Working Therapeutically with Muslim Families under the Multiculturalism Spectrum

Working Therapeutically with Muslim Families under the Multiculturalism Spectrum


Family therapy is a branch of psychotherapy undertaken to help family members resolve conflicts and improve their communication. This form of therapy takes a short time and may include the whole family, or those that are able to participate. The treatment plan usually depends on the situation facing the family at hand. On many occasions, sessions involved help family members deepen their connections and overcome stressful periods. Several schools of thought have been developed in light of this form of counseling. However, all tend to agree that regardless of whether clients consider the problem to be “family” or “individual, regardless of its origin, involving families in the process ends up to benefit the client. Skills involved here include ability to influence conversations in ways that catalyze the wisdom, strengths and support of the system involved (Flanagan & Rita, 2012). A range of techniques can be used including structural, emotional-based, Satir’s experimental approach and narrative therapy.

In this era of globalization that is characterized by widespread cultural contacts and migration, counselors and psychologists are facing unique challenges. It is not easy working with clients from different cultural backgrounds. Multiculturalism might hinder the success of the system chosen for the process. This is due to existence of different beliefs, viewpoints and values among others. For this reason, it is important that counselors understand the principles of multicultural counseling.  Not having this knowledge results in negative consequences when conducting the therapy process. This includes misdiagnosis of client’s success, difference in expectations between client and counselor, client feeling that they are being misunderstood and missing on non-verbal cues (Gielen, Juris & Fish, 2008).


Having an insight on Muslim families would give a favorable example in examining this issue. This would apply more on Muslim families that have been assimilated in the western culture. One principle of multicultural counseling that a counselor might adopt is advocacy. This is based on the cultural difference that exists between Muslims’ culture and the western culture.  For a long time, the western psychotherapy has always been based on assumptions that individuals have basic necessities that have already been catered for. This gives the individual the luxury and the freedom to attend to emotional and psychological needs. This is not usually the case for immigrants and minorities in this culture. On most occasions, they have difficulty while navigating through housing, law, healthcare and education systems (Gielen, Juris & Fish, 2008). In order to help such individuals prevail through such systems, a more “hands on” approach should be adopted for the therapy process. This helps in preparation before deeper issues have the chance of being addressed. Trying to understand the Muslim culture more, will help in the adaptation of this culture in to the western style of life. One of the best approaches that a counselor would use to achieve this objective is the experimental approach of therapy by Satir.

This form of therapy deals with clients’ senses, emotions and thinking, in order to help them understand what they are undergoing in their life. Satir ascertains that clients have the ability of learning life skills, coping mechanisms and initiating discipline from information and experience an individual receives from artistic expressions (Minuchin &Charles, 2005). Families that have different viewpoints when it comes to behavior and transition are more likely to benefit from the process. This is because it aims at using each family member’s expression. This way, every person is given the opportunity to highlight what they feel towards each other. It becomes easier to identify the cause of some problems in these families. There is a belief that negative behavior can be transformed through a client’s experience when partaking a therapy. Families can initiate the growth process by sharing symbolic meanings of each member’s feelings and thoughts.

Under the experimental therapy approach, the client and counselor have a unique relationship. The counselor is usually tasked with the responsibility of facilitating therapy sessions. He or she recommends various treatment methods. He could request a client to draw a picture of how he views the issue at hand, or how he views the system that has been adopted in the family. After discussing the drawings with the clients, the counselor then asks them to draw other pictures that would reflect the family under ideal circumstances. The therapist has the responsibility of remaining highly involved with the families and clients. He or she should be involved in all activities being undertaken, and have the guts to take risks. One of the greatest strengths of experimental therapy is its ability to incorporate activities and therapy sessions at the same time. This broadens a client’s perspective and allows them to view another facet of the family that they did not see before (Goldenberg & Irene, 2013). It brings in a deeper understanding hence provides long-term solutions.

What makes this approach more favorable to Muslims, and aids in their adaption in the western culture is the multiculturalism aspect involved. Muslim families usually observe a certain hierarchical structure in their existence. Males are always viewed as superior beings compared to females. Older members are also highly regarded compared to the young ones (Coughlin, 2006). On many occasions, members lower in the rank might find it difficult to discuss issues that relate to the highly ranked members. Offering therapy services to such families might seem very difficult. This is due to various therapy techniques that try to bring equality among all family members. These techniques might not be ideal due to the multiculturalism aspect. Most of them had been devised with the idea of western culture in mind. However, the experimental therapy approach provides a venue whereby the high ranking members do not believe that they are being insulted or threatened by other members’ feelings. Lower ranking members also feel comfortable while sharing their feelings using tools such as dance, music and drawings.

When it comes to the language used in the process, it is quite universal to both the Muslim and western culture. Music, drawings and dance are very prevalent in both cultures. The therapy process does not portray any form of victimization to the family members. It tends to create a motivational aspect of participation. The therapy approach also comes along with a variety of intervention approaches. This includes transference interpretation, virtual reality and head-on collision among others (Reichmuth & Hans, 2012).  It gives the therapist a wide range to choose from.

