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The Practice of Counseling in the US and Indian Culture Research Paper


The concept of counseling is among the oldest human practices that can be traced throughout the history of man and one of the key elements that has historically influenced the way it is conducted has been cultural and environmental undertones of a given society. In this research paper, it is surmised that counseling is largely affected by cultural differences which may either make it easier or harder for practitioners to engage in effectively.

The paper presents its research findings from the study that was done in the US and Indian culture where different elements of these cultures are discussed regarding how they affect the practice of counseling.

From the research done, the paper concludes that in these two cultures, cultural differences and responses play a critical role in the practice of counseling and some of these key elements include family traditions, caste systems, expectations, religious beliefs and ideologies, freedom of expression and the role of men and women in the society.

Key Words: counseling, cultural differences and responses, family traditions, culture and environment.


Counseling is a concept that is deeply entrenched in the fabric of cultural preferences and a specific social distinctive that is particulate to a given group. According to Hill and Lent (2006), it is a psychological specialty that is concerned with a host of disciplines and areas of humanity key of which include research and applied work in such domains as counseling process and outcomes, training and supervision, prevention and health, career developing among others (Hill & Lent, 2006; Vogel, Wade & Hackler, 2007; Gupta & Ferguson, 1992).

In the process of counseling, there are a number of unifying concepts that are used by counseling psychologists in the course of their operations some of which include a focus on strengths and assets, interactions that persons have with the environment in which they live and how it affects their lives and value systems, career and educational development, a discrete focus on intact personalities and brief interactions (Vogel, Wade & Hackler, 2007).

Being that counseling as a concept is so wide and largely varied depending on a myriad of factors, there is a lot of research that has been done on it regarding operations and best practices that are responsive to the specific needs of practitioners and clients so as to make its effectiveness as appropriate as well as convenient.

As mentioned previously, one of the elements that influence counseling is culture and the environment which means that there are things that are specific to different cultures and societies that determine the nature of counseling practices that are done among members of such a community. These elements of the society are the ones that form the basis of this research.

In this research paper, greater attention will be given to the nature of different factors in different cultures and how they affect the practice of counseling and whether these factors’ effects can be considered helpful of detrimental. This paper will consider two cultures: the United States of America culture and the Indian culture.

Problem statement

There are inherent factors in cultural differences and responses to counseling between India and United States that appreciably alter the approaches taken in the practice of this activity among its citizenry. These differences are occasioned by the way the respective populace of these communities are wired when it comes to their livelihood, socialization, value systems, religious practices and preferences and national values (Williams, 1999; Patty, 1995).

For this research paper therefore, it is imperative to try and establish which areas of these respective cultures bear most effect on the practice of counseling and in so doing the research will be interested in knowing specific aspects of these cultures that are likely to affect how an American and Indian my receive counseling experience.

The origin of the concept of counseling

Counseling is a discipline and program that is among the oldest programs in human history tracing its roots to ancient times of the Medieval Ages. According to Gupta and Ferguson (1992), this concept was first experienced among human beings due to the social nature of man that makes him socially tied to one another making sharing of challenges and problems a common phenomenon (Gupta & Ferguson, 1992).

Most modern psychology specialties such as counseling began after the World War II where during the war; the US Military really needed vocational training and placement (Williams, 1999; Gupta & Ferguson, 1992). Owing to this, the Veterans Administration created a special department that was called Counseling Psychology which is the modern-day Society for Counseling Psychology (SCP) of the American Psychologists Association (APA) to address the needs of soldiers that were experiencing post-war trauma as the aftermath of the war (Spengler et al., 2009).

From this military model, the concept of counseling slowly started getting global acclaim with many researches and studies into human behavior being done by psychologists around the world to come up with models and structures that are used in the modern-day counseling practice (Patty, 1995).

In order to try and meet the rising needs of people with different counseling needs based on their peculiar circumstances, many fields exist in counseling that are aimed at effectively addressing challenges that counseling as a discipline faces. Some of these categories include the following among others (Spengler et al., 2009):

  • Religious/Pastoral Counseling
  • Career Counseling
  • Crisis Counseling
  • Counseling Psychology
  • Consultancy
  • Pre-Conception Counseling
  • Professional Practice of Behavior Analysis
  • Psychiatry
  • Relationship Counseling
  • Marriage Counseling
  • Mental Health Counseling
  • Grief Therapy

The United States of America and Indian cultures are quite unique in many regards; uniqueness that makes counseling practice in these two cultures appreciably different and specific in the way it has been tailored to meet the needs of the people in the society. The uniqueness also as established from this research emanates from the similarities that appear to merge the general trends of preferences that define these two cultures.

