A Multicultural Comparison of Chinese and Japanese Healing Methods

A comparison of Chinese and Japanese methods of healing describes applications used in Western healing counseling. Analysis show some of the methods that apply to personal pastoral counseling practice. This article investigates key elements of culture and healing and therapeutic systems with methods of healing that are similar and different. Descriptions show how methods of healing are useful in Western healing counseling. Basic Chinese and Confucian concepts places the good of society above that of the individual. A related factor is social cohesion. Confucian ethics has its emphasis on the common good, with respect to life and being and balance and harmony. Some of the practices in healing include meditation, aesthetic appreciation, ritual cleansing, and the respect for nature’s beauty and humans’ part in it, including cultural beliefs.

Leung et al. (2007, pp. 412-419) report that counseling in China could be substantially strengthened by developing theories and practices that are consistent with the Chinese cultural context. The development of indigenous counseling in Chinese communities might include research that examines the utility of adapting western theories and methods for local Chinese contexts. Treatments to clients in typical therapeutic contexts (e.g., one-to-one counseling, group counseling) pay attention to the potential roles as advocates for their clients, empower their clients to confront challenges and adversities in their environments, and contribute by adapting to changes in various social and cultural systems and subsystems to sustain the well being of clients (Blustein, 2005, 141-179).

Eastern systems of healing differ radically from the Western ones with regard for their healing heritage with systems that display reference for heritage. 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, pp. 412-419). Western healing systems are linear and emphasize differences. A goal-oriented life pays attention to ideas, plans and expectations rather than to feelings and the sensations of the body. Spiritual discipline cannot simply be understood as self-control. It involves remaining open to experience rather than trying to force it to preconceived needs of the self. It is reported that the goal in Eastern culture stems from the chief battle of good against evil. To the Chinese, one must triumph, and the goal is to be sure that it is good. In the Eastern cultures, nothing in the universe is one or the other. They are part of the same reality.

The “Chi” approach to healing supports the idea that it is not possible to be sick in body without being sick in mind, emotion and spirit. The”Chi”healing system believes that universal energy includes divine. There is the profound oneness of all things and of all people with nature, with the universe, and with the divine. (Sheikh, 1989, p. 67). The Western healing system consists of instrumental behaviors that are rationalized and organized by specifically biomedical explanations. It includes both the research oriented and Western medical science. Medical science is dominated by scientific standards of proof, and knowledge is produced for and evaluated by the community of professionals and researchers.

The code of ethics in China is modeled after the ethical principles of psychologists and Code of Conduct of the American Psychological Association (APA) (2002). Five general principles are listed: (1) beneficence, (2) responsibility, (3) integrity, (4) justice, and (5) respect. These principles are very similar to those of APA ethical principles (pp. 3-4).The code of ethics in China identifies seven clusters of ethical standards: (1) professional relationships, (2) privacy and confidentiality, (3) professional responsibility, (4) assessment and evaluation, (5) teaching, training, and supervision, (6) research and publication and (7) resolving ethical issues.

The Chinese and Japanese healing practices include a wide variety of sects grouped into three primary branches: Hinayana, Mahana, and Tantrism. Buddhism is the world’s fourth largest religion, behind Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. The practices of healing which accept the basic concepts of Hinduism, including reincarnation and the law of karma, holds that one’s actions directly control one’s destiny, but opposed the rituals and hardening caste system of Hinduism. Buddhism stresses ethics as the means to salvation. If offers “the middle way” that avoids the extremes of mortification and indulgence. Following the “noble eightfold path” of right living and actions frees the adherent of self who can then achieve nirvana—the state of bliss in which humans escape the law of reincarnation.

As would be expected, positive or desirable feelings and counseling approaches differ between Japan and Western cultures. In Japan the goal is to unite the self with the environment and lead the self into a natural, unselfconscious flow with the environment. The goal is not personal gratification, but an actual merging or union with one’s surroundings. Merging with the environment and dissolving the concept of the self and forming a strong emotional connection with the environment are the ends in themselves (Sato, 1998, pp. 278-290). In Japan, people maintain a sense of well being by fitting in, merging with the social environment, dissolving the self and preserving harmony with significant others (Markus and Kitayama, 1998, 4, pp. 63-87). The goal is to attune or align one’s reactions and actions with those of another in inter subjective experience, resulting from these efforts and in turn fostering these efforts of healing. In Japan the positive or desirable emotional states or feelings are those of friendliness, affiliation, calmness, smoothness, and connectedness. The emotional state of anger experienced in an in-group setting is very troubling and considered extremely negative.

Japanese healing practices include a formal therapeutic medium and are embedded in values that focus on nonverbal communication, an action orientation rather than the expression of abstract emotional constructs, and an emphasis on holism that is non linear and views the integration of physical and mental well being as necessary for growth. In most western contexts, the characteristics contract is to verbalize as much as one can. However, the Japanese people have, in their long history, considered sensing and feeling others’ thoughts nonverbally to be a virtue, as is acting on those sensations before saying a single word.

In Japanese culture the collectivists’ emphasis on harmony within the group is also associated with saving the face of the other, avoiding conflict, and “smoothing” out interactions with others (Gudykunst and Nishida, 1994, p. 8). It is easier for Japanese people to display anger and fear toward members of out-groups (Matsumoto, 1990, pp. 195-214). The Japanese people need to define their own identity as it relates to the field of counseling, not only to advance it, but to offer it to the world. Similarities of Chinese and Japanese healing practices are applicable to Western cultures. The traditional practices and healing methods are frequently used to alleviate distress both before and after patients and their family members approach the mental health care system. Help-seeking typically is a family venture (Chen, 2009, p. 623). Asian patients respond well to highly structured therapeutic interventions such as those used in behavioral, cognitive, and interpersonal models.

