A Comparative Study of the Differences in Cultures and Psychopathology

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A Comparative study of the Differences in Cultures and Psychopathology Sainiran S/O V. Thanapal
James Cook University, Singapore
Word Count: 1780

Abstract
Cultural factors have a heavy influence in the study of psychopathology. In this essay, this viewpoint will be analysed and discussed. By understanding these factors and taking them into consideration when treating patients, we as psychologists have a higher chance of efficiently helping in the betterment of our patients’ mental health. This essay will be comparing examples of cultural factors in Western cultures and Eastern cultures, and will analyse the data available to explain how cultural differences are important in our understanding of psychopathology and the subsequent differences in treating patients from differing cultural backgrounds.

A COMPARATIVE STUDY OF THE DIFFERENCES IN CULTURES AND PSYCHOPATHOLOGY Psychopathology is often defined as the presence of mental illness or disease. In the case of research, psychopathology can be taken to refer more broadly to the study of abnormal behaviour (Tackett & Krueger, 2006). In the due course of studying the abnormal behaviour in our clients, we will as psychologists no doubt come across clients differing form culture to culture. By understanding the differing cultural factors that arise, we will benefit in the way that we are more capable in treating people from differing cultures. The term ‘culture’ can be defined as the “socially shared or transmitted system of norms, values or ideas of a social group” (Spiro, 2001). Thus, what may be socially acceptable in a particular social group may not be so in other social groups. For example, Spiro states in 2001 that the ‘possession trance’ may be something pathological, but this does not apply in third world countries, where encountering the supernatural is part of life. In third world countries like India, a temporary functional psychosis with complete recovery is several times more common than in Western cultures. Egocentrism and a lack of spiritual explanations for the psychosis in Western cultures are believed to be the reason that clinical situations are constructed in which patients afflicted with functional psychoses are treated for a biological brain disease rather than a curable ‘spiritual illness’. Due to the difference in the cultural belief systems, Western patients experience a lower recovery rate as compared to non-Western patients. By recognizing the cultural differences, treatment for functional psychoses will differ, and can explain to us why there tends to be dramatic cross-cultural differences in the outcomes of treating patients from different cultures (Castillo, 2003). Castillo, in the same paper, states that in India, yogis exhibit a state of permanently altered consciousness which is characterized by the divided consciousness and recurrent religious visions & beliefs caused by the many years of meditative trance they have been undergoing. In a Western culture, this would be akin to being delusional. According to Castillo’s research, many of these yogis possessed personal histories of ‘abuse or psychological trauma’ during their childhood. However as expected, though they would be considered delusional in Western cultures, none of these yogis were thought to be mentally ill in the local culture (Castillo, 2003). Over in Singapore, there was a paper written in 1986 detailing a study carried out with 36 individuals in regards to possession-trance (Ee, Li & Kuan, 1986). In Singapore, although it is a largely Westernized Asian country, the basic Eastern beliefs of the people still do persist. Ee et. al. state that Singapore is a largely multi-racial society, generally comprising of Chinese, Malays and Indians. Singapore has a myriad of languages, religions and cultural practices, and in the issue of health and illness, their customs and religious philosophies still do play a large part in their perceptions. A substantial part...
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