Culture Matching in Therapy: PROs and CONs in Seeing a Filipino|x Therapist
Does seeing a Filipino|x therapist bring better healing outcomes? Is culture-matching a relevant consideration when choosing the right fit person to achieve your wellness goals?
In this post, we will both tackle the benefits and the possible pitfalls of culture-matching in therapy.
I remember observing a non-Filipino therapist during a family session with a Filipino family through a one-way mirror. In the first session, the therapist asked the adult children what would they like to see happen in therapy. The adult children (1.5 generation ) stated that they wanted better communication with their parents and not feel too controlled by their demands.
In the second session, the non-Filipino therapist opened the floor to airing out the ill-feelings of both towards each other. It started fine. The therapist who was well-intentioned and skilled, mentioned a free times the word-fairness, speaking up, and the need for space, as it relates to the needs of the children. Suddenly, voices got louder and then silence illuminated the room. Finally, the immigrant parents stormed out of the therapy room never to return.
We will dissect this scenario as we continue to explore this topic. I will tame my bias to the best of my abilities 🙂
CULTURE-MATCHING: SEEING A FILIPINA|X THERAPIST
A few studies reveal that culture matching, with ethnicity as the variable brings better health outcomes. In one particular study, it was found that African American males were significantly more compliant with their primary care doctor’s recommendations when matched with an African American doctor.
If you seek therapy|coaching with a non-Filipino therapist, it can be an ordeal to constantly culture inform your therapist about nuances in the culture, like the differences we communicate and express affection. Read 3 Differences: American versus Filipino Ways of Expression.
Many times, you might not have the language to explain these complexities and in fact is as confused by them. If you were in a dark room and following someone without a flashlight, you can both easily tripped over “stuff,” you’re not even aware that’s there.
Here’s a list why seeing a Filipino|x therapist may be worth your while:
- You save energy invested on revealing oddities in the way we interact with each other, like how Pinoys say yes when they mean no or how asking personal questions is a strategy to establish rapport.
- If you’ve had a bad experience with an older sister, for instance or the culture as a whole, simply seeing a Filipino|x therapist who can provide you an alternate, & positive relationship can help your brain tag the experience in a completely different way. When we have patterns of bad experiences, our perception of anything that relates to this experience can become rigid as a form of self-protection. Giving the body and the mind a different experience can make the rigid more flexible.
- Seeing someone who looks like you can be make the process of pagpapalagayang-loob a smoother process. Pagpapalagayang-loob is the sensing of each other’s inside where one can feel ease and be relax in the presence of the other. Loob is inside in Filipino and describes the entirety of a Filipino personhood, it also has a mystical tone embracing the elements of mind, body and spirit.
- A Filipino|x therapist who is culturally-responsive in her therapeutic style understands that healing takes many forms. There is a term called, evidenced-practice, which frankly usually use the White, middle class as its subject of investigation. As these practices have their place, especially in the mainstream culture or even with some Filipinos, their positive outcome is yet to be established with people of color as its subject. Filipino|x therapists (most) value community-derived practice of healing. This means going beyond talk therapy.
If you’re interested in therapy dedicated to Filipino Women. Check out the post on Story Therapy.
- The Filipino language is hidden with pahiwatig, dropping of hints and indirect ways to communicate to save face and at the same time aim to preserve the dignity of the recipient (especially for sensitive and embarrassing topics). Without much knowledge of this in dealing with Filipino immigrants, 1st generation to 1.5 generation many messages in emotional interaction will go amiss. In my experience, even with serving 2nd generation Filipinos (and beyond) who use more direct communication style are almost always connected with someone who uses pahiwatig. A therapist, Filipino or not who has little knowledge about this can propel the narrative that Filipino parents are not affectionate and/or have little capacity to express their emotions.
Going back to the beginning scenario where the immigrant parents stormed out of the room, the non-Filipino therapist who wanted to balance the plain for the adult children may have done so too quickly. With a novice eye, a smile, a nod may be perceived as an outward expression of agreement from the parents but without pagpapalagayang-loob, the therapist continues to be an outsider (ibang tao) given seemingly compliance from the outside but not allowed (completely) in.
A culturally-responsive Filipino|x therapist will be able to read these subtle cues.
It will be not be true that just because someone is a Filipino therapist that they’re automatically culturally-responsive and savvy in reading subtle Filipino traits.
POSSIBLE PITFALLS OF SEEING A FILIPINO|X THERAPIST
In the past, I have trained clinicians and non-clinical staff on Filipino Core Values in the belief that non-Filipino therapist can be equipped enough to provide culturally-responsive care to Filipinos.
A culturally-responsive non-Filipino therapist may still be a better fit THAN a Filipino therapist when these things may surface:
- Over-personalizing : Any therapist who may come too close to the story of their clients as if partly theirs, consciously or unconsciously, may not fully see the picture in its entirety. Empathy is essential in any therapeutic relationship. This is different with over-personalizing, the latter comes across as: finishing your sentence, I-know-that-feeling, I- already-know-your story vibe and such.
- Expertise in culturally relevant therapy does not mean, the therapist is the expert in your family’s culture. Quick assumption about the family based on cultural dimension is insufficient, although the latter is hugely pivotal. Sometimes non-Filipino therapist may be better at asking questions around areas they have little knowledge of.
- Sometimes the experience with culture may be too painful for someone, for instance in the experience of being discriminated upon by other Filipinos. As seeing a same culture therapist may be a form of healing; it may also be too glaring in the beginning. The Filipino|x therapist may be an object representing this painful experience in the past. If it could be worked out-great but if not, a culturally-responsive non-Filipino therapist may be a better alternative.
In any therapeutic relationship, empathy and feeling seen and felt by your therapist are the most important factor(s) to better wellness outcome. This is true in the case of whether you decide to see a Filipino or non-Filipino therapist.
Perhaps a bias of mine having had many years working in Filipino households and clients; tracking culture of what’s said and not said may be too complex for non-Filipino therapist and Filipinos alike when dealing with family therapy|counseling. Therefore, it’s my recommendation that the latter (hopefully) can be handled by a culturally-responsive therapist.
Don’t be afraid to scout around for the best-fit therapist for you while keeping in mind that therapists are humans. They, too, are trying to get to know you.
If you’ve tried seeing a Filipino|x therapist to no avail, research to find a culturally-responsive one. You get a sense of this by the way they gather information, allowing you more to tell stories rather than feeling like you’re filling-out an intake form while talking to them. By the way, you might have to fill-out one in the beginning, don’t sweat this.
If you prefer someone outside the culture, follow your intuition.
Related blog posts:
Filipinos in mental health is a growing profession but continues to be scarce in number compared to the proportion of Filipinos in America. It will be impossible to fill a 1:1, Filipino patient to Filipino practitioner ratio.
I trust non-Filipino colleagues to be able to serve our communities given the training in culturally-responsive care. This is also true for Filipino healers. Simply aligning with culture does not mean that Filipino healers need not learn about the culture.
I am still learning it.
Roanne has been a Psychotherapist for more than 12 years. She has frequented at least 400 Filipino homes and counting. She is the author of the Ebook: 5 Pinoy Love Languages and the creator of the presentation entitled: Filipino Core Values & Considerations in Culturally Responsive Care.