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Asen, E. (2005). Culture and Psychotherapy: A Guide to Clinical Practice edited by Wen-Sing Tseng and Jon Streltzer (Psychiatric Press, Washington & London, 2001). 313 pp. £36.95. Eating Disorders and Cultures in Transition edited by Mervat Nasser, Melanie Katzman and Richard Gordon (Taylor & Francis, Hove, 2002). 224 pp. £18.99.. Psychoanal. Psychother., 19(2):186-187.
Culture and Psychotherapy: A Guide to Clinical Practice edited by Wen-Sing Tseng and Jon Streltzer (Psychiatric Press, Washington & London, 2001). 313 pp. £36.95. Eating Disorders and Cultures in Transition edited by Mervat Nasser, Melanie Katzman and Richard Gordon (Taylor & Francis, Hove, 2002). 224 pp. £18.99.
Review by: Eia Asen
Mental health professionals nowadays inevitably find themselves treating clients of widely varying backgrounds. A culture-sensitive approach demands the therapist's curiosity about, if not familiarity with, the cultural practices of any client, couple or family. Conducting culturally appropriate and relevant psychotherapy is challenging, and understanding and respecting cultural diversity surely are a ‘must’ for any psychotherapist. Yet, how many training institutes pay more than lip service to teaching culture-sensitive practices? The occasional ‘ethnic hour’, slipped into an already cramped timetable of lectures and seminars, hardly addresses the complex cultural issues many of our clients struggle with and into which we therapists talk.
Culture can be defined as a system of shared meaning, the result of socially transmitted attitudes, beliefs and feelings that shape behaviours, organize perceptions and label experiences. Culture affects communication styles, gender and family roles, and personal and group identity. It also affects the identification and diagnosis of problems, as well as the expectations of service users and health professionals. In this sense culture constructs our identities and behaviours, while at the same time we construct culture. In most societies, (subcultures exist within cultures and usually in hierarchical power relationships, with minority cultural groups finding themselves marginalized and/or discriminated against.
In their very readable Culture and Psychotherapy, Tseng and Streltzer point out that, while there is some overlap between the terms ‘culture’, ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’, they are nevertheless quite different. ‘Culture’ refers to a set of beliefs, value systems and behaviours that are patterned early in life and become an internal mode of regulating emotion and action. ‘Ethnicity’ is a term used for a group of people who share common cultural features. ‘Race’ tends to describe a group of people that is characterized by certain physical features.
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