There is less emphasis on the diagnostic assessment and advice given by the clinician in person-centered therapy. Furthermore, there is no formal gathering of client’s history or background information. Rather, the clinician takes a nondirective approach and allows the client to participate actively without giving any advice. As mentioned earlier, Asian client expects the therapist to take an active role in evaluating the problem, giving advice for symptom relief and guidance for problem solving. Thus, a nondirective focus may leave the client with lack of direction and may result in withdrawal from therapy (Hong & Ham, 2001).
Asian clients prefer a logical, rational and directive counseling style to a reflective, affective and nondirective one, especially if the counselor is an Asian. Studies also suggest that Asian American clients view culturally sensitive counselors as more credible and competent than less sensitive counselors. They also prefer counselors who act as consultants when addressing problems with an external etiology such as racism, and the role of the facilitator when addressing problems with an internal etiology such as depression.
Most Asian clients prefer directive forms of helping than nondirective approaches; active rather than passive counseling approaches; structured approach than an unstructured approach. A positive relationship exists between client adherence to Asian ideals and client compliance with treatment goals of counseling when counselors assist clients with immediate symptom relief and a negative relationship when counselors focus on the internal dynamics of the problem.
In order to engage these clients, clinicians can help them feel psychologically safe by providing structure and therapeutic advice especially in the initial stage of therapy. Clinicians can explain the rationale and the process of therapy, which may ease the client into the nondirective procedure. Unlike psychoanalytic therapy the clinician in person-centered therapy can pick up pace at least in the first sessions to encourage Asian clients to continue in therapy (Hong & Ham, 2001).
Empathy is essential to the process of person-centered therapy. The process of empathy involves the understanding and recognizing verbal and nonverbal behaviors, making sense of client’s behaviors, experiencing affective responses to client’s messages without making judgments, ability to separate one’s feelings from that shared with clients and making the client feel understood by communicating the feelings back to the client. Empathy is a complicated construct with five dimensions interconnected as trait, skills and lastly the process.
Empathy can serve as a bridge between the clinician and the client’s worlds (Hong & Ham, 2001). Affective empathy occurs when the clinician responds spontaneously to intense emotions displayed by the client; this emotional response is known as affective empathy. Affective empathy enables clinicians to become aware of the inner state of emotional meaning with their Asian clients, even though they are unfamiliar with their clients’ experiences.
For example, even though the clinician was not a part of the Vietnam War he can still sense the intense emotion when the Vietnamese client describes his/her war experience (Hong & Ham, 2001). Cognitive empathy refers to a clinician’s cognitive awareness of social and cultural environment as well as a thorough understanding of the Asian clients’ cultural heritage, beliefs and worldviews.
The cultural and social schemas are very different for the clinician trained in the United States when compared to Asian clients. Even the manner in which the Asian clients cognitively processes and communicates information is different. Asian clients cognitively organize their social experiences and express emotions much differently than the mainstream Western culture. For example an Asian client who has endured a misfortune, will feel sad and depressed and accepts this misfortune by attributing to fate.