I am in an excellent position to compare and contrast cultural aspects of psychology. Thirteen years of my life was spent living in a different country where what is considered visual or auditory hallucinations in the psych ward, is normal part of everyday life.
Ghosts. Yes, ghosts. Who hasn't seen ghosts? Or who hasn't had a close encounter? When I returned to the Philippines two years ago, I almost laughed out loud when my host told me a story of the appearance of the ghost in her car. It took me a while to figure out she was serious. This is a woman who is smart, savvy, well-connected and well-to-do. This was not a solitary episode of someone who needed some antipsychotic meds. A week or two later, I re-visited my mom's hometown, where a single large rock is said to be the house of the ghosts of the village. None of my cousins dared to go walk in the dark, for fear of this rock.
Fast forward a few years later, I am in clinical conference role playing, discussing what to do should a patient reveal that they see ghost. “Hm....Let's talk about your medicine. How's that working out for you?” (Well, not exactly in that order of approach for psych patients.) But we are trained to say, "I understand that you see something, I do not see what you're seeing" “Do you have any questions about your medication?”-- Or something to that effect. Of course, in the psychentific world, ghosts do not exists. And there's a label for me creating that word "psychentific" that is not exactly complementary to my state of mind.
Other things that are drastically different and can lead into psych hospitalizations: Anger Expressions--It is absolutely not acceptable to threaten your neighbor. "Papatayin kita" or “I will hurt you” is not acceptable, taken very seriously and could land you jail time, not just a psych evaluation. It is also not kosher to chase your neighbor with an ax--which by the way occurred in our neighborhood when I was growing up. This is called "Homicidal Ideation"—well, perhaps, not ideation, more like intention.
There are many more happenings that are simply not acceptable. One particular cultural phenomena that I am curious as to how it would be interpreted by my Psych professor is the annual ritual of hundreds of people who re-enact the death of Christ by actual hanging on the cross each year, right about this time of the year. I approached my psych professor with these questions and concerns. My psych professor countered that these cultural phenomena do not necessarily indicate that the whole country would need psychological evaluation. She gave an example of the practice of circumcision--an aesthetic procedure that continues in the first world despite lack of beneficial evidence. The procedure, should you get a chance to watch it is precisely brutal. (And blast it! I’ll say that it’s cruel and unfortunately usual!)
But what makes one thing acceptable, and not the other? I go back to the lecture and the subsequent conversation--the crucial point to consider is that how much of one's behavior impedes one's ability to function within a cultural/social context. This is why threatening your neighbor is unacceptable, cutting a little baby boy’s foreskin doesn’t impede normal functions, and believing you see ghosts can land you a prescribed antipsychotic dose, in a society where logic and science has been embraced as the-end-all-be-all.
And I step back a little further and I start to wonder, how much of the "outsider" belief is discarded when one moves into the "melting pot". Is it really a melting pot? Social scientists have described this country a "tossed salad" phenomena--that is to say that many people manage to retain their flavor/consistency/characteristics despite being mixed into the whole, retaining their unique belief or beliefs and cultural practices.
By no means am I trying to discount psychology. This branch of thought has been very useful in clearing the cobwebs of many minds, including mine. It has been a life-saving tool and I could keep on and on about the joys of psychology. But too much logic can be downright boring, i.e. Gwyneth Paltrow’s conscious uncoupling. Where’s the fun in that? Talk about muted colors of washed out greys.
The core of America—is a true lack of cultural homogeneity (regardless of the colorful and loud Miley Cyruses, the Kanye/Kardashians, etc). TV aside, many withdraw from society, deep into themselves, isolated in thought, magical thinking, hiding in the potential sickness of the mind, coloring themselves with their most favorite fantasies. Because we all are-- stars-- though momentarily embarrassed or without the spotlight.
I also see psychology’s attempt to mute down the colors of personalities by labeling, grouping, classifying, and predicting behaviors. This process sometimes help people tone their colors down by co-creating new schemas and logical lenses from where which to see the world. Frequently, this process is not enough because for change to occur, it requires insight, digging deeply that is frequently a lonely process, a long personal quest. Subsequently, steady the mind so that insight might could occur--Meds!
And the most common patient complaint I heard is “why the f* do I have to take this meds?!?” Well…they have a point, considering the side effects such as Tardive Dyskinesia, and Serotonin syndrome, to name a few. Why choose to see one way to look at life (the psych way), when they can pop an illicit pill that gives them stars in their eyes, sensational textures, and damn the side effects. Considering the pills from both choices (illicit or prescribed) have side effects! Just my two cents.
PS. The above written piece is just a quick survey of my thoughts. I promised to share this writing with my psych professor so quite possibly I'll have to do part deux or edit and I'll have to write more scientifically considering my audience.