trained and equipped to serve diverse communities with complex needs for God’s kingdom.

Written By

Jenny H. Pak is an associate professor of psychology in the Department of Clinical Psychology who joined Fuller’s faculty in 2014. Prior to coming to Fuller, she served on the faculty of Biola University, where she received the Provost’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring Students. She studied psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, received training in marriage and family therapy from Fuller Theological Seminary, and graduated from the University of Southern California with a doctoral degree in counseling psychology. Dr. Pak has many years of professional consultation and counseling experience within the church and in community mental health. She codirected an early childhood program and also worked with diverse court-ordered, at-risk youths and families from inner-city Los Angeles. She is a licensed psychologist and the author of Korean American Women: Stories of Acculturation and Changing Selves (2012).

I have devoted my energy and focus to culture and psychotherapy for more than half my life, particularly working with Asians and Asian Americans. I always fear what I share on the subject will be either pigeonholed or interpreted the wrong way. Asian Americans are not monolithic but composed of many nationalities with roots from East Asia, South Asia, and the Pacific Islands. The term “Asian American” was first crystalized in the late 1960s by student activists in California, inspired by the civil rights movement, hoping to activate a coalition of immigrant groups to organize against structural inequality. However, building solidarity among Asian Americans has been formidable due to historical friction and structural foibles meant to internally divide. From different migration journeys to varying rates of acculturation split generationally across family members, the Asian American experience is neither linear nor homogenous. Even as an experienced therapist who has supported many Asian American clients throughout the years, I cannot claim comprehensive expertise of any one group due to layered complexity. The most I can share is my personal experience reflecting on my learnings as a psychologist.

Asian American Immigrant Community

Asian Americans are often identified as the “model minority,” but this myth was constructed after the US government lifted its 1965 immigration ban, which only granted visas to the most educated and highly trained migrants. What is seldom acknowledged is that Asian Americans represent the highest income disparity of any racial group in the US.1 As an undergraduate student at UCLA, I used to take an hour-long bus ride on Wilshire Boulevard to volunteer and tutor immigrant children living in Koreatown. As I passed through the affluent Westside to the streets of the Eastside, it was not difficult to see segregation and how classism has been the invisible structure upholding the racial divide in this country. Contrary to the popular myth, I saw how many Asian American children lived in poverty and came from broken homes.

Shortly after my husband and I were married and finished our programs at Fuller (my husband in the MDiv program and myself in Marriage and Family Therapy), our first ministry was working with young people living in Koreatown. In our ministry, we encountered many unexpected situations, but two stand out even to this day. Two students with different last names had the same residential address; on one of our home visitations, we learned they were step-siblings but kept it a secret in the youth group because they were ashamed of their parents’ marital status. We also discovered that another teen lived with only his younger brother in a rundown apartment after his parents divorced and went their separate ways, leaving these minors behind. There is no doubt that these children bore the greatest brunt and vulnerabilities of their parents’ separation. At the same time, I knew the underlying issue was much more pervasive and systemic. It was not as simple as merely casting blame on the parents and seeing their separation as a single event that occurred within a vacuum. Rather than shaming the parents for the divorce or abandonment, it was important to uncover root causes and understand that the parents themselves were casualties of trauma, structural oppression, and poverty.

Stories like these and other untold stories of the shame and brokenness felt by immigrant families—which I never heard inside the church walls, academia, or popular media—propelled me into graduate studies to become a therapist.

Culture and Western Psychology

During the 1990s, I worked at community mental health clinics with diverse clients, but Asian Americans hardly utilized those services due to stigma. After obtaining my license, I actively reached out to Asian American churches by providing psychoeducational groups and seminars while slowly building my private practice. With Asian American clients, I noticed two general trends: (1) immigrant parents only sought help when adolescents were in trouble with school or the legal system for short-term crisis management, and (2) only acculturated individuals were open to long-term growth-oriented work. With the first group, I was thankful for my training to work with children, adolescents, and families. With the latter, the more I did good long-term work with clients, the more troubled I became about whether I was helping them to be truly “healthy” and “mature” individuals or to be better adjusted to dominant Western cultural values and expectations. After wrestling with this question for a while, I eventually decided to let go of my private practice and start all over again with doctoral training in counseling in search of an answer—how culture could be addressed more responsibly and ethically outside of Eurocentric norms.