This research establishes that these two cultures for instance are largely religious, a fact that can be seen in the way they conduct their businesses at a national level and even the way political structures and ideologies are tailored (Westefeld, 2009).

Being that these cultures have most of their foundational structures defining their state of nationhood and societal norms enshrined in the religious affiliations that they ascribe to, it was found that counseling to a large extent has been staged to follow these established religious ideologies and political fundamentals (Westefeld, 2009).

These similarities and differences in these two cultures is further studied in the following sections showing the extent to which they affect the concept of counseling in these countries and how the differences observed translate when considered in a comparative sense when it comes to counseling practices and responses.

Counseling in the Indian culture

The Indian culture is a very old culture having concepts and practices that can be traced very far back in the history of man. In fact, it is considered by many historians as the “Oldest living Civilization on Earth” dating as back as 8000 BC during the times of Vedas (Reich et al., 2009). It is among the riches cultures in the world having elaborate stories and mythologies that explain the origin of literally everything that affects humanity (Reich et al., 2009).

According to Majumder (2010) it comprises the religious ideologies, beliefs, traditions, customs, ceremonies, languages, values, arts and the way of life of the Indian people and India as a state (Majumder, 2010).

Owing the varied nature of the constituents of this culture, there is a large and continually expanding evolution of the Indian culture especially as regards religion, beliefs and societal values that is quite influential to social operation and running of the society and hence the general practice of counseling in the country (Majumder, 2010).

In order to discuss how counseling experience in the Indian culture appreciably differs from that in the US culture, there are a number of specific factors that this research found appropriate as regards the peculiarity of this culture and its operation. These factors are discussed hereafter as:


Religion is the strongest cultural aspect that defines the Indian culture. India is the origin of Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism which form the basis of the Indian religion collectively called Dharmic Religions (Majumder, 2010). There are other smaller faith groups such as Lingayat and Ahmadiyya that also derive their origins in India that are closely associated with the Dharmic religions largely practiced in the Indian culture.

The researcher found out that religion is among the key factors that affect the life of an Indian civilian where its effects cut across the board; from personal life in value systems to leadership and governance in politics (Majumder, 2010). This means that most of the counseling programs that are done in the Indian culture derive most of their concepts of approach and strategy from the Dharmic Religions.

This is particularly so since the people in this culture consider religious implorations irrefutable and authoritatively final and any advice and therapeutic interventions tailored with religious undertones is bound to not only be effective but widely accepted (Reich et al., 2009).

When it comes to counseling in such areas as discipline, good behavior and relationships among young people for instance, the researcher found that common texts such as Yogavasistha, which is a religious text of the Advaita School of Hindu Religion, is quite instrumental. For example, it states that values of a self-actualized human being can be summarized as:

Pleasures do not delight him; pains do not distress. Although engaged in worldly actions, he has no attachment to any object. He is busy outwardly, yet calm inwardly. He feels free from restrictions of scriptures, customs, age, caste or creed. He is happy, but his happiness does not depend on anything else.

He does not feel needy, proud, agitated, troubled, depressed or elated. He is full of compassion and forgiveness even to those who mean him harm. He does the right thing, regardless of the pressures. He is patient, perseverant, and without any impurity in his heart.

He is free of delusions; he does not crave for anything. His sense of freedom comes from his spirit of inquiry. The fruits of his inquiry are his strength, intellect, efficiency and punctuality. He keeps company of wise and enlightened persons. He is content. (Reich et al., 2009, p. 489)

With such a text, the place that religion takes in the life of an Indian person is very centralized and it is no wonder most practitioners in the country have tailored their counseling packages to be as closely tuned to religious teachings as possible.

The manner in which the Dharmic Religions are closely related and non-confrontational in their ideologies and beliefs makes dependence on the religious system for counseling quite easy to reach all people that may have different religious preferences either within the Dharmic Religions or outside these religions (Lakha & Stevenson, 2001; Patty, 1995).

In fact, according to Lakha and Stevenson (2001), it is quite easy to refer to different religious litany during counseling without the fear that one’s religious rights may be violated should they not subscribe to a given faith since these religions are closely knit together and are usually supplemental and complementary to each other (Sahoo et al., 2006; Lakha & Stevenson, 2001).

Traditions and nature of the Indian culture

The Indian family structure is very closely knit making it among the most communal communities in the world where most of family programs and issues are run and resolved together as a community rather as an individual affair.

