Dr. Wang Xuefu, Psychologist Promotes 'Cultural Analysis' in Pastoral Counseling

Dr. Wang Xuefu gave a lecture on psychological counseling for pastoral workers in a city church of South China, on April 5, 2024.
Dr. Wang Xuefu gave a lecture on psychological counseling for pastoral workers in a city church of South China, on April 5, 2024.
By Phoebe SunMay 8th, 2024

Dr. Wang Xuefu, a psychologist with over 20 years of experience in Christian counseling, believes that “cultural analysis” is one of the important tools that can help pastors understand groups with psychological disorders.

“A person’s psychological, spiritual, and personal issues have deep cultural roots. We specifically emphasize cultural roots because presently China and the world tend to emphasize biological and genetic reasons, with the dominant treatment approaches based on biomedical models when trying to explore the causes of psychological abnormalities," said Dr. Wang. He pointed out that emphasizing solely biological and genetic factors has led to the simplification of psychological disorder treatment by relying on medication, but many complex human problems cannot be solved by medication alone.

Dr. Wang, the founder of Zhimian Institute For Counseling and Psychotherapy, Nanjing, holds a Ph.D. in literature from Nanjing University and a Master of Psychology and Counseling from Andover Newton Theological School in the U.S. He was given the Charlotte and Karl Buhler Award for 2013 by the American Psychological Association and has authored books including The WoundedThe Road to Growth, and Healing Heart. 

Therefore, he called on the church to pay attention to the impact of culture on individuals.

“In pastoral care work, pastors need to understand the manifestations, nature, and causes of psychological abnormalities. On this basis, they can better help the brothers and sisters in the church,"  said Dr. Wang.

Dr. Wang first introduced Freud’s psychoanalysis, which mostly analyzes the subconscious mind, where there reside a large number of childhood traumas, especially biological instincts such as sexual and aggressive impulses that include the instinct for survival and death. It is incompatible with culture or civilization. These repressed things are the roots of symptoms, which are only reactions to the conflict between the “id” and the "superego," causing the “ego” to fall into anxiety or confusion.

However, Dr. Wang said, “I believe that a more appropriate understanding is that the root of psychological difficulties is culture.”

Therefore, Dr. Wang advocated his theory of “cultural analysis.” He defined culture as “all those things that have a direct and indirect impact on us from childhood to adulthood.” From birth, a person is influenced by cultural factors around them. They are parents’ attitudes, treatment of children, habits, language, personality, values, the way they respond to infants’ needs, establishing relationships with children, and the relationship between themselves. These cultural factors constitute a “family cultural ecology.”

Dr. Wang introduced four levels of confrontational psychological counseling: cultural conditions, cultural responses, cultural patterns, and cultural roles.

Although culture has the deepest impact on individuals in their early years, it cannot be said that early-year influences are deterministic. Dr. Wang encouraged pastors and ministers who attended his lecture by saying, “Even if a person has experienced trauma in the early years, including threats, beatings, abandonment, etc., and seems to have a bad past, if we love, support, and appreciate them as much as possible, the impact of the early years can be weakened and dissolved. There is a desire and potential for growth in the deepest part of life, and if we use good culture to awaken, guide, and change, it is possible. This is the meaning of pastoral care work.”

Dr. Wang pointed out that even after a person has become a Christian, the impact of past experiences can still last a long time, and it can be difficult to care for such individuals in the pastoral ministry. Pastors and ministers need to be mentally prepared, have good training, or be well-equipped in counseling.

As we grow up, we gradually learn how to identify and respond to the culture around us, which is called cultural response or cultural interaction. Dr. Wang encouraged parents to not just teach their children but also ask questions that can awaken their inner wisdom and encourage them to engage more with society, explore the world, interact with people, and establish close relationships to develop richer cultural experiences. “Only when culture is abundant will life be healthy,"  he emphasized.

“The first two levels of cultural examination mentioned above are easily presented in pastoral care and counseling. However, when our counseling progresses to the third level, the examination becomes more difficult.”

When a person makes emotional, cognitive, and behavioral responses to various factors in the cultural environment, habits, and even patterns will form as the responses increase.

“For instance, if a person is well taken care of in infancy and receives sufficient emotional nourishment and satisfaction of attachment from parents, they will have a sense of security and trust in themselves. These will influence their natural cultural responses to environmental factors and enable them to fully develop healthy aspects of their lives. This good cultural response will further develop into good cultural patterns, such as thinking patterns and relationship patterns. Their health will be better maintained and developed. The opposite is also true. Therefore, in counseling work, we need to systematically understand a person’s life and cultural interaction process.”

The fourth level of cultural analysis is cultural roles. “Cultural roles also gradually emerge from the cultural development of the previous three levels. The cultural role also has an explicit and implicit part. The explicit part can be called a social role, while the implicit part is the inner self. Social roles and inner selves are not necessarily aligned, but most often, people are unaware of this misalignment.”

“The deepest root of psychological symptoms may lie at this level, manifesting as a severe divergence between a person’s external role and inner self. For instance, when a person reaches a certain age, they may marry and have children as socially expected. By social status, they become a mother or father, but their mental maturity may not have caught up, perhaps even staying in a childlike state. This creates a stark contrast between their external identity and inner self, making it difficult for them to truly fulfill the role of a mother or father.”

Dr. Wang encouraged pastors to view individuals from multiple perspectives, understand the root causes and essence of problems, and “administer appropriately” to bring about different outcomes in their ministry.

- Translated by Charlie Li

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