In my doctoral studies, through critical examination of the history of modern psychology, I discovered the complexity of culture was never adequately addressed, yet the myth of the universality of psychology was fiercely garnered. It has been nearly 70 years since Kroeber and Kluckhohn’s seminal book identified more than 200 different definitions of culture, in which culture has been described as “the most central problem of all social sciences.”2 However, psychology as a discipline still has not reached any agreement on a coherent definition or concept of culture, even with all the recent emphasis on multiculturalism and diversity in American psychology. “Culture,” in psychology, is still a generalization without deep understanding.

Because modern psychology emerged in the past hundred years in primarily Western industrialized countries, the field largely reflects the values of North America and Europe. Thus, psychology is indigenous to a Western context. However, because the values of Western psychology are used to describe, theorize, evaluate, and research individuals whose way of life may be different, ethnocentrism or cultural bias is a critical problem in psychology where white-normative beliefs are frequently assumed to be universal truths.

As with many of my clients, I found in my personal life that integrating East and West was like mixing oil and water. Traditional Asian cultural values and spirituality encouraged what Sampson (1988) calls “ensemble individualism” (i.e., putting the family, community, and others above self), while all my Western education and training in psychology pointed to self-contained individualism (i.e., putting needs of self before others) as a model of health. Perhaps in my twenties I could flip back and forth, code-switching and adapting my behavior depending on the context of the group. But as I approached midlife, I was questioning more than adjustment, searching for meaning and coherence. I was seeking to integrate not only psychology and theology but also culture at a deeper level, and I wondered which side Jesus would be on—East or West? Would he be on the side of the family and tell me I should sacrifice myself for my children and give up my doctoral studies as a mother? Or would he tell me I had the right to pursue my individual desires and a fulfilling career?

Racial Trauma, Emotion, and Psychotherapy

Looking at current events, not much has changed structurally for the fabric of contemporary Asian American racial dynamics in the US. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, violence against Asian Americans has become increasingly more visible in mainstream media.3 According to Asian American studies scholar Lok Siu, the structural and historical roots of anti-
Asian racism in America go back to the late 1800s, and racial violence has erupted episodically during times of economic, social, and political crisis in this country and abroad (e.g., violence against Chinese railroad workers, Japanese American internment during WWII, Cold War McCarthyism in the 1950s, and the civil unrest in Los Angeles in 1992).4

Like many immigrants, my parents believed racial or structural barriers could be overcome by working hard to achieve the “American dream.” Just as they worked more than 18 hours a day in small businesses
because they were unable to make it in the American mainstream to put all their children through college, I similarly bought into this narrative, feeling compelled to be equally diligent in my studies to prove my individual worth and fight against racism and marginalization. However, as Cathy Park Hong in Minor Feelings: Asian American Reckoning states, we become compulsive in our strivings to “do better, be better,” struggling to prove ourselves into existence until we vanish.5 The author de
scribes minor feelings as the racial trauma of living in ongoing structural inequality.