The researcher found out that in ancient India, a practice that is still prevalent in most of the regions of the Indian subcontinent, there is usually family involvement in everyone’s affair where the joint family system is largely used in making marriage arrangements, conflict resolution in the family and the community, wealth creation and sharing (Sahoo et al., 2006).

The setting of the Indian family unit is such that the extended members of the family (that is parents, children and their spouses and their children et cetera) live together and are led by the oldest male member of the unit making critical decisions and offering leadership for the whole family unit (Sahoo et al., 2006).

Owing to this nature of family structure, there are limited cases of disagreements that worsen relationships as there is usually a strict code of conduct by which members of the family have to live by. In the event that disagreements reach escalated levels, Indian families have leadership structures where older members of the community form a conflict resolution program that address all cases of disagreements and conflict within the society.

With these structures when it comes to counseling programs, it is easier to address problems for clients in a communal sense since they are aware of the communal nature of their livelihood. This is also why communal programs such as rehabilitation programs forming part of the counseling programs are quite effective in this culture as people are already used to communal lives where they consider others’ needs and challenges as their own and would like to support each other and grow together (Orenstein & Micklin, 1966; Patty, 1995).

This is particularly important since one of the greatest challenges for counseling is the concept of adhering to client confidentiality and protection of one’s interests and rights and given that this culture already has general tendencies to live in communities that are closely knit, it becomes easier for counselors to carry out their duties with minimal struggle with clients creating hardships regarding their privacy (Reich et al., 2009).

The role of men and women in the Indian culture

The roles of men and women in the Indian culture is well defined and even though there are still many areas of discussion regard equality, there has always been a general serenity that has described this culture in the way women and men relate in the family unit, national leadership, work place and politics (Orenstein & Micklin, 1966).

Like in many parts of the world, there is still a lot of lobbying that continues being seen in the country as activists continue advocating for greater openness in equal status between the genders and fight for equal rights by different reformers making the history of Indian women quite eventful (Orenstein & Micklin, 1966).

Owing to the general acceptance of the family leadership structure that places the man at the helm of the family hierarchy and the woman as his support, usually conflict resolution is made easy as there does not appear to be competition and jostling for positions during conflict resolutions.

The counseling experience in such a culture that has clearly outlined roles of the genders is characterized with tranquility and general serenity which makes it quite systematic and non-confrontational.

In addition to this, the researcher found out that in the Indian culture, there does not appear to be an overt advocacy of equal gender status merely informed by competitive spirit clamored with superiority conquest like seen in other cultures such as the US and this goes a long way in stabilizing the society thereby making therapeutic interventions made through counseling quite effective and peaceful (Orenstein & Micklin, 1966).

Counseling in the US culture

According to Hill and Lent (2006), the US culture is characterized with a lot of relativity, human rights activism, liberality and advocacy for greater democracy and the corollary of these elements of the culture is the overt establishment of a society with greater individuality, personal autonomy and greater reliance on satisfying everyone as much as possible (Hill & Lent, 2006). As regards the history of this culture, a lot of research has been done on it and its history (Swift & Callahan, 2008; Hill & Lent, 2006; Ryan et al., 1999).

From this researches it is concluded that owing to the large immigration during the days of forced laborers in the Agrarian Revolution and the age of Industrialization, there were many immigrants from all over the world that came to the county carrying with them their cultures and traditions effectively fading traditions that would be considered native to the US culture (Hill & Lent, 2006).

The US culture has been largely influenced by European cultures and is usually described as a western culture which is continually evolving into more concise and unique social and cultural characteristics that define its music, arts, dialect, cuisine, social habits, religious beliefs and folklore (Swift & Callahan, 2008).

This culture just like the Indian culture is quite diverse as regards its ethnic and racial constitution due to large immigration from other countries around the world throughout its history. In defining the US culture, such elements as military and scientific competitiveness; free expression and risk taking; political structures; and moral and materialistic perceptions are the ones that are considered important and therefore largely influence counseling programs among its citizenry (Hill & Lent, 2006).


The US culture as earlier indicated is quite liberal considering democracy, free expression and defense of human rights as among the most foundational attributes that are piously protected and valued. This has made its citizenry quite biased and divided along ideological lines regarding their religious beliefs, political preferences, social stratification and socio-economic status making it quite challenging to present any concept with the expectancy of it being universally accepted let a lone embraced by the US people (Swift & Callahan, 2008).

