Familismo in Counseling

Familismo refers to a strong sense of identification with, and loyalty to, nuclear and extended family. It also includes a sense of protection of familial honor, respect, and cooperation among family members. Through these values, individuals place their family’s needs over their own personal desires and choices. Researchers indicate that familismo-related values foster the creation or facilitation of the whole, rather than that of the individual. Scholars further define familismo as the most important cultural aspect defining the beliefs and attitudes of Latinos/as. Thus, it becomes fundamental that therapists working with Latino/a populations understand the concept of familismo and its impact on the well-being of Latinos/as.

Familismo is best understood from a multidimensional perspective, which includes three dimensions: structural, behavioral, and attitudinal. The structural dimension defines the spatial and social boundaries in which behaviors and attitudes within the family acquire meaning. The inclusion or exclusion of nuclear and extended family members defines these boundaries. The behavioral dimension refers to the support shared among family members. Visiting and calling family members reflect this dimension. The attitudinal component of familismo refers to the commitment to family relationships, including individual’s identification with the nuclear and extended family. Like most constructs, familismo should be examined from a dialectical perspective where both positive and negative aspects are highlighted.

Traditional views on family dynamics have facilitated the misinterpretation of familismo. Some therapists may perceive strong family bonds among Latinos/as as signs of codependency, enmeshment, or pathology, leaving many Latinos/as feeling misunderstood and inaccurately diagnosed. Because strong family relationships among Latinos/as can cause confusion in the interpretation of symptoms, familismo should first be interpreted as a cultural variable that may also serve as a therapeutic and individual strength.

Research indicates that factors underlying the concept of familismo may positively influence Latinos/as’ treatment adherence and their psychological well-being. Encouraging and strengthening family cooperation and support could be a way through which mental health providers use familismo to promote treatment adherence. They may encourage family members to set goals and make decisions that may benefit the clients’ well-being. In turn, this may reinforce the clients’ self-esteem and positively affect their decision-making process.

Further studies show that a strong sense of familismo may decrease cultural and intergenerational problems within the family. These studies hypothesize that the concept of familismo would lower adolescents’ feelings of depression, anxiety, alcohol use, and conduct problems and increase involvement with school activities. Thus, reinforcing familismo may serve as a useful tool for therapists fostering the well-being of Latino/a adolescents.

Given that familismo is a key cultural dynamic present in Latino/a communities, it becomes crucial to understand how its function may affect the well-being of Latinos/as. Therapists are encouraged to examine their personal and professional values of family structure and interdependence as they work with Latino/a clients.

References:

  1. Antshel, K. M. (2002). Integrating culture as a means of improving treatment adherence in the Latino population. Psychology, Health & Medicine, 7(4), 435-149.
  2. Bacallao, M. L., & Smokowski, P. R. (2005). “Entre dos mundos”: Bicultural skills training with Latino immigrant families. The Journal of Primary Prevention, 26(6), 485-509.
  3. Santiago-Rivera, A. L., Arredondo, P., & Gallardo-Cooper, M. (2002). Counseling Latinos and la familia. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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