Challenges When Working with Saudi Families and Couples

Dealing with Saudi families can be a challenge for Saudi as well as non-Saudi counselors as many factors related to cultural context of Saudi Arabia interfere with the therapeutic process. First of all, the challenge that faces the Saudi counselors can be related to the fact that Saudi Arabia has a gender-segregated society. Males and females are separated from the age of 7, and from that age they do not have a direct communication with each other. Being raised in this environment might impact the work of the counselors with couples as one of the spouses might resist communicating with a counselor of an opposite gender. Saudi society is male-dominant and gender differences are strong (Al-Krenawi & Graham, 2000). Thus, female counselors might struggle while dealing with couples or with a male client as he might not trust her ability simply because of gender. Moreover, in Saudi society, individuals’ beliefs and values are rooted in the teaching of Islam, which can be a challenge for professional counselors who use modem psychological methods to reach the potential of those clients (Brinson & Al-Amri, 2005).

Non-Saudi counselors must also consider the mistrust of Saudi clients due to cultural gap. In the Saudi culture, individuals learned that sharing private issues is usually done within the nuclear family system. Thus, trusting an outsider, who is from different culture, is not an easy step to take. Disclosure of personal issues, especially marital concern, is a challenge for both counselors and their clients.

Another important aspect for counselors to know and be prepared for is that they might be dealing with a multi-spousal/multi-parental family. As Saudi law allows polygamy, it is not uncommon to for a counselor to encounter a Saudi man with multiple wives. This is a challenge for all counselors, whether domestic or foreign, working in Saudi Arabia. Such families are likely to experience conflict and hostility between spouses and siblings. When working with such families, counselors may work toward improvement of communication between family members and reducing intra-subfamily hostility (Al-Krenawi, 1998).

Conclusions and Recommendations

The fields of counseling, psychology, and family therapy are given more attention in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Saudi individuals nowadays realize the importance of these fields in their lives with the presence of recent factors that trigger the need for mental health interventions in the Saudi society. Some of these factors are associated with the change of the lifestyle of the society, specifically youth, as discussed earlier. The other factors are associated with the fact that the Middle East in general and Saudi Arabia in specific are facing a violent political conflict. The high rates of war in the area resulting from the current political crisis are causing severe trauma issues not only for individuals and families who are experiencing them but also for those who witness it. Also, the presence of terrorism in the area is causing a major stress for families, as parents are overwhelmed to protect their youth from extremist ideology in such an environment. Individuals and families in Saudi Arabia need an urgent intervention that can deal successfully with their needs and concerns.

As the country currently relies on mental health professionals recruited from neighboring countries, there is an urgent need for Saudi universities to provide training programs in the mental health fields for Saudi nationals. Although some Saudi universities provide either a diploma or master of arts degree in counseling (Brinson & Al-Amri, 2005), there is limited emphasis given to clinical training due to lack of sites for students to complete internships. Moreover, the Saudi government has taken the initiative to send students abroad with full scholarship to study in the hard and social science field, so they may be trained and return back to country. These students play a crucial role in the development of the country once they return, especially in the social fields as they challenge the stigma.

Since Saudi Arabia relies mostly on mental health professionals from other countries, there must be a multicultural training of these counselors prior to their work with Saudi clients. To work professionally and ethically with Saudi families, counselors are encouraged to give special attention to understanding the relationships and roles of individuals within the family (Dwairy, 2006).

Based on the above overview of the Saudi culture, clinical recommendations for working with families from Saudi Arabia include:

  • • Being aware of the Saudi cultural context and the family system.
  • • Being aware of the role of the family members, depending on the gender and age.
  • • Being aware the fundamental Islamic values and beliefs that shape the individual’s life style.
  • • Being aware of the slight movement of the new generation toward being more individualistic.
  • • Being sensitive to the stigma associated with mental health in Saudi society.
  • • Being sensitive toward the issue of privacy in the Saudi society.


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