Occupational therapy is a healthcare profession that aims to help individuals achieve independence and participate in the activities of daily living (ADLs) and other meaningful activities such as work, leisure, and socialization. Chinese minority groups may have unique cultural and linguistic needs when it comes to occupational therapy based on potential beliefs and influences from Eastern medicine. It is important for occupational therapists to be culturally sensitive and knowledgeable about the specific cultural practices and beliefs of the Chinese minority group they are working with, in order to provide effective and appropriate therapy. Additionally, it may be beneficial for occupational therapists to be fluent in the language spoken by the Chinese minority group in order to facilitate effective communication and understanding. Otherwise, a translator should be used for language barriers. Chinese most commonly Mandarin (mainland China) and Cantonese (Hong Kong).
Chinese attitudes towards Western healthcare can vary, as the beliefs and practices of individuals and communities can be influenced by various factors such as education, socioeconomic status, and regional culture. However, some Chinese people may have a general skepticism towards Western medicine due to the country’s long history of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and the fact that many traditional practices and remedies have been passed down for generations. They may see TCM as more natural, holistic and rooted in their culture and may prefer to use TCM in conjunction with Western medicine or as an alternative treatment.1
Additionally, some Chinese people may have concerns about the side effects of Western medications and may prefer to use natural remedies and traditional practices to manage their health. There may also be perceptions that Western medicine is more expensive and less accessible than TCM. For stronger pain medications, Chinese patients should be educated about the potential addictiveness and side effects.2
Occupational therapists should be aware of any potential barriers or challenges that may arise due to cultural or linguistic differences. For example, certain Chinese minority groups may have different attitudes towards disability and may view it as a result of spiritual or supernatural causes. This can impact the individual’s motivation and engagement in therapy. For example, death is viewed as often a taboo topic so a conversation about palliative care or DNR can be very difficult. Occupational therapists must be able to address these cultural beliefs and work with the individual and their family to develop a therapy plan that is culturally appropriate and respectful.
Family members play an integral part of the healthcare decision process, with children often helping translate for older Chinese patients. It is important for occupational therapists to involve the family members in the therapy process, as they play a critical role in the individual’s recovery and rehabilitation. They also need to be able to communicate effectively with the family members, and provide them with information and support in a way that is easy for them to understand. This requires the therapist to be aware of any cultural or linguistic barriers that may arise, and to work with the individual and their family to develop a therapy plan that is appropriate and respectful.
Another important aspect of providing occupational therapy to Chinese minority groups is to understand and incorporate traditional Chinese healing practices into therapy. While previously thought of as ineffective and highly controversial, studies are showing the effectiveness of such methods. This can include the use of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) such as acupuncture and herbal remedies, as well as the use of traditional Chinese therapeutic exercises such as Tai Chi and Qigong. Acupuncture is also more accepted now in the western world. By incorporating these practices into therapy, occupational therapists can help to address not just the physical symptoms of the individual, but also their mental and emotional well-being, which is an important aspect of overall health and recovery in Chinese culture.
Older adults in Chinese culture may have different attitudes and beliefs towards aging, illness and disability, and may have different expectations of therapy.3 While independence is still highly valued, family members are often expected to step in and provide help. Occupational therapists must be able to address these cultural and linguistic differences and provide therapy that is appropriate and respectful to the older Chinese minority population.
Another important aspect to consider when providing occupational therapy to Chinese minority groups is to understand the social and economic context of the community. For example, Chinese minority groups living in rural areas may have limited access to healthcare and occupational therapy services, and may face economic and transportation barriers that make it difficult for them to access therapy. Occupational therapists working with Chinese minority groups in these areas must be aware of these barriers and work with the community to develop strategies to overcome them. This may include working with community organizations to provide outreach and education, as well as developing telehealth or mobile therapy services to make therapy more accessible.
It’s also crucial to recognize that Chinese minority groups may have different needs in terms of accessibility to therapy. For example, people with disabilities from Chinese minority groups may have unique needs in terms of accessibility and may require modifications to the therapy environment or equipment to participate in therapy. Modification of the environment may seem natural to OTs, but cultural beliefs such as Feng Shui can even affect the placement of objects in ones home. Occupational therapists must find a balance and be aware of these needs and make necessary adjustments to ensure that therapy is accessible and inclusive for all individuals.
Last, an awareness of political and social issues that may affect Chinese minority groups may inform ones practice. The recent Asian hate crimes in America had negatively affected the freedom of Asians to live their daily lives in fear of being physically assaulted.4 The Chinese government’s policies on minority groups may impact the access to healthcare and therapy services for these groups. Occupational therapists working with Chinese minority groups must be aware of these issues and work with the community to advocate for access to appropriate therapy services.
- Chan, M. F., Mok, E., Wong, Y. S., Tong, T. F., Day, M. C., Tang, C. K. Y., & Wong, D. H. C. (2003). Attitudes of Hong Kong Chinese to traditional Chinese medicine and Western medicine: survey and cluster analysis. Complementary therapies in medicine, 11(2), 103-109.
- Hon, K. L. E., Leung, T. F., Tse, H. M., Lam, L. N., Tam, K. C., Chu, K. M., … & Fok, T. F. (2005). A survey of attitudes to traditional Chinese medicine among Chinese medical students. The American journal of Chinese medicine, 33(02), 269-279.
- Hopton, K., & Stoneley, H. (2006). Cultural awareness in occupational therapy: the Chinese example. British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 69(8), 386-389.
- Gover, A. R., Harper, S. B., & Langton, L. (2020). Anti-Asian hate crime during the COVID-19 pandemic: Exploring the reproduction of inequality. American journal of criminal justice, 45(4), 647-667.