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Etic versus Emic Multicultural Counseling

written by: Jacqueline Chinappi • edited by: Wendy Finn • updated: 1/20/2012

Etic and Emic describe two different perspectives one can have in multicultural counseling. A counselor can choose to look at things a certain way, or they can try combining the two perspectives.

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    Perspectives in Counseling

    Multicultural counseling has been opening up the eyes of many mental health professionals in recent times. Questions arise such as: “Should counselors treat all clients the same regardless of ethnicity or race?" This question comes down to two words “Emic and Etic". These two perspectives, while related, are totally opposite from one another.

    Etic perspective is defined as an external or outsider’s view on beliefs and customs. This can be similar to an analytical or anthropological perspective. In counseling terms it is thinking that clients are “culturally universal". (Sue & Sue, 2003)

    Emic perspective can be defined as an insider’s view or the view from a native about their own customs and beliefs. This is when a member of a group has their own interpretation of their group opposed to an outsider’s interpretation (emic). In counseling terms it is thinking that clients are “culturally specific". (Sue & Sue, 2003)

    A counselor who takes on an etic perspective believes that disorders such as schizophrenia or depression and the behaviors that come along with them occur the same way in every society. They base their beliefs on Western ideas and believe that what is considered normal and abnormal in Western cultures is the same in every culture. They truly believe that mental disorders are universal and all clients should and can be treated and diagnosed in the same matter.

    A counselor who takes on an emic perspective believes that many factors come into play when diagnosing and treating a client especially in regards to their culture. Some factors can include cultural values, morals, and lifestyle. Clients should be looked at as individuals, not as a whole from a “Euro-American standpoint". (Sue & Sue, 2003) Different cultures have different ways of life and every factor should be considered when treating and diagnosing multicultural clients.

    So whose view is correct?

    Should counselors believe in cultural universality or take on techniques and beliefs of cultural relativism? Not many counselors pick an extreme and decide on one way or the other. Derald Wing Sue and David Sue (2003) have suggested two questions counselors ask themselves regarding multicultural Counseling and how to diagnose/treat clients from various cultures.

    These questions are:

    • What is universal in human behavior that is also relevant to counseling and therapy?
    • What is the relationship between cultural norms, values, and attitudes, on the one hand, and the manifestation of the behavior disorders and their treatments on the other hand?"

    After answering these questions a counselor must also take into account his or her own world views. If the counselor can become more self-aware of him or herself and his or her worldviews and values, then they can become more open to the aspect of multicultural counseling. This may lead to a clear decision between the two perspectives.