Recently I taught a course entitled "Cultural Perspectives on Healing" to graduate psychology students here in Santa Barbara at Antioch University. This was a one-day course. So the challenge of covering such a broad topic in a seven-hour day was difficult. I opted for the scholarly approach, hoping that a common sense scholarly introduction would help to open their minds to the complex issues of culture.
Santa Barbara is an affluent community with a Mediterranean climate and an easy lifestyle. But not for everybody. There were two Chicano students in my class who work in our community with the non-affluent amongst us. This student worked for a service agency that dealt with education and health care issues for illegal immigrants from Mexico. The text I used for this course was Indigenous Psychologies: Research and Experience in Cultural Context (1993) by Uichol Kim and John W. Berry.
One of my Chicano students was particularly interested in Kim and Berry's conceptual terms "dualism" and "parallelism". Kim and Berry apply these terms to "developing" countries. Dualism describes a situation where one sector of a society is developed and "Westernized" and the other sector remains "traditional." Even within a particular culture, these two sectors have limited interaction and operate parallel to each other (p. 3). In our discussions, my student said that she felt we have such a system right here, operating in a highly "developed" country, in a very well-endowed (economically) region - Santa Barbara.
I had seen this phenomenon myself ten years ago, when I did an informal research study on the gangs in Santa Barbara shortly after the L.A. riots. In my interviews with local gang members I discovered an underground service delivery system. An entire network of blue-collar workers (mechanics, barbers, construction workers) who described themselves as "recovering gang members" and Roman Catholic priests worked with youth-at-risk in our community to help break the cycle of violence offering counseling and a "sense of belonging". It was considered a taboo to allow "professionals", meaning professional counselors or service-providers into this well-guarded circle of helping human beings.
Then another class member, who was from Brazil, said that she felt there was such a dualism and parallelism in Brazil as well. She described the prestige of attaching oneself to "American" psychologies. She said that any health professional who attempted to work with the traditional healing systems were considered "low class", in the hierarchy of practice and thought.
Kim and Berry's text stimulated a lot of useful conversation and critical thinking in our one day together. Because they consider their place in the history of ideas, their concepts and analyses seemed grounded. For example, they build their ideas on Giovanni Battista Vico (1688-1744), Gottfried Herder (1744-1803), and one who is considered the father of modern psychology, Wilhem Wundt.
In 1916 Wundt emphasized the importance of language, mythology, art, customs and religions. Though Wundt was in favor of conducting experiments in the tradition of the natural sciences, he saw the cultural sciences as equally important. Kim and Berry describe how general psychology left the cultural sciences behind. Only now are we catching up to Wundt's original suggestion that we study both.
Another highlight of our discussion was Herder's emphasis on the importance of "expressionism" in the study of psychology. This would be of great interest to music and other creative arts therapists. "Herder believed that self-expression represents the very essence of a creative human being. He believed that human products such as works of art are forms of communication, expressions of a person's creativity. Other people could appreciate and understand these individual and cultural products through the process of 'empathy'" (p. 14).
Kim and Berry emphasize the need for descriptive and historical analysis as the first step in discovering invariants within a particular culture. They also encourage the use of imagination and fantasy to access the introspection required to be utilized in the human world and the analysis of human experience that might be different than our own.
Having used "free fantasy variation" in my own 1987 doctoral research, I can appreciate the way they frame the significance of imagination in research. This is important, not only in research about culture, but it also applies to any situation in which the people we are studying are "different" than ourselves as researchers.
Empathy is also a concept that we use in both music therapy practice and music therapy research. I have suggested "empathy" as one of the core concepts in a general theory of music therapy (Kenny, 1999).
Well, there's a lot to say about Kim and Berry's text. But I'll just end by saying that I recommend it as a useful resource for making sense out of some very complex dilemmas in the cultural arena, but which might also apply to any complex situation. Kim and Berry use the term "indigenous", not to denote native societies, but rather, as describing psychologies that are "native" to the region. This material is very useful for "Voices".
Kenny, Carolyn B. (1999) Beyond this point there be dragons: Developing general theory in music therapy. Nordic Journal of Music Therapy, 8(2) pp. 127-136.
Kim, Uichol & Berry, John W. (1993) Indigenous Psychologies: Research and Experience in Cultural Context. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Kenny, Carolyn (2002) Making Sense Out of Culture. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved June 12, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=fortnightly-columns/2002-making-sense-out-culture