Many years ago I gave lectures at Fuller Seminary where one faculty respondent commented that my talks about integrating psychology and Christianity never acknowledged that integration is impacted by culture. Since then, I have come to realize that views of psychological and political issues, psychopathology, research, or effective treatment methods differ from country to country. American ways of doing therapy, presenting lectures, doing ministry or leading mission trips may not connect with people in other cultures and actually can do harm when we think we are helping. I never go overseas or work cross-culturally without working to understand cultural differences before I go and while I’m there. Stated bluntly, the American (Canadian, British, Australian, or other country’s) world-views or therapies are not always universally applicable or the best for other cultures.
Recently I read Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche by journalist Ethan Watters. In prose that reads like a novel but is carefully documented, Watters shows how Americans have exported our ways of viewing mental illness and our methods of treatment. It is rare that a book enlightens, amazes and angers me all at the same time but that was my reaction to Watters’ writing. He describes how Western views and treatments of anorexia, PTSD, schizophrenia and depression have been transmitted and sometimes forced on to other cultures. This has been done with the help of media reporters and drug companies, often backed by mental health professionals, researchers, and even church leaders.
There are two (often more) sides to every story. I am searching for reviews and objective critiques of this book that may present a different story. But I come away more than ever convinced that cultural perspectives influence a lot of what we teach and how help is given, interpreted and received. My international students understand this; often their professors do not.
Please comment, especially if you have read the book. If you’ve seen critiques of this book can you pass them on? To what extent do the conclusions and methods developed in your culture fail to apply cross-culturally? Do our cultural biases and insensitivities lead us into doing more harm than good?