Counseling Chinese Communities in Malaysia: The Challenges and Needs in Mental Health Service Deliverance

Counseling Chinese Communities in Malaysia: The Challenges and Needs in Mental Health Service Deliverance

Rachel Sing Kiat Ting, Pei Lynn Foo
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6073-9.ch002
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This chapter presents the experiences of Chinese in Malaysia (CIM), in the context of mental health services. As the second largest ethnic group in Malaysia, CIM is diverse in its dialectic subculture, education, generation, geography, and degree of assimilation to the mainstream culture. The chapter introduces the ecological characteristics of CIM and how they shape the unique psychological challenges. Though CIM are known for their multilingual ability, strong work ethics, emphasis on education, and family piety, the clashes between tradition and modern values, the marginalized position in the Malaysian political arena, the stereotype of overachiever in education, and the “brain drain” movement of young elite CIM, have all caused a strain in CIM families as well as individuals. Moreover, they face both external and internal barriers in getting quality mental health care. It is therefore imperative to promote a mental health discipline that is open to serve CIM, as well as being sensitive to its cultural and historical backdrop.
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In the recent two decades, the discipline of psychology in Asia is arriving at its golden age of development due to waves of globalization, modernization and westernization. Since the publication of the Handbook of Chinese Psychology (Bond, 1996), Chinese psychology is deserving much attention in the arena of cross-cultural psychology and cultural psychology. In 2010, there is an updated edition on the Handbook and the chapters expanded from 32 to 40 (Bond, 2010). Many recent empirical researches on the Chinese population have been included in the handbook, which demonstrated that psychological research among this population could confirm, verify and be adapted from certain existing theories from Western psychology. Nevertheless, most of the studies cited in those chapters were based on Chinese populations from Hong Kong and Taiwan, as these regions have a longer history in establishing local psychological disciplines. Overall, there is a scarcity of psychology publications and literatures on Chinese immigrants or diasporas in other regions or societies.

The Chinese people have a long history of migrating overseas. Due to acculturation and assimilation, overseas Chinese espouse multiple identities that add to the richness in manifestation of Chinese personalities. The diverse and multidimensional identities among overseas Chinese can be explored through identity conflict and integration in the experiences of acculturative stress and socio-cultural adaptation, cultural competence mediated by coping strategies, personal and situational factors, social support (i.e. in the context of ethnic communities & host cultures), and the roles and interpersonal relationships within the foundation of the Chinese family (i.e. the concepts of family harmony and filial piety) over time and generations (Ward & Lin, 2010). The voices of Chinese immigrants speak of the evolvement of Chinese culture in new lands, as well as their hybridized identities as overseas Chinese. As a pioneering effort, the authors of this paper endeavor to expound upon the experiences of Chinese in Malaysia (CIM), in the context of mental health services. In comparison to Hong Kong and Taiwan, psychology practice is considered to be in its infancy stage in Malaysia. While academic psychology has existed since the late 1970s, applied psychology disciplines have surfaced only in the past 30 years (Ng, Teoh & Haque, 2003).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Chinese in Malaysia: Naturalized Malaysians of Chinese descent, mostly descendants of Chinese who arrived in various waves of immigration.

Assimilation: The process whereby a minority group gradually adapts to the customs and attitudes of the prevailing culture.

Resilience: The ability to recover quickly or adjust easily to life difficulties, misfortune or adversities.

Acculturation: The process of social, psychological and identity change resulting from migrating to another culture (i.e. original and host cultures).

Indigenous Psychology: The scientific study of human behavior and mind that is native, that is not transported from other regions, and that is designed for its people. It involves understanding each culture from its own frame of reference, including its own ecological, historical, philosophical, and religious or spiritual contexts.

Multicultural Competency: The ability to understand, communicate with and effectively interact with people across cultures.

Mental Health: A person’s condition with regard to their psychological, cognitive, emotional, and social well-being.

Psychological Challenges: Difficulties or obstacles that affect the individual’s mental status.

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