Cultural Variations in Psychopathology

Edited By Sven Barnow and Azli Balkir

2012, Hogrefe, Göttingen

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This is a book that is based on an international workshop at Heidelberg University, Germany, in 2010. The contributors on that workshop elaborated their lectures into well-written chapters.

This is a book every cultural psychiatrist should read. It covers almost the complete field of cultural psychiatry, and so it is a current update of the field.

The editors wrote an interesting short introduction chapter about the relevance of culture for mental health, with an overview of the most important studies on the field, followed by an excellent European overview of Miryam Schouler-Ocak.

Neurobiology is covered by chapters of Shihui Han and Georgg Northoff & Jaap Pansepp. They looked at current data on neurobiological differences between cultures.

A strong part on differences in emotional regulation follows. It is good to notice that experimental psychology is beginning to discover culture as an interesting subject in science, and is starting to produce more and more studies in which culture is a variable. The work of Nico Frijda and his former pupil (now professor) Batja Mesquita –the cultural regulation of emotions- is now having many followers.

The larger part of the book is on diagnosis. This seems to stay a hot topic in our field. There are chapters on the cultural formulation of diagnosis, on depression and somatization, on pain perception, on embitterment, on suicide, on substance abuse, and on psychosis, all written by outstanding scholars in the field.

The last part of the book is on treatment. It has chapters on mental health for Turkish immigrants, on cultural competence, and on German protocols in migrant care: the so-called Sonnenberg guidelines.

There is quite a lot to learn from this book. All chapters are well documented and well written, especially when you consider that most authors are not native English speaking. And all the chapters have an extensive and up-to-date literature list. A minor point is that the key words index is a little bit too short.

Of course there are some omissions, which do not make the book less valuable, but maybe do need a next edition. There are no descriptions of specific treatment programs for migrants, and about effects of those treatments compared to general treatments. Also, refugees are not very well defined as a special group of interest, included the special treatment programs for refugees, like narrative exposure therapy. And you would want a somewhat more elaborate view on epidemiology, including the new theory of exclusion.

In general, a recommendation for this up-to-date overview of our field is on its place.

By Hans Rohlof

Cultural Variations in Psychopathology