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Graduate Education in Cross-Cultural Psychology or Cultural Psychology and What To Do With It When Completed

Prepared by Walter J. Lonner
Western Washington University
Center for Cross-Cultural Research


Are There Academic Programs in Cross-Cultural Psychology?    
Recommended Bibliographic References    
Careers in Cross-Cultural Psychology or Cultural Psychology


Psychologists deeply involved with cross-cultural psychology or cultural psychology are often contacted by students who are seeking advice. They are frequently asked to respond to variations of the following query: "I am interested in studying cross-cultural psychology, perhaps getting a doctorate in the area, and then pursuing a career in this field. Please advise me what I should do to reach those goals." The following information should help to answer such questions. The information comes primarily from the perspective of cross-cultural psychology because I am more familiar with that academic specialty than any of the other perspectives in the social and behavioral sciences that involve culture. Those who are known, from their writing and research, to represent cultural psychology and/or psychological anthropology should be consulted for particulars about those orientations.

Are There Academic Programs in Cross-Cultural Psychology?

First, it is doubtful that a Ph.D. program in any Department of Psychology in the United States or Canada  or perhaps in the world  offers a Ph.D. in cross-cultural psychology. That has been the case in psychology for many years. Thus, the vast majority of those who call themselves cross-cultural psychologists have received doctoral degrees in Psychology, Educational Psychology, Cognitive Science, or some other "generic" or "mainstream" program. Then, for one of various reasons, they become involved with cross-cultural psychology. The situation has been different during the past 10-15 years because more programs are offering relevant courses. However, a doctorate specifically indicating that the degree is in cross-cultural psychology doesn't seem to exist. (If I'm wrong, I'd like to hear about it and stand corrected.) The same may be said of Master's Degree programs, but because there are many more of the latter than there are of the former, it is somewhat (but still marginally) more likely that Master's Degree programs offering degrees in cross-cultural psychology can be found. It is quite likely that Master's Degree programs emphasizing "diversity training" or "multicultural education" are available, and not cross-cultural psychology. But programs with titles such as those will likely be found in Departments, Colleges or Schools of Education rather than in Psychology Departments.

The Department of Psychology at Western Washington University offers Master's Degrees in general-experimental, mental health counseling, and school counseling. Despite the fact that the Center for Cross-Cultural Research is part of the Department of Psychology, degrees earned in these programs do not specify "cross-cultural", even if a student's thesis had a definite cross-cultural focus. More than half of the students who receive Master's degrees from Western go on to Ph.D. programs. Some of them continue their interest in culture and get accepted into relevant Ph.D. programs.

Until some university develops an official curriculum in cross-cultural psychology that leads to a degree in the area, the best advice for the interested and beginning graduate student seems to be this: First find a strong program in psychology that has a solid reputation for specializing in a traditional substantive area that matches your career interests. Such areas include clinical, social, developmental, experimental, etc. Second, look at the interests of all the department faculty members and determine to what extent each is interested in, familiar with, or at least hospitable to the cross-cultural approach in psychology. If you find a program with substantial interest in the area, then you may have found a place with which you would be satisfied. However, if you find that the faculty has little or no interest in the area then you should consider avoiding it because you would likely be frustrated.

Putting it another way, you would be wise as a first step to find a program that offers a solid background in basic psychology and then determine if it has enough of an emphasis in cross-cultural or cultural psychology to satisfy your needs. You will need to scrutinize each program very carefully to determine if it is for you. In addition to checking out the interests and background of each member of the department, carefully examine the curriculum and carefully read how each course is described. It is uncommon for a graduate program in psychology to offer a course that explicitly and completely focuses on cross-cultural psychology in a sophisticated and contemporary manner. It is common, however, for graduate programs to offer courses that give at least some attention to culture and ethnicity. In assessing programs, look for any courses, or course descriptions, which strongly suggest that issues of culture and diversity will be addressed, or that a broad international scope is an important part of the course. As stated above, if you find no evidence of faculty interest or curricular focus in the area, then it is likely you will be dissatisfied with that program of study.

There are some notable exceptions to consider, however. For example, the University of Chicago has an interdisciplinary Ph.D. program called the "Committee on Human Development." Now 60 years old, it specializes in cultural psychology/psychological anthropology and mental health/personality, as well as life-span development. The program is rich in tradition and productivity, and is quite selective. For further information about that program, please write to: Chair, Committee on Human Development, University of Chicago, 5730 S. Woodlawn Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637 or call (773) 702-3971. Another noteworthy exception is the University of Michigan's Culture and Cognition program. That interdisciplinary program is concerned with the interrelationship between culture and psychological processes. It is offered by the departments of anthropology and psychology, as well as the Institute for Social Research. Students receive doctorates in their home department, while enrolled in the Culture and Cognition area. The web site is http://www.umich.edu/~psycdept/cultcog/.