This research found that the US people are highly critical of almost everything that is presented to them and are well informed of their rights and freedoms such that they would not take it kindly if any of these rights and freedoms appear to be infringed upon (Swift & Callahan, 2008).

This is the reason that explains why there are many schools of thought regarding religion and hence counseling in the US culture and in comparison to India, has the largest branches of counseling psychology all of which are designed to try and meet the divergent and usually conflicting interests of clients.

The liberal nature of the US culture also adversely affects the family unit where the concept of marriage in the US has been largely transformed in the past few decades into a loose arrangement that can be as easily terminated as it can be formed as opposed to the close-knit institution in the Indian culture (Ryan et al., 1999).

This makes marital counseling quite difficult and challenging as practitioners have to create programs that are particulate to the needs of the parties that are to benefit from them and in many cases as this research found out, there are not many structures that support the family unit in the US (Swift & Callahan, 2008).

Because of the liberal nature of the US culture, religion is a largely opinionated philosophy that makes it difficult to devise counseling programs that use religious implorations as there are as many religious beliefs as there are thoughts and preferences (Ryan et al., 1999). This is in direct opposite with the case in the Indian culture that has its Dharmic religions widely accepted among the populace (Swift & Callahan, 2008).

Traditions and individualistic nature of the US culture

The US culture, being a Super Power country, is characterized with high achieving, technological advancement, innovation and greater development. Most of the population in the US comprises of highly achieving persons, the working class and even those that may not be involved in traditional working professions usually have structures established within the community that seek to support them socially and economically (Ryan et al., 1999).

The general rate of illiteracy in the US is significantly lower as compared to that in the Indian culture and this means that there is a lot of importance that is given to professional practices where proper qualification and training is a requirement that precedes almost any form of practice (Ryan et al., 1999).

The researcher found out that one of the key factors that a US citizen considers before listening to someone is their qualification and training which places the expectations of the society quite high for qualified practitioners. This therefore means that counseling programs in the US have to be run with properly trained and qualified persons in order to receive a significant level of appreciation from the society and therefore attain a level of success and effectiveness within the community (Skidmore, 2011).

Giving the high achieving nature of the US culture and the advanced levels of structures and facilities, the experience of counseling is largely pegged on the soundness of the program and its adherence to set statutes and provisions of the law as a large number of the population is more concerned with the fitness of the program in a professional sense and its respect of different attributes of the law that they may be interested in (Skidmore, 2011).

This means that practitioners in this culture are always challenged into greater profitability in terms of performance and training in order to try and ensure that they increase their acceptability among the citizenry.

The role of men and women in the US culture

Being a developed economy and democracy, the US as a country has advanced systems that are quite keen on the roles that are played by men and women as it seeks to address all the specific needs and rights of these two genders. The rate of lobbying and advocacy for equality between these two genders is quite high and there is a lot of information that is availed to the general public regarding equitable distribution of resources and opportunities for all genders meaning that gender equity status is quite an important factor in the culture (Skidmore, 2011).

Counseling therefore in this culture has to be done in a way that is adherent to these accepted and expected trends referring for instance, to the composition of an institution’s counseling program which has to be constituted in a manner that is reflective of gender equity (Patty, 1995).

This research found that lack of adherent to fair gender representation in constitution of institutions was cited by the American Psychological Association (APA) research that was done in 2006 as being among the key reasons that caused most of the American people to shun counseling programs and institutions when making decisions regarding counseling programs (Williams, 1999).


In conclusion therefore, counseling as has been seen from the preceding discussion has many areas that it influences and there are specific elements of different cultures that affect it. This research paper has extensively discussed the different concepts of counseling that are used in different cultures; the US and Indian cultures, indicating some of the key factors that affect the effectiveness of the experience of counseling in these cultures.

As part of its discussion, the paper has observed that counseling is a concept that permeates all levels of society affecting everyone in one way or another and in the process pitching itself as a social practice that builds communities and maintains societies (Gupta & Ferguson, 1992; Gupta & Ferguson, 1992).

The key elements that have been observed as being critical in the operation of counseling programs in these two cultures are family traditions, social stratification, societal expectations, national values, religious beliefs and the roles played by men and women in the society and the paper has shown that indeed these factors depending on the cultural nature of a community, affect the counseling experience in a specific way.

For the US which is largely a liberal community putting great importance to the defense of human rights, democracy and equality, counseling has to be tailored in such a way that it is adherent to these elements of the society; and for the Indian culture that is highly religious operating in closely knit family systems, the counseling experience follows along these societal lines of religion and social closeness.


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