Debating the first principles of transcultural psychiatry

An Exploratory Award under the Science in Culture Theme funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council

Principal Investigator: Dr Gavin Miller

Enquiries: Please contact Dr Gavin Miller

What is transcultural psychiatry?

Transcultural psychiatry deals with cultural factors in the cause, diagnosis, and treatment of mental illness. It is a field in which medical science and the humanities (particularly anthropology) have collaborated since the post-war period, and it is growing in importance because of the encounter, diffusion, and mingling of cultures through globalising forces such as migration and the mass media.

Project aims and objectives
This project cultivates critical reflection upon the first principles of transcultural psychiatry, a field in which culture, as well as the brain, is understood as essential to the understanding and treatment of mental illness.

The project will be conducted amongst a number of clinical and academic collaborators, from a variety of institutions and disciplines. They will reflect on fundamental questions in the theory of transcultural psychiatry. For instance, do the expectations of Western psychiatric culture mould the shape of mental illness in Western European and North American contexts? Why are certain kinds of behaviour or experience (for example, hearing voices, seeing dead loved ones) understood as harmless in certain culture contexts, and as a sign or symptom of mental disorder in others? If unusual or peculiar behaviour is understood as normal or healthy for a particular culture, then is psychiatry also taking part in the contemporary politics of identity, in which cultural difference is recognised and validated?

The collaborators will debate via an on-line forum hosted within a blog, to which they will be encouraged to also contribute content. Further reflection will take place at two face-to-face workshop events, where the collaborators will have a chance to meet in person, and engage in live discussion.