A Research Comparison of Western and Non-Western Healing Arts

Alusine M. Kanu, D.A. 

Western healing arts can be compared and contrasted with non-western healing arts. This article identifies the western healing art of multicultural counseling in comparison to non-western healing arts. Research has indicated the Western ideology is embedded in the practices of counseling and development (Daniels, 2007). Western counseling is oriented primarily toward helping individuals help themselves so they can successfully function by adapting to their environmental contexts. Western ideology emphasizes the rational over the relational, the logical over the emotional, competition over cooperation, and independence over interdependence.

 Western ideology is based on individualism, which often leads to self-focused behavior. The goal of western counseling is the strengthening of the self, personality, or ego. The philosophy behind Chinese medicine is a melding of tenets from Buddhism, Confucianism, and the combined religious and philosophical ideas of Taoism. Although there are various schools of thought among practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine, five Taoist axioms form its basis. There are natural laws which govern the universe, including human beings. The natural order of the universe is innately harmonious and well organized. When people live according to the laws of the universe, they live in harmony with that universe and the natural environment. The universe is dynamic, with change as it’s only constant. Stagnation is in opposition to the law of the universe and causes what Western medicine calls illness. All living things are connected and interdependent. Humans are intimately connected to and affected by all facets of their environment. The broader conceptual framework on multicultural counseling competencies is based on the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development as described in Multicultural Counseling Competencies (Roysircar et al., 2003). The model emphasizes a practitioner’s awareness of cultural values, beliefs, and biases in order to be aware of the client’s world view and provide culturally appropriate treatment.

 J.D. Kinzie (1990), comparing basic western values with Asian values, illustrates areas of difference between western and non-western healing. It shows that Indochinese patient values focus on interdependence, and western practitioners believe in personal choice and independence. Chinese have structured and appropriate social relationships, while Westerners believe in situational ethics, challenge for authorities, and equality of family relationships. Chinese healing believes one should live in harmony with nature, and Westerners believe nature is to be mastered. Chinese believe that mental illness is caused by imbalance in cosmic forces or lack of will power. Westerners believe that mental illness is a result of mental and physical factors. Indochinese patient values are that treatment should be short and rapid. Westerners believe therapy could take a long time. Easterners believe the healer should be active and give solutions to problems. Westerners see the therapist as often passive, and the best solution is one developed by the patient.

 Another major difference is how the patient is regarded. In western medicine, patients with similar complaints or diseases usually will receive virtually the same treatment. In traditional Chinese medicine, the physician treats the patient, and not the condition, believing that identical diseases can have entirely different causes. In terms of the principles upon which it is based and the methods used, traditional Chinese medicine is considered by many in the west to be a radically different system. At the core of western counseling therapy lie feelings: validating, uncovering, processing, accepting and expressing feelings. Whatever else is involved in healing, Westerners believe that understanding their feelings better leads to greater psychological health. Chinese traditionally take the opposite view: controlling one’s emotional expression is necessary for psychological health; instead they emphasize proper conduct and quiet reserve. Thus a Chinese counselee will frequently give short responses and speak only when questioned by the counselor. Also, Asians are more comfortable with silence than Westerners. Westerners typically see a pause of three seconds in a conver-sation as an invitation to talk. Asians often pause much longer between responses.

Traditional Chinese medicine is an ancient and still very vital holistic system of health and healing, based on the notion of harmony and balance and employing the ideas of moderation and prevention. In theory and practice, traditional Chinese medicine is completely different from western medicine, both in terms of considering how the human body works and how illness occurs and should be treated. In traditional Chinese medicine, both philosophically and medically, moderation in all things is advocated, as is living in harmony with nature and striving for balance in all things. Prevention is also a key goal of Chinese medicine, and much emphasis is placed on educating the patient to live responsibly.

 The major difference between traditional counseling and multicultural counseling is that a basic principle of multicultural counseling emphasizes understanding clients from their sociocultural contexts (e.g., race, gender, class, sexual orientation, disability, age, religion, language and religion). Without considering sociocultural contexts, it is difficult to examine effects of class on the whole person. Communication styles also differ between western and non-western cultures. Westerners prefer direct communication. However, Chinese culture sees such com-munication as confrontational, especially to one in a culturally superior position. Subtlety and indirect help is greatly prized in Asian cultures. Also, Chinese clients will rarely complain openly that they are dissatisfied with therapy; they simply will not return.

