The Have and Have Nots: The Importance of Multicultural Understanding in Therapy

the importance of multi cultural understanding in therapy

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”

Michael Salzman (2005) in his article entitled, “Contextualizing the Symptom in Multicultural Consultation; Anger in a Cultural- Historical Context” discusses how anger has become a major focus of counseling services in school settings.

Based at the University of Hawaii, Salzman shares through his research on Native Hawaiians how colonization, disempowerment, cultural oppression and the process of political and psychological decolonization have helped generate an atmosphere that seeds the phenomenon of anger in school settings.

Salzman shares that, in the past, anger problems in schools looked at the locus of causality within the individual while ignoring person-environmental interactions. To Salzman, anger exists in context and like any other phenomenon, it is not accurately interpreted when the context from which the behavior stems from is de-contextualized and ignored.

By investigating the links between the outward expression of anger and the ongoing and historical processes of  “colonization, cultural oppression, and decolonization may inform more accurate assessments of observable behavior and the generation of context-congruent interventions, thereby increasing the probability of effective consultation” (p. 224).

Critical Analysis

Salzman borrows from past ecological models created by Bronfenbrenner (1979, 1995) and Bronfenbrenner & Crouter (1983) that postulates four levels for classifying context.

The first classification is how the child interacts directly with family and school (micro system).

The next classifications involve the social, cultural and historical forces that Salzman states may powerfully impact human development and experiences which involve mesosystems, exosystems and macrosystems.

Each of the following systems by their vary nature influence the child’s perception of their surroundings and their placement within (context) of their community status.

The relationship between the macrosystems (history, culture) and the microsystems (family, school) are essential ingredients for understanding the context from which the child comes.

Salzman (2001) in one of his earlier studies states that through the use of multicultural counseling, many individuals find “the recognition that contexts (sociopolitical, historical, and cultural) is an influential factor that affects client’s behaviors, attitudes, experiences, world-views, and perceptions” (p.31).

Anger may seem to be an individual response to a situation or stimulus, but in reality, Salzman argues the depth from which this anger formulates can not be forgotten by the therapist.

Salzman (2005) goes into detail describing how colonization (one group claims ownership of territory already occupied by another group) creates the haves (ruling group) and have nots (the ruled) and reminds us this process goes much deeper than just land acquisitions but radical cultural change for the natives (new have nots).

Fanon (1968) observed:

“The Native is confronted with the colonial order of things. He finds he is in a state of permanent tension. The settler’s world is a hostile world which spurns the Native” (p. 52).

The trauma, marginalization and stress resulting from the devastating contact with colonization manifest itself in families and local communities. It becomes as Salzman (2005) states, “the initial trauma of oppression and loss may be transmitted across generations through such mechanisms as domestic violence and abuse, whereas the colonial suppression of history may make the truth of the original trauma inaccessible to those suffering from the wounds of its transmission” (p. 227).

Salzman (2005) further describes the ways of coping with the oppression from the ruling class such as substance abuse, domestic violence and self-denigration as attempts to deal with the anxiety and depression of being ruled.

Phenomenon of Anger

To underscore his argument about the phenomenon of anger embedded in the soul of colonized and decolonized societies, Salzman (2005) borrows from a Native American scholar and sovereignty activist Laenui (2000).

Laenui’s model demonstrates how the seeds of anger are embedded in the colonization and decolonization processes through trauma, loss, grief, reconstruction and recovery.

Laenui urges that consultants informed by these processes would be better able to assess the meaning of anger and its precursors (depressive withdrawal, psychosomatic pain and learned helplessness) and form their interventions accordingly.

Laenui (2000) breaks down the processes of anger as follows:

  • Denial and withdrawal – colonial people deny the very existence of a culture of any merit of the indigenous people.
  • Destruction/eradication – colonists physically destroying and attempting to eradicate all physical representations of the symbols of indigenous cultures.
  • Denigration/belittlement/insult – religious faith styles, legal institutions, educational systems etc… all created to denigrate, belittle the indigenous culture to the point of family members turning on to themselves when confronting conflicting identities.
  • Surface accommodation/tokenism – whatever remnants of culture have survived the onslaught of the earlier steps are given surface accommodation.
  • Transformation/exploitation – traditional culture which simply refuse to die or go away is now transformed into the culture of the dominating colonial society.

Anger is a natural by-product of these shifts needed to break the internal and external chains of oppression. Interesting in all of this is Salzman’s (2005) belief that anger, if handled correctly, can be directed to become a positive driving force; “the consultation process may generate interventions that channel this force toward psychological and political liberation, leading to an affirmation of self and community rather than negation and destruction” (p. 231).

The Have and Have Nots: The Importance of Multicultural Understanding in Therapy

Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC

Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC is a licensed professional counselor (LPC) in northern Michigan who has a passion for reading, writing, music and helping others. He specializes in counseling complex family situations, substance abuse, and parenting. Steve’s counseling philosophy is holistic, approaching each issue on its own merit and evaluating influences to help overcome life’s dilemmas.


APA Reference
Greenman, S. (2016). The Have and Have Nots: The Importance of Multicultural Understanding in Therapy. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 10, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Apr 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 8 Apr 2016
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