Original Paper

Clinical Social Work Journal

, 37:312

First online:

Wrapping and Unwrapping Emotions: Clinical Practice with East Asian Immigrant Elders

  • Tazuko ShibusawaAffiliated withNew York University Silver School of Social Work Email author 
  • , Irene W. ChungAffiliated withHunter College School of Social Work

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Using the cultural norm of the way gifts are wrapped, unwrapped, and exchanged as a metaphor for interpersonal connections, this paper presents the way therapists can establish therapeutic relationships with East Asian clients who do not express emotions openly. We first discuss the ways in which emotions are conceptualized, experienced, and expressed in East Asian cultures. We then present vignettes of our work with older Chinese and Japanese immigrant women to illustrate the importance of therapist authenticity and co-construction of the therapeutic relationship. Using the framework of relational/cultural theory, which posits that healing takes place in the context of mutually empathic growth-fostering relationships, we illustrate the importance of establishing mutuality between therapist and client as a form of cultural empathy.


East Asian Older immigrants Cross-cultural Emotions Cultural empathy