The discipline of Transcultural Psychiatry (TP) continues to pursue the comparative approach outlined by Kraepelin (1904) and subsequently developed by Wittkower (1966) in the achievement of its five main objectives:
- exploration of the similarities and differences in the manifestations of mental illness in different cultures;
- identification of cultural factors that predispose to mental illness and mental health;
- assessment of the effect of identified cultural factors on the frequency and nature of mental illness;
- study of the form of treatment practised or preferred in different cultural settings;
- comparison of different attitudes toward the mentally ill in different cultures.
As Wittkower underscores, the Latin prefix “trans” in the term Transcultural Psychiatry: “denotes that the vista of the scientific observer extends beyond the scope of one cultural unit to another”. Prof. Murphy, the founder of our Section, defines the discipline as: “the study of the relations between mental disorders and the psychological characteristics which differentiate nations, peoples or cultures. Its main goals are to identify, verify and explain the links between mental disorders and these broad psychosocial characteristics” (1982). If we consider the strong thrust given by the World Health Organization’s epidemiological research efforts ( the International Pilot Study on Schizophrenia [1973-79] and the Determinant of Outcome of Severe Mental Illness ) that have consolidated the cross-cultural approach on an international scale, present-day transcultural psychiatry shows “a shift in emphasis from cross-cultural comparisons of psychiatric categories to examining psychiatric epistemology and clinical practice in all societies” (Littlewood, 1990).
It is evident that phenomena such as the increasing migratory flows and the globalisation of prevailing social criteria referred to the economy, trade, religion and the perception and the attribution of the causes of disease have determined a shift in the world cultural balance that have direct repercussions on World Mental Health. It is far from our intention to elevate Transcultural Psychiatry to a privileged ecumenical role although it does possess the epistemological status establishing it as the possible interface between other highly specialist disciplines thus enabling it to continue to perform an on-going review of the different interpretation systems of mental ailments and to rely on the best-suited means of suggesting new therapeutic approaches.
The proceedings of the Section Symposia organised within the framework of all World Psychiatry Congresses as well as the Symposia autonomously organised by the TP Section together with National Associations (see our list of former events) have been consistent in contributing to the development of an approach to Mental Health that might be sensitive and comprehensive of all the different views of the world.
The WPA TP Section therefore represents a global network of researchers, clinical workers and teachers in the field of cross-cultural and ethno-psychiatry. Section membership is open to psychiatrists, psychologists, anthropologists and social scientists who are committed to this field: they are therefore all invited to apply for membership ⟶