Culture is what people think, value, and do to ensure their existence. As each generation inherits a culture, modifications will be made, with basic features left untouched such as language, religious, practices and government systems.
Like a river, culture has many sources (Mosterin, 1992). There are at least five tributaries that merge to make us who we are. We are first influenced by our biology. Our genders, sexual preferences and socialization processes produce several combinations of behaviour, which cut across national and possibly international boundaries. Human beings however will naturally seek
to adjust their behaviours to „fit‟ with the dictates of the world in which we inhabit.
Our culture is influenced by our ecology. The various environments existing worldwide will be hot or cold, tropical or temperate, mountainous or flat. Understandably, persons living in Iceland will develop a different way of life to those living in Hawaii.
Our national grouping will influence specific culture. Generally, inhabitants of countries will share common language, style of government, mode of dress etc., which may be vastly different from the variable in another country. For example, the language and mode of dress in India is significantly different from that of Spain.
Within a country there may be differences between regions, which may contribute significantly to the national culture. For example, in the United States of America, people living in California and Texas long the Mexican border present cultural characteristics that are unique to that part of the country (Vontress, 2001). Similarly, certain parts of Canada have French as their first language eg. Quebec, while other parts have English as the first language, eg. Ontario. 2
In certain countries of the world, the racio-ethnic group into which individuals are born and socialized plays a tremendous role in influencing culture. In the USA, many African-Americans manifest a culture quite different from the Caucasian-Americans. In Trinidad, the Indian and the Negro population exhibit vastly differing beliefs, dress and traditions. Although culture is a complex construct, it undoubtedly affects our entire existence.
Anthropologists often describe culture as a system of shared meanings. Because there are a variety of ways to define a cultural group (e.g., by ethnicity, religion, geographic region, age group, sexual orientation, or profession) so consequently, some persons consider themselves as having multiple cultural identities.
Culture and society play critical roles in mental health, mental illness, and mental health services. Understanding the wide-ranging roles of culture and society enables the mental health professional to design and deliver services that are more responsive to the needs of racial and ethnic minorities. Psychologically speaking, major perceived cultural differences between people can cause initial uncertainty, misunderstanding and fear. Culture is 3
relevant, however, even in matches of very similar cultures, as in situations where there is a good therapeutic fit or where the therapist over identifies with the patient and makes unwarranted cultural assumptions (Moffic et al., 1988). With a seemingly endless range of cultural subgroups and individual variations, culture is important because it bears upon what all people bring to the therapeutic setting. It can account for variations in how clients communicate their symptoms and which ones they report. More often than...