The similarity between Chinese and Western healing practices is the growing development of research. Hou, Bai, et al. (2008) identified typical topics covered by counseling related journals in Western cultures, including counseling interventions outcomes, counseling outcomes, counseling interventions in association with other treatments (e.g., medication), ethical issues, counseling techniques and applications, counseling processes, counselor qualification and professional development and surveys on the status of counseling. The development of indigenous counseling in Chinese communities might include research that examines the utility of adapting contexts, as well as discovering features of diverse client populations, training and credentialing of counseling professionals and interventions that incorporate indigenous practices into treatment (Blowers, 1996). As the counseling profession in China progresses and matures, it would be helpful for professionals to play a more active role in various forms of collaboration, as they should enrich the global counseling community through synthesizing Eastern and Western cultural values into their research and practice work (Leung, 2003). Another healing practice is that the Chinese code of ethics is heavily influenced by existing ethical codes in the Western world.

 Another similarity between Western and non-western healing practices is the realization of the potential benefits of counseling. Positive contacts between East and West influence deeper exploration of cultures. Another benefit is building trust, mutual benefit and appreciative relationship. Interactions by both cultures increase cultural competencies and learning by experiencing, problem solving approaches with bridging roles for change and growing institutional support. Collaboration, therefore, integrates Western and Eastern cultures. Assessments of health and healing practices are worthy of consideration in analyzing and comparing Western and non-western practices. The scientific method is a process of validating healing methods and is an effective mode of treatment intervention. It follows that some non-western healing methods must be validated by stringent research before they can be reliably integrated into traditional Western practice. The application of the scientific method to analyze current or best evidence is a useful practice to assess by a systematic process. The critical process of evidence based on research rests on the reliability of the process of research methodology, design and data analysis. Fundamental research demonstrates effectiveness on the practical and contextual integration of practice.

 M. Javier (2007) recommends best practices in intercultural health care needs to satisfy criteria which include having a positive impact on the individuals and population served, sustainable, being responsive and relevant to patient and community health needs to cultural and environmental realities, being client-focused, improving access, coor-dinating and integrating services, being efficient and flexible, demonstrating leadership and being innovative, showing potential for replication, identifying health and policy needs and having a capacity for evaluation. There is a great need to recognize and embrace the different forms of counseling around the world. Examining the cultural values and practices of persons in diverse countries can lead not only to a better understanding of such countries, but also a richer perspective about one’s own culture and various approaches to counseling. There is a great deal of potential for multicultural and cross-national movements in counseling to enrich one another. A concerted collaboration can enhance the sophistication of counseling research world wide, expand the complexities of current knowledge and theoretical models, increase the range of counseling interventions, and in essence, enhance counseling effectiveness across a range of populations in Western and Eastern healing practices and beyond.


 Blowers, G. H. (1996). “The prospects for a Chinese psychology in M. H. Bond (ed.), Handbook of Chinese Psychology (pp. 1-14). Hong Kong, SAR, China: Oxford University Press.

 Daniels, J. (2007). “The Fourth Force in Counseling and Therapy: Multicultural and Feminist Perspectives,” in Ivey et al. Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy: A Multicultural Perspective, (6th ed.), pp. 319-358. Boston: Pearson Education.

 Hou, Z. J., Bai (2008). A ten-year content analysis of articles on counseling and psychotherapy published in the Chinese Mental Health Journal. Peoples Republic of China: Beijing Normal University.

 Javier, M. et al. (2007). “Best practices in intercultural health,” Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine. 3: p. 31.

 Kinzie, J. D. (1990). “Overview of clinical issues in the treatment of Southeast Asian Refugees,” in T. C. Owan (ed.) Southeast Asian Mental Health Treatment, Prevention Services, Training and Research, Washington DC: National Institute of Mental Health, n.d.: p. 311.

 Leung, S.A. (2003). “The journal worth traveling: Globalization of counseling psychology,” The Counseling Psychologist, 31, pp. 412-419.

 Roysircar et al (2003). Multicultural Counseling Competencies. Alexandria VA: Association of Multicultural Counseling and Development.

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