Friday, January 21, 2011

Crazy Like Us

I struggled every year to figure out how to best integrate cross-cultural psychology research into my classroom. It was too "big" and diverse to be relegated to a subtopic in Social psychology, but I had trouble finding enough good resources for each of the other chapters. Matsumoto's cross cultural texts are great but they can be overwhelming and much of what he dives in to goes far beyond what we talk about in high school psychology.

I think Ethan Watters's book Crazy Like Us might one good answer to this dilemma. (Full disclosure: Mr. Watters sent the authors of this blog a couple copies of the book to look at - thanks!). Mr. Watters summarizes his incredible research very effectively and accessibly (longest reference section I've seen in QUITE a while - he was VERY careful in his scholarship). Each of the sections of the book looks at the "spread" of a diagnostic model/paradigm into a specific culture, including:
  • Anorexia in Hong Kong
  • PTSD in Sri Lanka
  • Schizophrenia in Zanzibar
  • Depression in Japan
The most profound/sad/startling section to me was "The Wave that Brought PTSD to Sri Lanka." Watters carefully describes how well meaning (heroic, in many ways?) American psychologists descended on Sri Lanka after the tsunami to help with the expected epidemic of PTSD. Watters found good evidence that media blitz about PTSD may have created powerful expectations about the disorder, interfering with diagnosis and treatment. This focus ignored established cultural norms for dealing with stress and grief. Watters does a great job avoiding blame - he carefully walks us through how the DSM notions of mental illness may be influencing other cultures.

A blog post is far too short to discuss the ideas/issues raised in this book, all of which could be used to start great discussions in your classroom. I encourage you to get the book and take a look. I expect you'll be as intrigued, surprised, saddened, and reflective as the book made me.

Other notes: students might enjoy Ethan Watters appearance on the Daily Show and his publisher's website has other related resources.

posted by Rob McEntarffer


Chuck Schallhorn said...

I've had the chance to read about half of the book. I agree with Rob about how fascinating the subject is. The impact of American culture around the world is not just economic and entertainment, but also psychological. Personally, I question how positive an effect we are having on the rest of the world--an idea that can be supported with the content of the book. I definitely recommend reading this book. Anytime we can understand other cultures and change our viewpoints, we are better teachers and better human beings.

Jennifer Collison said...

Just finished reading this book, based on your recommendation. As a psychology teacher whose spouse is currently taking an SSRI, I found the final chapter to be the most personally intriguing.

From a professional angle, I had the good fortune in 2009 to job shadow in a psychiatric institution in Thailand. It was breathtaking to note how mental health was treated so holistically there - infusing aspects of Thai traditional medicine with other models of psychology seemingly seamlessly. What a pleasure it was to find Watters offering further insight and giving voice to these methods, as well.

Very worthwhile indeed. I'll be talking about it in class next week!

Rob Mc said...

Glad you enjoyed the book Jennifer! I didn't know what to think about the SSRI chapter either. I have many friends/family members who benefit from those medications, but the evidence from the last chapter was . . . ominous?
By the way, the author of the book was very approachable and personable via email when he contacted us. I bet he'd love to hear your reaction and how you might use it in class? Thanks for adding your comment here and thanks for reading the blog.

Rob Mc said...

Just saw this on the CNN site about "rising levels of stress in Japan" and it reminded me of this book

I wonder about the possibility of some of the issues highlighted in the book happening in Japan?