Agency and Communion: The Relationship Between Therapy and Culture

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Abstract

The author proposes that psychotherapy in a collectivistic culture tends to view therapeutic change as dissolving the self by merging with the environment (communion), whereas psychotherapy in an individualistic culture tends to view therapeutic change as enhancing the self by experiencing control over one's self and the environment (agency). By using D. Bakan's (1966) concepts of agency and communion, the author critically investigates the differences in how therapeutic change is viewed as well as how these differences are reflected in the therapeutic procedures of the various forms of psychotherapy between two different cultures (i.e., North America and Japan). It is suggested that psychotherapy in individualistic cultures may benefit from adding more focus to dissolving the self and merging with the environment and that psychotherapy in collectivistic cultures may benefit from adding more focus to enhancing the self by controlling the environment.

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