Monday, July 9, 2012

Worldview and Therapy: Counseling Arab Americans

Worldview and Perceptions, Attitudes, Beliefs, Values, and Behaviors


According to Sue and Sue (2008), Arab Americans honor the family and believe in its importance as a primary obligation. Equally important is the "interdependence among (family) members" (Sue & Sue, 2008, p. 412). Arab Americans value conformity and this affects parenting style and the belief that children should behave appropriately. Behavior conflicting with traditional expectations is not tolerated. Women are expected to maintain the home and take care of child rearing, taking a subservient role to the men, however, at Middle Eastern universities, the number of women outnumbers men (Ofori-Attah, 2008). As the authoritative leader of the family, the father remains somewhat detached from the children and acts as the disciplinarian. The father's rule is household law.

The Community and Spiritual Identity

Arab Americans are deeply devout and their sense of religion and spirituality extends into their community in a somewhat collectivist manner. Horan (1995) claims Christian Arab Americans have deliberately chosen integration into American culture, however, Muslim Arab Americans disagree with core American values and have no intention to assimilate. Mackey (1992) claims Muslim Arabs fear jeopardizing religious beliefs and morals because of the conflict with American values. Customs and traditions are related to religion, and for Arab Americans, religion is a central force in their development as well as their evolving identity. Followers of Islam (Muslims) believe following Islamic law (sharia) is crucial to their religious development, and although its legal affect is irrelevant in America, many Muslims continue to use it as a source of personal ethics (Horan, 1995).

Implications in Counseling

Understanding the unique roles of the family is important when working with Arab Americans. These roles may pose challenges for counselors with individualist or feminist values that determine all people should have freedom of expression and personal choice without the approval of one authoritative family member. Counseling Arab Americans may present other unique challenges as well. For example, they may fear that the counselor and the process of counseling may jeopardize their traditional values from exposure to conflicting American morals and beliefs (Mackay, 1992). The counselor must establish a therapeutic environment that will not threaten the family, especially the father. Counseling Arab American women may pose problems related to their identity within the family. In this cultural milieu, a woman should be considered in relation to her husband and family as well as her religious and community obligations (Horan, 1995).

For counselors, it is important to learn about the culture's traditions and worldviews that deeply affect the lives of Arab Americans. Seeking the truth about Muslims is perhaps more important than other religions because of the fear and stereotypes provoked by American propaganda. For example, Islamic doctrine states that women have rights and freedoms separate from their husbands (Haselhurst & Howie, 2011). When counseling any group with unique cultural contexts, acknowledging personal bias is critical to work effectively and in a non-discriminatory manner (Sue & Sue, 2008). Non-Arab Americans are have little accurate information about the Arab culture. Mental health counselors should not hesitate to "collaborate with them to gain an understanding of their lifestyle and beliefs" (Sue & Sue, 2008, p. 414).


Haselhurst, G., & Howie, K. (2011). Introduction to Islamic Religion & Arabic Philosophers. Islam Muslim: Islamic Religion, History, Beliefs. Quran / Koran, Mohammed Quotes. Retrieved July 3, 2012, from islamic-quran.htm

Horan, A. E. (1995). Arab-American communities and their acculturation into the American culture and society (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Walden University.

Mackey, M. (1992). Passion and politics. The turbulent world of Arabs. New York: Penguin.

Ofori-Attah, K. (2008). Going to school in the middle east and north Africa. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press

Sue, D. W., & Sue, D. (2008). Counseling the culturally diverse: Theory and practice (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

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