Growing Up in a Western Country: How Applicable Is the Theory of Second Individuation to Second Generation Chinese Youths? Implications for Psychotherapeutic Practice

Wong, Christine Chi Hang
Puls, Brigitte
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Master of Health Science
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Auckland University of Technology

The objective of this dissertation is to explore the applicability of the theory of “second individuation” (SI) to the second generation minority Chinese during the life cycle phase of adolescence (MCY) and the implication for psychotherapeutic practice. Using a modified systematic literature review methodology, several major findings emerged.

The primary finding is that the SI theory has many socially constructed concepts that describe the development of a person living in an individualistically orientated environment. For instance, the development of “a self” which is based on separation and differentiation from others, with the development of autonomy and independence as a central developmental goal, is an individualistic ideal. However, these concepts do not describe the developmental goals of people who are immersed in the traditional Chinese culture. Exposed to both “East” and “West” values, the self development of the MCY is both individualistically and collectively orientated, rendering some aspects of MCY's developmental goals incompatible with the goals depicted in the SI theory. These incompatible aspects include retaining and valuing interdependence as well as togetherness and loyalty with their parents and family. Further, not predicted by the SI theory, external factors such as parental beliefs and acculturation levels, the social economic status of the family and society’s reception of minority youth, were found to strongly govern how the MCY negotiate their self and identity development. This dissertation demonstrates that the SI theory has its limitations when it is applied to the MCY population. Psychotherapists who entertain the idea of using the theory of SI as part of their therapeutic formulation and goal setting with their MCY clients will need to make adjustments to the theory to cater to the MCY’s collective ideals.

The dissertation highlights that the therapeutic process with MCYs will need to incorporate the developmental goals of both worldviews in order to honour the needs of the family and the youth. A culturally competent therapist needs to have a sound understanding of the contractual interpersonal relationships and interactions within the Chinese population, display sensitivity to the culturally determined emotional expressions and forms of emotional management within the Chinese society, demonstrate the ability to understand both cultural worldviews, and be able to hold the tension of both. There is a need for psychotherapists to be aware of the cultural biases inherent in practice and develop the culturally competent skills needed to provide appropriate services to the MCY population.

Theory of second individuation , Minority Chinese youth , Culturally competent psychotherapeutic practice
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