The Interplay of Culture

Jenna, a first-year graduate student in psychology, was required to write up her impressions of a videotaped therapy session featuring a beginning therapist and a female Asian student referred by her instructor for excessive shyness. Eventually, Jenna noticed that regardless of what the therapist said, the student always seemed to agree. At the end of the session, the therapist was interviewed and asked for his impressions. The therapist reinforced the instructor's opinion about the student's shyness and felt change would be fast because the student offered little resistance. As Jenna's instructor pointed out, this conclusion was incorrect. In fact, the much younger female student was prevented from disagreeing with the much older male therapist because of cultural norms. Once the student was empowered to disagree, it was discovered that conventions appropriate to her reference group largely accounted for her behavior with her instructor, not long-standing personality traits. Accordingly, therapy was refocused on adjustments to the expectations of American culture, not on personality change.

situations through the intensity and rigidity of their traits. In effect, the personality-disordered person provides the most powerful constraints on the course of the interaction. Because they cannot be flexible, the environment must become even more so. When the environment cannot be arranged to suit the person, a crisis ensues. Opportunities for learning new and more adaptive strategies are thereby even further reduced, and life becomes that much less enjoyable.

The third characteristic of personality-disordered subjects is a consequence of the second. Because the subjects fail to change, the pathological themes that dominate their lives tend to repeat as vicious circles. Pathological personalities are themselves pathogenic. In effect, life becomes a bad one-act play that repeats again and again. They waste opportunities for improvement, provoke new problems, and constantly create situations that replay their failures, often with only minor variations on a few related, self-defeating themes.

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