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Connectedness Versus Separateness: Applicability of Family Therapy to Japanese Families



    1. Lecturer, Faculty of Education, Tokyo Gakugei University, Nukuikita-machi, Koganei, Tokyo 184, Japan.
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  • ANNIE LAU M.D., F.R.C.P.(C)(Can.)

    1. Consultant in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Redbridge Child and Family Consultation Centre and King George Hospital, Ilford, England.
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  • The authors would like to thank Mr. Hugh Jenkins and Dr. Koji Suzuki for their clinical supervision of the cases described in this article, part of which was presented at the Third World Family Therapy Congress, Jyvaskyla, Finland, 1991. Reprint request should be addressed to the first author.


This article, a product of the two authors' multicultural experiences, contrasts British and Japanese families in order to examine the applicability of the Western model of family therapy to Japanese families and therapists. Areas where the Western model is incompatible are identified, and modifications to fit the Japanese indigenous model are suggested. The most significant difference in value systems between the two cultures is the Japanese preference for connectedness. The Japanese person is seen as a part of the embedded interconnectedness of relationships, whereas British norms prioritize separateness and clear boundaries in relationships, individuality, and autonomy. This value orientation is manifested in the Japanese language, hierarchical nature of the family structure, the family life cycle, and the implicit communication style. Systemic thinking, which deals with the pattern of relationships, is valid for all families regardless of cultural differences. But therapists should note that the preferred direction of change for Japanese families in therapy, is toward a process of integration — how a person can be effectively integrated into the given system — rather than a process of differentiation. An authoritative therapist style, the use of individual sessions, silence, and other nonverbal techniques are relevant to bringing about the desired change toward better integration of the individual with his or her networks.