Western vs Asian Psychology

Last Friday I attended the graduation of six CPE students – representing four continents. Two were from Asia – one each from China and Korea.

CPE, for those who are unfamiliar with it, is Clinical Pastoral Education. Based on western psychology and counselling techniques, it prepares people to listen and be attentive to others. Most of the graduates  become involved in chaplaincy work.

It is based on helping the student to be self-aware, discover ‘whom I am’ and conscious of their strengths and weaknesses.

The bias is Western – concentrating on the individual, their gifts and fragility.

But I wondered what it does to people from Asia.

While a question like, ‘How do you really feel about what happened?’ might not faze a Westerner,  someone from China or Korea could find it uncomfortable.

For a start, they don’t want to burden others by having them listen to unhappy events. They were trained to consider the feelings of others. Also, they might not like to indicate that they are not in control of their own feelings. Further, they may not see value in digging up the past, rekindling negative feelings and searching for causes.  It is better to live in the present, be happy there and draw energy from outside.

The Western inner focus on the individual and their feelings still clashes with an Eastern concern for others and their feelings. Maybe a balance will be achieved some day but for a start it would be interesting to see a CPE program from the East run on Asian psychological insights.

There must be people from China or Korea out there who have experienced a Western CPE course. How did they find, or feel about, it?




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