Psychological Disorders and Culture

Mental health has been recognized as a major issue of concern within society since the early times. During these times, different communities used special healing practices defined by their culture to help the people with mental health problems. Over the years, these traditional healing practices have been passed from generation to generation through cultural laws of particular communities. However, with the improvement of technology and modernization, a more conventional healing model, such as psychotherapy, has been developed through scientific research and innovation. Over the years, many people with deep cultural backgrounds have migrated to the more developed countries in the West, such as the United States, and they have carried along their indigenous healing practices into the modern world of medicine. In this paper, the goal is to assess the underlying opportunities for revolutionizing the world of psychology and mental health treatments if these two methods were used together. However, to understand these issues, this paper explores the similarities and differences of the two models and the theoretical perspective of the traditional techniques. Finally, the paper looks at the effectiveness of the traditional approach in treating mental problems as well as the way people with mental illnesses are seen by society.

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Similarities and Differences

In the modern world of psychology, these two methods, which are indigenous healing methods and Western psychotherapy, may appear competing and at times seen as collaborative treatment practices for mental health issues. The way, in which people view them, depends on their similarities or the differences between them. Modern therapeutic interventions are based on the scientific study of mental distress that results in various mental problems. Psychotherapists approach their treatment by letting the client explore his or her inner worries and discomforts. The environment, in which these sessions take place, becomes essential to the client by creating freedom for them to dig deeper into the mental issues they have.

At the same time, indigenous healing techniques are based on the spiritual intervention in the life of the client. The worldview of communities using these practices is based on animism, whereby they hold the belief that the world is guided by spiritual entities. For example, people belonging to the Caribbean cultures believe that mental illnesses are caused by spirits, demons, and spells as a punishment for the mistakes done before. The above difference arises due to the differences that the healers have since conventional approaches are scientific, while the traditional practices are spiritual in nature. For example, in the newer traditional techniques such as Naikan, healers use methods like meditation to help clients rediscover themselves. At the same time, modern counseling traditional forms use a holistic approach in taking care of the well-being of a person. Thus, there is no classification of mental health issues that affect different people the healers rather approach all problems as one.

On the other hand, counseling focuses on the interdependence of these issues in healing, whereby psychological distress is treated differently from behavioral deviance. According to Ojelade, McCray, Meyers, and Ashby, the Western style of counseling emphasizes cause-effect laws, whereby through rational thinking and constancy of measurements counselors can ascertain the roots of the mental problems. The technique focuses on the importance of emotional expressiveness, the direct person-to-person communication, and the exploration of internal processes that help the client and mental health specialist to understand the source of distress. On the other hand, indigenous practices use the spiritual worldview in exploring the problems that these patients experience. Furthermore, they emphasize the individual’s self instead of viewing a person separate from the social context he/she is within. Thus, indigenous healers view the problems of mental distress as those caused by factors beyond the patient himself. These factors include fate, family dynamics, and possession by spirits, while others are said to experience these problems because they are destined to experience them.

In the western approach, mental specialists take a passive role in helping the client, whereby the power to bring a beneficial change is left to the clients, and counselors act as facilitators of the process. In traditional practices, healers assume an active role in helping the patient, which gives a picture of a patient with problems that he/she cannot solve by himself and leaves them to the healer. However, both approaches consider the cultural background of the patient to understand the culturally bound behaviors’ significance during the healing process. Therefore, for the counselors to help the patients effectively, they must consider the various worldviews of their diverse clientele.

Theories Used in Interpreting Traditional Healing Practices

Today’s psychology, which has taken the direction of culturally informed interventions, has been achieved through the rigorous integration of the aspect of self and culture as a significant factor of human behavior. According to the theory of culture inclusive action, in helping patients with mental disorders, counselors must use human actions as a tool for analysis. According to Tseng, the theory supports the concept of indigenous healing practices today by arguing that as much as counselors focus on the current psychological concepts, they should give room to the culture-specific expressions of the patients. Such an inclusion of culture has led to the development of three major culturally conscious approaches to psychology, namely Cross-Cultural Psychology (CCP), Indigenous Psychologies (IPs), and Cultural Psychology.