Certain that I am missing other noteworthy programs, I apologize for their omission. However, this document has been prepared not to be a complete and definitive guide but to alert interested students that solid graduate programs in these areas are not common.

To avoid frustration and find a good match of your interests and what institutions offer, your best bet may be to find a department of psychology which has at least one faculty member -- preferably in your interest area -- who has demonstrated an active interest in either cross-cultural or cultural psychology. Then you should consider getting in touch with that person, by phone, e-mail, or regular mail. A personal interview may be arranged.

If you have not already done so, you may consider joining the International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology (IACCP). It has attractively low rates for students and individuals with relatively low income. Membership in IACCP includes subscriptions to the bimonthly Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology and the Cross-Cultural Psychology Bulletin. Members also receive a very helpful membership directory which contains helpful information about members throughout the world.

Recommended Bibliographic References

Since the mid-1960s, when the modern era of cross-cultural began, there have been a tremendous number of publications that focus on the issues and problems of interest to cross-cultural psychologists. While the intent of this brief overview is not to give detailed references, there are a few that will give you some historical perspective as well as a fairly broad sampling of most of the main avenues of activity. The six-volume Handbook of cross-cultural psychology, published by Allyn and Bacon in 1980 under the general editorship of Harry C. Triandis, is still an authoritative source of information and research review. The Second Edition of the Handbook, under the general editorship of John W. Berry, was published in 1997, also by Allyn and Bacon. Both the original and revised Handbook primarily focus on issues and orientations of great interest to cross-cultural psychologists. However, all these volumes contain chapters that are highly relevant to cultural psychologists and psychological anthropologists as well; several chapters were written by psychologists in those speciality areas. A 1998 article by Segall, M.H., Lonner, W. J., and Berry, J.W., "Cross-cultural psychology as a scholarly discipline: On the flowering of culture in behavioral research" (American Psychologist, 53, 1101-1110) gives an historical overview as well as a glimpse of current research orientations. Containing about key 90 references, it may be the best, most recent, and most readily available overview of the field.

There are several journals that are rich sources of research articles and reviews. In addition to the bimonthly Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, which is the leading outlet for cross-cultural psychology, there is the quarterly International Journal of Intercultural Relations (IJIR). Sponsored by the International Academic of Intercultural Research, IJIR focuses on such matters as sojourner adjustment, training for intercultural experiences in the workplace, and patterns of interaction in other cultures. It is clearly an "applied" journal. A relatively new quarterly journal, Culture and Psychology, contains articles that focus on cultural psychology. Its e-mail address: cultpsy@clarku.edu. The journal Cross-Cultural Research primarily focuses on research in the area of psychological anthropology. A new journal, The Asian Journal of Social Psychology, will likely become popular and influential, but it may be somewhat difficult to find in institutional libraries because of its newness.

Careers in Cross-Cultural Psychology or Cultural Psychology

There are, at this point in the history of the development of cross-cultural and cultural psychology, no proven or obvious career paths in these areas. That is, it is still rare to see a job advertisement calling for a cross-cultural psychologist or cultural psychologist (unlike, for example, other orientations in psychology that will usually be specified, such as child clinical or developmental). Rather, descriptions of position openings may include a strong preference for someone with a background in, or preparation in, cross-cultural or cultural psychology. More than likely, job descriptions may simply require applicants to be familiar with issues and orientations in cultural or ethnic diversity.

Available jobs that are consistent with the goals of cross-cultural psychology will likely be in applied areas, such as counseling or clinical psychology. There is a continuing need by clinics, hospitals, and various health agencies for psychologists who have received respectable training in cross-cultural or multicultural counseling. Many government offices at the national and state (or province) level actively seek people with solid education in culture-related areas as well as substantial experience in cultures other than one's own. Business and industry can likewise benefit by hiring individuals with such a background. It may be obvious, but one thing that cross-cultural psychologists have in common is extensive experience in and with other cultures and societies. If an interested student doesn't have much of an "other culture" background, that is relatively easy to fix. All one would need is a valid passport and a respectable plan to travel and work elsewhere for a year or more.

In the academic realm, it is unusual for a department of psychology to advertise for a cross-cultural psychologist in a tenure-track position, Ph.D. level. However, if a candidate has a solid background in a traditional substantive area as well as an impressive background of relevant cross-cultural importance, that could sway the vote in one's favor. The picture may change as these important areas continue to develop.

In the end, it's like anything else in the search for gainful employment and an interesting and productive career: Whatever one gets out of a search for a program or profession depends on how much work and creativity is dedicated to the search.

Finally, if anyone who reads this has information that may contradict and/or update any of the above, please let me know. Perhaps such information could be included in a future version of this overview. My e-mail address is: lonner@cc.wwu.edu

Good luck in your search.

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