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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A cross-cultural study of agency Bhagavatula, Lakshmi Sucharita


Culture plays an important role in the development of counselling concepts. The concepts imbibe significant aspects of the culture mirroring the values and goals of the culture they are born in. In this research an attempt has been made to examine three agency concepts from a religio-cultural perspective different from the one in which they were developed. Three counselling concepts, namely, locus of control, learned helplessness, and self-efficacy have been reviewed to identify common themes across the concepts. A Hindu philosophical perspective was discussed drawing upon the Advaita Vedanta of Sri Shankaracharya, and concepts from Srimad Bhagavad Gita. Limitations of the common themes identified were then examined from this Vedantic perspective to arrive at propositions about the agency concept, and counselling implications. Agency in the three counselling concepts is found to be equated to the self. The self is seen as a product of the mind, its beliefs, expectations, and thoughts; the actions performed; and the outcomes achieved. The self is thus buffetted by failures, negative outcomes, undesirable events. Future decisions and actions are influenced by past outcomes making it hard to 'let go’ of the past and act in the present. Also, the self is constantly monitored and evaluated through the data provided by the mind, and the outcomes attained. Great deal of faith is placed on the mind and its processes. The mind is viewed as an appropriate and accurate instrument for understanding the self. Due to this mistaken identification of agency with the self, individuals seek unrealistic and confining ends, distorting reality and the conception of the self. Counselling, based on these concepts, is likely to generate limited and problem specific solutions entrenching the individual in the doership and enjoyership. In contrast, self in the Vedantic perspective is not agency. Self is the unchanging, eternal essence due to the presence of which agency is experienced, but is different from agency. The notion of agency belongs to the field of the not-self. The mind and its processes are constantly changing, and creating structures which are considered unreliable bases upon which action can be based. Mind therefore is considered to be the not-self. This kind of discrimination of the self from the not-self is deemed to be an important and necessary step to growth. Due to the broad perspective of self, there is a greater potential for remaining free from notions of agency and outcome orientation. This enables individuals to persevere regardless of the outcomes attained, 'let go' of the past, and act in the present.

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