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Samuels, A. (2002). The Hidden Politics of Healing: Foreign Dimensions of Domestic Practice. Am. Imago, 59(4):459-481.

(2002). American Imago, 59(4):459-481

The Hidden Politics of Healing: Foreign Dimensions of Domestic Practice

Andrew Samuels


The practices of transcultural psychotherapy in Western countries, and the exporting of Western models of psychotherapy to foreign places, may be imaginatively taken as offering a mirror to what Western practitioners typically do domestically, especially when there appears to be homogeneity of therapist and client. In multiethnic cities such as London, therapists work in a “domestic” setting with “foreign” clients; and “foreign” (or foreign-seeming) therapists work—in scandalously low numbers, it has to be said—with “domestic” clients. This experience has led to the growth of transcultural and intercultural therapy in which, as Renos Papadopoulos (1999) put it, foreigners are not regarded as “ill” merely because they are foreign.

But there is little mention in texts on transcultural therapy of the applicability of their ideas to “ordinary” psychotherapy. For example, Zack Eleftheriadou (1994) makes the pertinent observation that the prime requirement for the successful practice of transcultural psychotherapy is that therapists “examine their relationship to their own culture” (31). She makes it clear that this is not the same as becoming generally self-aware or conscious, and that the consequent knock-on effect is to produce greater sensitivity on the therapist's part to cultural difference embodied by a potential client. Yet it is not hard to see that what is being proposed has relevance right across the board of clinical practice in psychotherapy.

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