Culture plays a critical role in the life of human beings, setting boundaries within which people act. Therefore, human psychology is also bounded to human culture, as the latter shapes the concepts, ideas, behavior, and even emotions of people. However, culture itself is also affected and formed by people’s thoughts, perceptions, and actions. Cultural psychology researches these tangled and complex connections between culture and human psychology. Cultural psychology is currently viewed as a “sub-part of general psychology built on the axiom that all human cognitive, affective, behavioral forms of existence are regulated by socially constructed meanings” (Valsiner, 2013, p.319). Overall, cultural psychology is an essential part of the psychological field, which has various potential development directions.
Contemporary cultural psychology is based on four main foundations dating back to the 19th century. These are Folk Psychology, The Wurzburg School, Ganzheitspsychologie, and the Austrian Tradition (Valsiner, 2013). These schools of thought played an immense role in the formation of cultural psychology and other disciplines, such as cognitive psychology. Cultural psychology gained influence and established its importance around the 1990s, as it was discovered that culture is one of the major factors affecting human psychology (Heine, 2010). Since then, cultural psychology has been developing rapidly both in Europe and in America.
Cultural-clinical psychology may serve as one of the potential ways of further advancing cultural psychology goals. This type of psychology combines the approaches of cultural psychology and clinical psychology, creating a different ambitious central assumption. It states that “culture, mind, and brain constitute one another as a multi-level dynamic system in which no level is primary; psychopathology is an emergent property of that system” (Ryder et al., 2011, p. 960). Regarding the role of clinical psychology, there are three main points on how clinical psychology can help advance cultural psychology. First, psychopathological phenomena that clinical psychology studies can give a different perspective on culture and help understand it better. Second, it can help cultural psychology model “ways in which abnormal behavior is shaped by constraints imparted by physiological and environmental influences, and their interactions” (Ryder et al., 2011, p.964). Moreover, a broad set of tools developed by clinical psychology to analyze and theorize about psychological processes can prove to be helpful for cultural psychology. Finally, clinical psychology can provide new content and data for further research within the domain of cultural psychology.
At the same time, cultural psychology can assist with the critical area of study of clinical psychology – the nature of disorders (Ryder et al., 2011). In most cases, it is impossible to understand one’s disorder fully without gaining insight into one’s culture. Therefore, cultural psychology can widen the traditionally narrow biological understanding of the source of disorders, improving clinical research and treatment outcomes. Furthermore, the implementation of cultural psychology perspective can deepen the knowledge of how people detect, analyze, and perceive the symptoms of mental illnesses. These actions can vary significantly across individuals and cultures. In general, clinical psychology can develop a more precise and specific perspective due to incorporating the experience and methods of cultural psychology. The resulting unified field of cultural-clinical psychology can enrich both of its parental domains and advance their goals further.
Regarding the trajectory of cultural psychopathology, it may be possible to incorporate a different perspective within this field. Viewing how specific cultures are left behind implies the existence of some threshold for cultures that they need to pass not to stay behind. In my opinion, it is necessary to look at different cultures separately, not trying to find standardized comparisons, as such comparisons can lead to the perception of the existence of better and worse cultures. Therefore, in the interactions with representatives of different cultures, it would be helpful not to tie their experiences and possible personal issues to their cultures, thus not giving their cultures any characteristics. If every culture is viewed as a separate entity with its own features and these features are not used to characterize the culture or compare it with others, then the said trajectory may change.
Heine, S. J. (2010). Cultural psychology. In S. T. Fiske, D. T. Gilbert, & G. Lindzey (Eds.), Handbook of social psychology (pp. 1423–1464). John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Ryder, A.G., Ban, L.M., & Chentsova-Dutton, Y.E. (2011). Towards a cultural-clinical psychology. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 5, 960-975.
Valsiner, J. (2013). Cultural psychology. In K.D. Keith (Ed.), The encyclopedia of cross-cultural psychology (pp. 319 – 327). John Wiley & Sons, Inc.