Individualism-collectivism (IC), or self-construal, is a well-studied spectrum of cultural traits describing the relative value placed on the individual in relation to the group. Individualists are said to prioritize individual achievement, whereas collectivists are said to place more value on group harmony (Triandis, 1995). Self-construal has been measured using separate dimensions for individualism and collectivism. Recent research has suggested that, while group differences exist, significant variability in self-construal exists intra-ethnically (Oyserman, Coon, & Kemmelmeier, 2002). With research describing the underutilization of professional psychology services by ethnic minorities in the United States (Ayalon & Young, 2005) and the potential importance of choice and value matching between therapy approach and client (Devine & Fernald, 1973; Lyddon & Adamson, 1992), the current study sought to untangle the relationship between self-construal and ethnicity as they relate to preference for individualistic or collectivistic approaches to psychotherapy.
A total of 114 female undergraduate students, comprised of European Americans (n = 49) and Asian Americans (n = 65), were enrolled in the current study. Participants completed the Self-Construal Scale (SCS, Singelis, 1994), an author-developed Psychotherapy Preference Assessment Measure (PPAM, a vignette-based assessment measure asking participants to choose between individualistic and collectivistic approaches to common therapy presenting problems), and an author-developed Background Questionnaire assessing demographic variables, acculturation and immigration status, and psychotherapy experience and attitudes.
Results revealed significant correlations between ethnicity, collectivist self-construal, immigration history, assimilation, separation, and therapy preference. Results showed the sample overall to prefer individualistic therapy approaches, although collectivist self-construal was associated with weaker preference for individualistic approaches (r = .193, p ≤ .05). Two acculturation variables, assimilation and separation, were also found to be significant predictors of therapy preference ( r = −.192, p ≤ .05, and r = .308, p ≤ .01, respectively), such that students more assimilated to U.S. culture endorsed stronger preferences for individualist therapy approaches. Neither self-construal nor the acculturation variables were found to mediate the relationship between ethnicity and therapy preference.
Keywords: Individualism-collectivism, self-construal, ethnicity, therapy preference, acculturation