The Art of Effective Communication
By Edgar E. López
Orange Crush was the first English phrase this family therapist learned while growing up in Guatemala. This popular soda pop was first introduced in 1911 by Clayton J. Howel, founder of the Orange Crush Company.
The word orange has two different uses—fruit within the citrus family and color in the color wheel.
Crush is a verb meaning, "to squeeze or force by pressure to alter or destroy structure (Merriam-Webster dictionary), or a noun meaning "an intense and usually passing infatuation."
Wow, this soft drink name provides some very interesting information to this family therapist—A refreshing orange flavor drink that quenches thirst, although its literal meaning has been bypassed.
Imagine for one moment, this similar cultural and language crossing-over experience (from Spanish to English) for both clients and their family therapist in Tucson, Arizona. Where we would be assessing relationship dynamics alone in a mono-lingual experience, we find ourselves exploring therapeutic terminology and its application and to current marital stressors when we are speaking fluently in a language that is not native to us.
Apart from overcoming the stigma of seeking out therapy and the burden of paying for therapy, this same client has another challenge: to adjust to a new set of skills and language within the therapeutic process. For the family therapist in these circumstances, some basic reminders are important for an effective therapeutic outcome.
Thirst is a human survival cue. Orange Crush is one solution to basic need for hydration. Key importance in quenching this kind of thirst depends on the availability of resources (e.g., Pepsi-Cola, Coca-Cola, natural water). When thirst is not attended properly, it may lead to unhealthy consequences (e.g., dehydration or even death!).
Similarly, when a client lacks basic communication skills and/or emotion regulation, it could lead to conflict, isolation, and frustration. While a family therapist has to introduce new skills to a client, a multi-cultural & bilingual family therapist has the additional task of finding the proper terminology that supports an effective outcome.
Imagine a multi-racial Hispanic and American couple with two different views on the process of providing for their elderly parents. They describe their experience using the words guilt and shame, and then begin describing a marital stressor created by an aging parent’s need for care. While the discussion may center on a belief to care for parents at home in old age versus a belief to have a professional to care for them, the couple are stuck in the meaning of their labeling of the situation. A couple in this situation may struggle to see beyond the literal translations of the words guilt and shame, and be profoundly influenced by the cultural meaning ascribed to them.
At this point, this family therapist recalls his Orange Crush example and tries to explore the meaning each spouse makes of the presenting problem. Therapy is an art. Providing a safe place for this couple to hear each other, to discern the meaning of specific words, and to provide the guidance that such meaning has for them, provides the empty canvas for this artist to begin his work!