Another multiculturalism principle to consider while dealing with Muslim families is disclosure. There is a notion from the traditional psychotherapy that a client is usually comfortable with his personal discloser, while the therapist rarely discloses his or her personal information. This tendencies need to change with the evolution of multiculturalism in this field.  Muslim clients usually have personal resistance when it comes to disclosing personal information. A therapist should put in mind that in some families, disclosing information regarding the other member is regarded as betrayal (Gielen, Juris & Fish, 2008).  This is due to the culture that these individuals have been brought up in. Individuals tend to believe in the cultural spectrum since it’s the tool used to bind them together.

To avoid such barriers and endorse a multiculturalism aspect, a therapist could use emotionally-focused therapy approach. The approach uses fewer sessions, and includes elements of person-centered, experiential, constructivist and is firmly rooted in attachment theory. This therapy views emotions as being important in experience of one self, maladaptive and adaptive functioning and a good source of therapeutic change (Smith, 2007). The perspective here is that change occurs through awareness, reflection, regulation and transformation of the emotions.

This therapy approach has a multiculturalism aspect in that it does not have a universal procedure of execution. A therapist has the ability of adapting depending on the culture involved. It gives him or her ability to open up to his or her clients regarding her personal life. Such an aspect would create some grounds of trust between the counselor and individuals from the Muslim culture. Through such an approach, they would have the liberty of disclosing their personal information since there seems to be some form of trust. The language used is very favorable since it deals with emotions. Every individual has emotions, be it positive or negative. This acts as a stepping stone towards initializing the therapy process (Gielen, Juris & Fish, 2008). The approach also boasts of having the ability to use a variety of intervention techniques. Transference interpretation, whereby an individual’s feelings are transferred to the other member is the most common. It helps members in realizing what the other person is undergoing, hence providing the ability of finding possible solutions.


After having an analysis of this topic, my ideas on how to work therapeutically with individuals from the Muslim culture have developed immensely. It is evident that Muslims are highly acculturated. They tend to follow several specifics of their culture. What a therapist should consider before commencing any activity, is trying to find out the extent of acculturation of every client. Their levels tend to differ based on where they come from (Gielen, Juris & Fish, 2008). Muslims that have been assimilated in the western culture for some time will react different from those that have not been subjected to similar circumstances. Failure to have a proper understanding at this stage would lead to negative effects, which would hinder any success from the therapy process.

Muslims also tend to respect their cultural values. There are certain hierarchical structures that have been put forward, and should not be altered at any cost. A counselor should understand these structures and work along them. Every member should be made to fill comfortable based on the role that they play in the society. This helps in establishing intent of good faith between the counselor and clients involved (Smith, 2007).  When a counselor becomes open with his or her personal information, it tends to create an essence of trust. The aspect lights the stage for the Muslim clients to disclose their issues without any reservations. This is because they believe that if the counselor can trust them with his or her information, then they can also trust him or her with their own personal information. However, it is clear that they are more relaxed disclosing their information with fellow Muslim counselors. This is because they believe that they will understand them better, since they share similar cultural backgrounds.

There are several ethical considerations to be put in place. They include confidentiality, responsibility and informed consent.  Confidentiality is a vital element since a number of individuals from the family are involved. A counselor is not under any obligation to release any information to unauthorized individuals. Some information might be disturbing and of concern to other members of the society. However, the therapist involved should put this information between him and the family involved. Disclosing the information would be a breach of trust and code of ethics (Rivett & Eddy, 2009). It might deteriorate the situation at hand.

When it comes to responsibility, a therapist has an obligation to be responsible towards his or her patient. However, it becomes difficult to execute this stance when dealing with family therapy. This is because the family is viewed as a single unit, but contains more than one patient with different receptions and character. It usually becomes difficult while deciding the appropriate intervention to use. One intervention might work for a family member, but fails to work for the other. Under such circumstances, a therapist should avoid potential ethical conflicts. He can achieve this by avoiding being an advocate for any member and focusing on the intervention of the entire family as a unit.

Informed consent on the other hand, comes in based on who contacted the therapist in the first instance. It initiates a huge ethical dilemma when it comes to family therapy. This is because the initial call for help comes from one member in the family. It may cause some problems to the process since the therapist might be viewed as an accomplice to the member that contacted him in the first place (Smith, 2007). This occurs if the other members are reluctant to be involved in the process. It is the duty of the therapist to make it clear on the facts before commencing the process. Every member should come willingly and no one should be coerced to attend.



Works Cited

Coughlin, Kathryn M.. Muslim cultures today: a reference guide. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood   Press, 2006. Print.

Flanagan, John, and Rita Flanagan. Counseling and psychotherapy theories in context and             practice: skills, strategies, and techniques. 2nd ed. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2012. Print.

Gielen, Uwe P., Juris G. Draguns, and Jefferson M. Fish. Principles of multicultural counseling     and therapy. New York, NY: Brunner-Routledge, 2008. Print.

Goldenberg, Herbert, and Irene Goldenberg. Family therapy: an overview. 8th ed. Belmont, CA:             Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning, 2013. Print.

Minuchin, Salvador, and H. Charles Fishman. Family therapy techniques. Cambridge, Mass.:        Harvard University Press, 2005. Print.

Reichmuth, Stefan, and Hans Biesterfeldt. Humanism and Muslim Culture Historical Heritage     and Contemporary Challenges.. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012. Print.

Rivett, Mark, and Eddy Street. Family therapy 100 key points and techniques. Hove, East             Sussex: Routledge, 2009. Print.

Smith, Timothy B.. Practicing multiculturalism: affirming diversity in counseling and         psychology. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon, 2007. Print.


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