Working With Arab Americans
For individuals in the U.S. & U.S. territories
In Working With Arab Americans, Dr. Naji Abi-Hashem demonstrates his approach to working with clients with Middle-Eastern and Arab backgrounds. Arab and Middle-Eastern Americans are a heterogeneous group that includes people from the three major world religions and with origins in dozens of countries.
Dr. Abi-Hashem shows a general way to work with Arab American clients that touches on certain commonalties across these cultures, such as greeting clients with respect, awareness of personal boundaries and potential internal conflicts about living in the West, and reconciling tradition with American culture.
In this session, Dr. Abi-Hashem works with a young man of Jordanian descent who, in spite of the fact that he is very much an American, is trying to maintain his cultural heritage for his father's sake.
Effective therapy with Middle Easterners must incorporate a broad view and a balanced "sociocultural approach" with the mixture of strategies, therapies, practices, theories, and techniques. Regardless of one's orientation and preferences, counseling with Arab Americans should have a "cross-cultural dimension" and strive to maintain that dimension as a reference point throughout the working relationship.
In other words, it is essential to keep this vital and fundamental aspect, called "multiculturalism," as the overarching theme from the starting point to the time of closure. Today, more than ever, the psychosocial properties and multicultural constituents are ever present and quite dominant in the make-up of ethnic minorities, immigrants, refugees, and international clients (students, workers, businessmen, travelers, etc.).
Arab Americans represent a broad and varied population, reflecting multiple generations and backgrounds, from the traditional and rural lifestyles to modern and complex urban lifestyles. They have roots in all Middle-Eastern and Arabic-speaking countries. Young generations are well established in the West and often have successful businesses, acquire high education, and accept mixed marriages. More than any other period in our recent history, the rapid unfolding of globalization and social trends, the increase of travel and relocations, the shift of populations and demographics, and the complex blend of cultures, mentalities, and traditions all necessitate a serious appraisal of our theories, therapies, and strategies, and a comprehensive modification of our techniques, practices, and interventions.
In Dr. Abi-Hashem's personal view and experience, the best therapy that meets the needs of our modern-age and socially mixed population should be interdisciplinary, intercultural, and intertheoretical—that is, cross-orientational or trans-theoretical (with an emphasis on the practical and the experiential). A broad mindset and a comprehensive worldview ought to shape our approaches to all human interactions and counseling endeavors.
Most Arabs and Middle Easterners would benefit from a therapeutic style that is warm, interactive, structured, and supportive. They look at therapists as authority figures and experts in their fields. Therefore, a combination of empathetic, educational, cognitive–behavioral, dynamic, experiential, and existential approaches would be highly favorable. Such environment would be attractive, interactive, and productive. It would meet the needs of many clients from a Middle-Eastern background and would generate better results.
This population (like most warm, sociable, and communal subcultures) would not respond well to a quiet, abstract, uninvolved, or distant therapist. Giving assignments like reading, writing, listing, walking, meditating, talking with a friend or family member or a mentor about the counseling experience (if it is appropriate and possible), exercising, doing physical activities, making certain gestures, or creating meaningful rituals, and so forth, all will resonate well with most Middle Easterners and will reinforce the results of the counseling relationship.
At times, the therapist may suggest inviting the parents, spouse, friends, or children of the individual client to join with the process, even if that must include a competent translator (which may, at first, create a certain discomfort or anxiety to all involved, especially the therapist). At other times, it would be better, easier, and more meaningful to meet with the significant members of the family in another open space, in a natural setting or environment, outside the office building (which represents a closed-door atmosphere to many). That would be more freeing and less intimidating, especially to those who are not acquainted with counseling or used to the idea of a secluded psychotherapy, and will serve as a friendly introduction and a relational bridge-building with a personal touch.
With people from Middle-Eastern, Arabic, or Muslim decent, therapists have to be more careful to avoid mistakes, generalizations, and stereotypes. These will make sessions unproductive and further will hinder the therapeutic rapport and trust, if not hurt the relationship with Arab Americans.
Typical clients are second or third generation immigrants, American-born to a Middle-Eastern or Arabic-speaking family. They are young, educated, and fluent in English, and perhaps in other languages as well. They are open to seeking help and more accepting to the idea of counseling and psychotherapy than previous generations. Usually, they are trying to reconcile their own identities and resolve their psychosocial tensions within their immediate family, with their immediate community, and with their hosting society or culture at large.
