Cultural encapsulation is the lack of understanding, or ignorance, of another’s cultural background and the influence this background has on one’s current view of the world. The purpose of this encapsulation, or “cocoon,” is to allow people to protect themselves from the rapid global changes occurring in technology, families, economy, education, and social health. Cultural encapsulation can lead to a counselor applying his or her own experiences to the client’s experiences despite the reality that both developed in different worlds, cultures, and values. To define one’s experience as the truth or reality may result in potentially harming the client, given the possible differences between the counselor and client.
Christopher G. Wrenn revisited the conceptualization of cultural encapsulation and classified people’s reactions to global change in two ways: as either a sense of hopelessness or a denial of the reality of the change or situation. This denial of the reality of change may lead counselors to make assumptions and generalizations about people and the world based on their limited group of clients; for example, clients who choose to see a counselor have money to do so and have a situation that compels them to see a mental health professional. For example, erroneous assumptions could be made about the etiology of depression based on a limited sample of clients who verbally express their depressive symptoms, are willing to seek help through counseling, and have economic means to see a counselor for a specific amount of time. Depression may have a different developmental pathway because of one’s group norms about symptom expression and help seeking (e.g., seeing a family friend, elder, or religious leader that is less expensive and more appropriate for one’s age, gender, religion, or culture).
The development of a counselor’s cultural encapsulation can stem from one’s culturally biased assumptions about counseling and psychology. Paul Pedersen identified eight assumptions:
- American psychology is superior to other national psychologies.
- Theories and measurements are validated for their use in other cultures.
- The “self-reference criterion” of evaluating one’s ideas and behaviors in terms of one’s own viewpoint is useful.
- Other disciplines doing similar activities can be excluded.
- The Western cultural bias within the literature is unintentional.
- Engagement in international issues where advocating for victims is critical is unnecessary.
- Indigenous psychology can be included in the universal view of psychology.
- Empirical research supports one’s cultural bias.
According to Wrenn, to avoid cultural encapsulation and these assumptions, counselors need to examine their beliefs, assumptions, and stereotypes daily and eliminate them if they are no longer present in society. Counselors must anticipate changes in the information that they hold as current truths and encourage those who think differently. Finally, counselors must avoid the tendency to be self-righteous in their beliefs about themselves and others.
- Pedersen, P. (1994). A handbook for developing multicultural awareness (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.
- Wrenn, C. G. (1962). The culturally encapsulated counselor. Harvard Educational Review, 32, 444 449.
- Wrenn, C. G. (1985). Afterword: The culturally encapsulated counselor revisited. In P. Pedersen (Ed.), Handbook of cross-cultural counseling and therapy (pp. 323-329). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.