Each cultural group, Chinese and Japanese, includes wide variations in educational levels, family income, residential preference, exposure to war trauma and levels of acculturation. The tendency of Asian patients to focus on physical discomfort while ignoring or suppressing the reporting of emotional systems has been a challenge for clinicians who work with these populations. In practically all contemporary Asian societies, multiple indigenous care and healing traditions continue to exist and thrive side-by-side with the conventional Western health care system. As is true for any cultural group, issues that are relevant to the mental health of Asians are multi dimensional and complex. Chinese subjects were more willing to follow the families’ input rather than those of the patient. Chinese subjects elevate the role of family members or extended family networks as primary decision makers in healing and helping.

The direct comparison of ethical beliefs and practices from the U.S. and China suggests that there are important similarities and differences in these two cultures. We should recognize that although there may be some values or principles that are universal, many of what we consider to be basic bioethical principles are not universal (Qiu, R.Z., 1988, pp. 277-300). In China the healing practice comes with the understanding that the spirit needs to be corrected first; only then can other aspects be brought into balance and harmony. In western healing practices the approach is linear; a problem is the result of something specific, and there is a specific cure for it. In eastern medicine the philosophy is that we are the accumulation of many “multi-woven stories”, and no one thing causes a problem. The approach to fixing or solving problems is non linear in all cases.

Western healing practices contrast with Eastern healing practices in developing awareness of the unique significance of touch. Touching is an essential form of communication between two human beings in the fight to subdue pain and disharmony. In Western cultures the use of touch has almost disappeared; it has become minimal. Ironically, in China and Japan and in many cultures, the importance of touch—just touch itself—has been acknowledged as a primary means to mitigate pain. The interpretation of touch includes a fundamental aspect of nonverbal communication. We use our hands, our arms, and other parts to pat, hug, kiss, pinch, hold, embrace, and tickle others. Through touch we communicate a variety of emotions and messages. In Western culture, we shake hands to be sociable and polite; we pat a person on the back for encouragement; we hug a person to show love, and we clasp raised hands to demonstrate solidarity. Because of individual preference, family background, or culture, people differ in their use of touching behavior and their reactions to unsolicited touch from others. Some people like to touch others and be touched; other people do not.

Perspectives of Chinese and Japanese cultures healing and helping approaches provide common ground for integrating thought into Western counseling. Theories and practices of healing have a conception of adaptation as they offer vivid descriptions of survival and influence. The relationship between human beings and their environment relative to addressing and solving adaptive problems are some of my deductions after comparing cultures and healing practices of Chinese and Japanese healing practices. Included also are deciding short- or long-term orientation or goal setting for the counselee and having a balance in practice between counselees in individualistic cultures and collective cultures. A value I practice is placing the good of society and community above the individual. Of course, being ethical, also involves appreciation and respect for the client’s culture, a practice that is useful and applicable to pastoral counseling. The application of healing practices of Chinese and Japanese cultures to counseling has particular reference to problem identification and offers the perspective or approach of counseling and the treatment plan to release suffering and dissatisfaction. If a pastoral counselor is going to incorporate spiritual principles, it is important that the counselor recognize and respect this incredible array of belief systems. The most important lesson might be taken from investigating a variety of patterns of beliefs with the recognition that a client may have a different way of perceiving and expressing the holy. It is our responsibility to honor these differences. The various therapeutic contexts should include one-on-one counseling and group counseling. One of the roles for pastoral counselors should be to advocate and empower clients to confront challenges and adversities in their environments with special consideration to sustain the well being of clients.

Internationalizing the counseling profession by educating and training counselors would enrich the global community in addition to synthesizing cultural values into research and practice work. It is interesting to note how the Code of Ethical Conduct by the APA is practiced as the Code of Ethics in China’s healing practices. Ethical principles are similar. The experience of relationships with the sacred, of the presence of the holy, is more important than the way it gets expressed in words or formulated as religious beliefs. The living Christ and the living Buddha portray the ways persons raised in two different traditions experience the presence of spirit, but the experience is basically the same.

The religions of reincarnation, the role of family, and the belief that one’s actions directly control one’s destiny are core values I believe and apply to pastoral counseling. In addition, uniting the self with the environment and forming emotional connection with the environment are beliefs in the Japanese culture. Positive or desirable emotional states or feelings and understanding how to communicate nonverbally as we send and receive messages are useful insights in healing. The outcome of clients’ response to behavioral, cognitive and interpersonal needs healing practices should be noted. It is also good to note that not all principles of healing practices are universal and that the use of touch varies from culture to culture. Integration from traditions such as Buddhism and Daoism with reference to Confucius teaches that once individuals engage and react to the environment, they develop behaviors, some of which they continue to practice. Nature and behavior, the ongoing process of change, and adaptation to the environment are some of the basic beliefs of Chinese culture. The profound oneness of all things and of all people with the nature of the universe and the divine affect healing. The integration of Eastern and Western healing practices provide us with new understanding of religion. I believe counseling and healing practices in China and Japan address the three levels of the psyche: conscious awareness, personal unconscious, and the collective unconscious and contains basic, instinctive patterns of behavior, emotion, and imagery that are common to all humans and cultures and guides our interactions with other people in the world.

Comments are closed