In establishing a link between the Western therapeutic practices and indigenous techniques, the theory asserts that the development of science in any field is caused by a drastic change in the perspective of the issue. That is, the way traditional healers use their specific cultures to help patients with mental disorders, the current counseling practices have encompassed culture but in a more cross-cultural view. Cognitive theory is relevant in supporting the traditional healing practices. The theory argues that mental health experts focus on the mental processes of the patients during their interventions. Therefore, the inner attention of the patients is the key for the healers to gain access to the worldview of their clients. Traditionally, healers have used practices such as meditation, for example, in Naikan therapy. When patients are engaged in meditation, they can evaluate their past actions because mental healing practices, such as Naikan therapy, have allowed the healers to determine the underlying cause of mental distress through past actions. Indigenous societies view mental illness as a punishment for the past mistakes and, therefore, to facilitate healing healers were engaging the patients’ spirit in the possessed sessions that reveal the cause of the mental distress and the healer would mediate the healing process. The theory also supports today’s mental therapies because when psychologists or psychiatrists communicate with their clients, they focus on memories.

Effectiveness of Indigenous Healing Methods

The use of traditional healing practices is as old as human history. Every community has developed its own way of treating its members. Mental health as one of the major social problems across all communities also has specific traditional treatment models. For example, Naikan therapy is used by communities in Japan; Santeria, or La Regla de Ocha, is used by the Caribbean communities, while Bhuta Vidya is utilized in the Indian communities. Today, these practices have emerged in the Western countries alongside the scientific psychotherapies in the discipline of psychology. According to WHO, approximately 65% of the global population is dependent on the traditional medicine and therapies. Ruetsche argues that traditional healing techniques address more than one area of health since it takes a holistic approach. That happens because there is no separation of the mind from the body, and this healing process can help patients suffering from both mental distress and physical ailments at the same time.

Moreover, traditional healing processes have been able to help most immigrants in these Western countries facing language barriers in accessing modern mental therapies. Research also shows that traditional methods like sweat lodges, pipe ceremonies, and sun dances have been very effective among American Indians in reducing mental health issues, as argued by Gone and Calf Looking. Therefore, in several cases, the indigenous healing techniques create positive results as compared to the westernized methods, especially to the patients with deep cultural backgrounds. Healers use their personal healing journeys to create a connection with what the patients experience. Such a feeling of mutual experience enables the patients to relate more and become more accepting of their conditions.

How a Mentally Ill Person is Viewed

The stigma associated with mental disorders is experienced across all communities. However, the extent, to which a person is isolated from the rest of the community members, highly depends on the value of the behavioral change given by a community. Traditional cultures view individuals as interrelated with all other social aspects. Thus, a problem like a mental disorder is seen as a societal problem rather than an individual issue. For example, people with mental problems within indigenous communities can attend healing sessions in a group and spiritual interventions done to them together. However, today, people with mental issues face greater stigmatization in the modern western cities, forcing their families to keep them locked up in houses.

Mental health today is more individualized, and those affected have to overcome these disorders by themselves through the help of therapists. For example, people of color and immigrants in the USA are heavily underrepresented in accessing proper medical care. Such a low representation in accessing mental health services is caused by the fact that many of them avoid the negative attitude that comes with them being seen accessing these services. Research shows that a large number of them terminate their therapeutic sessions prematurely, and many of them do not turn out after the first appointment. Stigmatization reduces the effectiveness of the healing process regardless of the approach taken. The deviant behavior associated with people suffering from mental disorders, which make it hard for them to interact with others, makes them appear as outsiders. Efforts across the globe have been made to make the healing process as inclusive as possible, whereby patients get to bring along their relatives during such processes.

Conclusion and Recommendation

Psychological disorders have been a major issue for many decades now, and different societies have addressed the issue differently according to their cultural values. It is evident that culture plays a vital role in determining the approaches that healing practices will adopt. Since the early times, mass migration and globalization have enabled the transfer of these traditional practices within the current metropolitan cities. The existence of both modern and traditional mental healing models has created the sense of competition and a sense of collaboration at the same time.

In order to facilitate a more inclusive and multicultural intervention in the counseling profession, there is a continuous need for the psychologists and psychiatrists to incorporate some of the indigenous healing practices into their work. Moreover, traditional healers require the crucial training of what counseling truly is and they need the essential processes that they can follow to make sure that they help even the people outside their cultural bracket. Such an integration of both practices gives hope for a more effective psychological disorder treatment in future.

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