I have recently come across several helpful articles by psychiatrist Renato Alarcón. For instance, in this Article in Psychiatric News, he explains how cultural factors are very important in diagnosis, and says that outcomes would be much improved if psychiatrist paid more attention to them.
Taking culture into consideration enables psychiatrists to depathologize behaviors they might otherwise view as symptomatic, and to obtain a fuller picture of what patients are experiencing. Knowing patients’ traditions and beliefs may allow psychiatrists to employ culture in a psychotherapeutic role, by building rapport and collaboration.
Of course, this is easier said than done. To help shift attitudes, Dr. Alarcón helped develop the DSM-5 Cultural Formulation Interview, which helps clinicians account for the influence of culture in their clinical work, improve patient-clinician communications, and ultimately improve outcomes.
In his work, Renato Alarcón demonstrates the power of liminality – of actually meeting people. (See Key Concepts Page on this blog.)
The important thing is to understand the human entity, the patient’s background, why he or she comes to see you now but didn’t come earlier, and how he or she explains their symptoms and causes of those symptoms. The individualistic approach, a strong aspect of American life and of Western culture in general, stresses that people need to take responsibility for their own behavior. It often neglects, however, a cultural background that encourages reliance on family and friends. If psychiatrists fail to ask about cultural issues, he said, their work is incomplete.