Over the years, what I have observed in my students, clients, congregants, and even in my own daughters is a multigenerational effect of historical and racial trauma. Many Korean immigrants and even their second-generation adult children show the impact of Korea’s national emotional experience called han6 (a mixture of inward frustration, shame, and lament), revealing the depths of human suffering—grandparents and parents living under colonialism and neo-imperialism in Korea, to continually existing under the structural and racial oppression of being “perpetual foreigners” in the US. As a mother, it is painful to see my daughters struggle with structural racism, classism, and sexism as they try to find their voice as Asian American young women in predominantly White elite institutions from university to the workplace. My eldest daughter, after the recent expression of racist misogyny with the Atlanta Spa shootings, struggled to find solace and the space to reconcile the layers of oppression embedded in not only the violent crime itself but also the ways in which the media was facilitating misdirected conversations that proved to be more frustrating and isolating. Again, the Asian immigrant experience is not homogeneous. There are structural and cultural inequalities perpetuated by both the country of origin and the country of migration that feed into each other to leave certain social groups more vulnerable and voiceless than others.

In one of my studies, narrative analysis of second-generation Korean American young women’s life stories demonstrate how everyday “activities” are psychically internalized into roles that are configured to give life purpose and meaning.7 Although my participants externally appeared acculturated or “Americanized” on a behavioral level, their idea of “success” was shaped by traditional cultural notions of collective family security (e.g., financially able to provide for their aging parents and younger siblings) on the level of core values. Interestingly, this definition of success was influenced by their earliest memories of stories they had heard growing up about their parents’ initial struggles to survive in the US as immigrants. Thus, their parents’ experiences of marginal status and poverty set the tone for their motivation to “succeed” in the next generation. The interviewees did not realize they had internalized their parents’ insecurities despite organizing their life purpose and goals to find “security” for their family. Though we-consciousness or collective family-oriented security is a common cultural practice amongst Korean families, these participants did not have explicit knowledge of what they had embodied throughout their whole lives. This illustrates how cultural phenomena are multiplexed and deeply rooted in everyday practices, needs, and emotions. People often cannot articulate at a verbal or cognitive level why they do what they do. As Bourdieu (1980/1990) points out, all psychological characteristics are personally embodied and organized to structure people’s actions known as habitus; because they are located so deeply in the body, people only have limited access to conscious awareness and reflection. This very structure, however, is where the individual and social, cultural, and religious institutions intersect. Consequently, researchers are only able to tell half of the story without analyzing activity and meaning.

Most clients who have the courage to overcome stigma are folks who have experienced tremendous pain in their lives and, even more, have the resounding strength to seek help. Even though I frequently work with individuals, with my Asian clients it often strangely feels like conducting family sessions. Individual issues are so entangled with their family that both independent and interdependent self-construal as well as the dynamic interaction between both must be attended to throughout the session, moment by moment. With graduate students I clinically supervise and mentor, we have been able to chart how effective emotional processing involves addressing all three levels of interactions with equal frequency in a single session.

However, the therapist’s ability to attend to all three levels of an ethnic minority client’s emotional processing does not happen automatically, even if the trainee speaks the client’s primary language. I have supervised a variety of Asian American students—doctoral and master’s level, international, first- and second-generation. Surprisingly, even international students who are more fluent in their primary language can struggle to conduct psychotherapy in this language. What these students have discovered is that, in a relatively short time, they have been indoctrinated with modern Western psychological theories and trained to conduct American-centric therapy suitable for the prototypical White client. In spite of courses on diversity and multicultural competency, these concepts remain relatively abstract, and students have difficulty translating and embodying these ideas on the practical level.

Globalization and Indigenous Psychology

Indigenous psychology developed starting in the 1970s as a reaction to modern Western psychology being transplanted to non-Western cultural contexts. Because psychology originating from North America and Europe was introduced in many countries during the colonial period, researchers often perceived the indigenizing process of psychologies as a part of postcolonial movement in efforts to develop psychologies rooted in their own local cultural traditions. As a professor, I have had the privilege of traveling to Thailand, Turkey, China, and South Korea to not only teach and train missionaries and pastors but also collaborate on research projects with local scholars. Although there was a growing consciousness of historical colonial influence, many rapidly developing countries faced with rising social crises of the contemporary world were often pushed to import Western psychology without much time to critically examine, digest, or adapt the models within their particular local culture or system. The damaging impact of Western psychology in developing countries has been well articulated by numerous authors.8