These challenges include their identity formation of "cultural self," functioning well within the systems of the hosting society, handling or avoiding intergenerational conflicts, and reconciling their back-home traditions, customs, and norms with their newly acquired values or adopted lifestyles of the new world. All of these dynamics could lead either to cognitive dissonance, emotional splitting, social alienation, familial disturbances, relational troubles, and general life dissatisfaction—or they may lead to greater inner harmony, expanded personal identity, enhanced family integration, increased psychosocial functioning, rich individual–collective experience, and healthier cultural navigation.
In summary, Dr. Abi-Hashem recommends counseling with Arab Middle Easterners to be theoretically integrative, verbally interactive, and physically creative. It needs to shuttle among the following dimensions: intrapsychic, interpersonal, interfamilial, intercommunal, and intercultural. It moves according to the needs of the moment and the pressing matters at hand. Such care giving is supposed to facilitate awareness, enhance discovery, resolve tensions, reconcile identities, promote healthy coping, increase global functioning, and create cultural congruency and cohesiveness. Eventually, therapy with Middle Eastern and Arab Americans should help in the critical processes of adaptation, assimilation, incorporation, accommodation, integration, and, ultimately, acculturation.
Basically, this is not a separate orientation or approach to therapy, but rather a new awareness that must be added to all care-giving and counseling therapies. Therapists need to be sensitive and broad in their repertoire and to realize that they are not dealing with an average Anglo American person or persons. Rather, therapists have to transcend their views and familiar approaches to become truly cross-cultural, multicultural, multidimensional, and transnational.
Naji Abi-Hashem, PhD, is an independent scholar and a clinical and cultural psychologist. He received his PhD in 1992 from Rosemead Graduate School of Psychology at Biola University in La Mirada, California; his Master of Divinity in 1985 from Golden Gate Theological Seminary; and received bachelor degrees from California Baptist College and from Arab Theological Seminary, Beirut, Lebanon, as well as a TS from Institut Technique Superieur, also in Beirut. Abi-Hashem is a diplomate of the International Academy of Behavioral Medicine, Counseling, and Psychotherapy (since 2002); Board Certified (BCETS) at the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress (since 2005); and a diplomate of the American Board of Psychological Specialties (1998–2006).
Dr. Abi-Hashem is Lebanese American, and his background and interests have lead him to involvement in international service, teaching, training, counseling, lecturing, writing, editing, speaking at conferences, volunteering, consulting, and global networking. He is active in many professional organizations, presenting workshops at various conventions, and serves on several boards of directors. Currently based in Seattle, he has been fully licensed in the state of Washington since 1995.
From 1992 to 2003, Dr. Abi-Hashem was a staff psychologist at the Minirth-Meier New Life Clinics, providing outpatient and inpatient services to individuals, couples, families, and groups. He was appointed as a visiting scholar at the Graduate School of Intercultural Studies of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California (March 2006–March 2007) and at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California (2006–2008).
His special areas of professional interest are grief, loss, trauma, and bereavement; cross-cultural and multicultural studies; pastoral care and counseling; spirituality and psychotherapy; Middle-Eastern affairs and dynamics; peace and political psychology; psychosocial aspects of fundamentalism and terrorism; and caring for the caregivers, especially those facing greater pressures.
- Abi-Hashem, N. (2004). Peace and war in the Middle East: A psychopolitical and sociocultural perspective. In F. M. Moghaddam & A. J. Marsella (Eds.), Understanding terrorism: Psychosocial roots, consequences, and interventions (pp. 69–89). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
- Abi-Hashem, N. (2006). The agony, silent grief, and deep frustration of many communities in the Middle East: Challenges for coping and survival. In P. T. P. Wong & L. C. J. Wong (Eds.), Handbook of multicultural perspectives on stress and coping (pp. 457–486). New York: Springer.
- Abi-Hashem, N. (2007). Arab Americans: Understanding their challenges, needs, and struggles. In A. Marsella, P. Watson, F. Norris, J. Johnson, & J. Gryczynski (Eds.), Ethnocultural guidebook for disasters and trauma: A primer for responders and service providers (pp. 115–173). New York: Springer.
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- 100 Questions and Answers About Arab Americans: http://www.freep.com/legacy/jobspage/arabs/
- American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee: http://www.adc.org
- Arab American Guide: http://www.arabamericanguide.com
- Arab American Culture and Health Care: http://www.cwru.edu/med/epidbio/mphp439/Arab-Americans.htm
- Arab American Historians: http://www.arabamericanhistory.org/
- Center for Arab American Studies: http://casl.umd.umich.edu/caas/
- Famous Arab Americans: http://www.arabwashingtonian.org/english/article.php?articleID=377&issue=15
- The Arab American Institute (AAI): http://www.aaiusa.org/arab-americans
- Who Are the Arab Americans? (Tolerance): http://www.tolerance.org/news/article_tol.jsp?id=274
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