As modern psychology is indigenous to the North American and European context, theoretical and methodological innovation is critical now more than ever in the global era. A major problem in American psychology is recognizing ethnocentricity and value-laden shortcomings, and psychology of religion is no exception. In spite of globalization, religion is intimately bound with cultural tradition, especially in the non-Western world, and a different kind of research is required than what is commonly practiced. Building culturally robust and intelligible theories capable of responding more effectively and sensitively to complex problems faced by a rapidly changing world calls for openness in theoretical innovation and methodological diversity.

Cultural psychology as an interpretive discipline stresses the importance of context for meaning. Cultural psychologists view human behavior to be meaningful only when interpreted in its social-cultural context, taking into account environment, history, culture, and complexity of real-life activity. Unlike cross-cultural psychology, cultural psychology does not treat culture as an independent variable but as an interpretive concept; rather than focusing on measuring behavior (stimulus-response), it conceives of culture on a different level by studying action (situated). Similarly, qualitative inquiry is designed to understand not only diverse human experiences in cultural contexts, but also new or hard-to-define phenomena related to meaning, purpose, intentionality, and spirituality and revealing their deep structure.9

Increasingly, investigators are called to critically examine existing psychological theories and explore the cultural, religious, and psychological structures and processes in more in-depth ways. Although the individual person has been long recognized as the unit of analysis in psychology, the rise of statistical methods has led to the dominance of nomothetic research, which some scholars have argued resulted in the current disciplinary crisis.10 Greater interdisciplinary integration and methodological innovations are necessary to keep the field viable, and qualitative inquiry rooted in interpretive and transformative traditions (e.g., narrative, case study, participatory action research) have much to offer future directions in cultural and community psychology with new integrative understanding, theory building, and social change.

Training the Next Generation

Within the short span of several decades, we have seen many countries around the world undergo dramatic economic and social change. Globalization and rapid modernization often collide with traditional cultural values, and people face the pressure and challenge by adapting complex strategies and responses. Building culturally robust, intelligible theories and research capable of responding more effectively to complex problems faced by a rapidly changing world is needed more than ever and calls for training our students to effectively work with diverse communities. This requires critically examining the Western foundations of psychology and educational practices that perpetuate deficit-based ideologies and continue to disenfranchise diverse clients and communities. We need to envision a culturally competent psychological practice that is congruent with a clients cultural values and norms, and consistent with the meaning of well-being and healing from their cultural perspective. We need less reductive and more reconciliatory practices. Within the fields of psychology, the attention on trauma has increased, but trauma-informed services with a focus on individuals from marginalized groups are still greatly needed. Due to historical and systemic injustices, members of marginalized groups are often most impacted by traumatic experiences, which can have complex and long-lasting influences throughout their lives. Differential resources and ineffective services that do not address their unique experiences of trauma need further attention. To keep psychology relevant, greater interdisciplinary integration and methodological innovations are necessary. As Fuller and other institutions commit increasingly integrated attention to matters of race and marginalization, the next generation of leaders must be trained and equipped to serve diverse communities with complex needs for God’s kingdom.

Pak-Jenny_BW

Jenny H. Pak is an associate professor of psychology in the Department of Clinical Psychology who joined Fuller’s faculty in 2014. Prior to coming to Fuller, she served on the faculty of Biola University, where she received the Provost’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring Students. She studied psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, received training in marriage and family therapy from Fuller Theological Seminary, and graduated from the University of Southern California with a doctoral degree in counseling psychology. Dr. Pak has many years of professional consultation and counseling experience within the church and in community mental health. She codirected an early childhood program and also worked with diverse court-ordered, at-risk youths and families from inner-city Los Angeles. She is a licensed psychologist and the author of Korean American Women: Stories of Acculturation and Changing Selves (2012).

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