Madeleine Albright and Cultural Identity in Politics and Clinical Practice


Cultural identity—relevant in politics and in psychiatry.




It very well may be just a coincidence that Madeleine Albright died at the age of 84 the day before the emergency NATO summit in Brussels began yesterday. Then, again, it may not be. After all, it is still International Women’s History Month—she was the first woman Secretary of State in the United States from 1996-2001, and she had Jewish grandparents die in the Holocaust, as did Ukrainian President Zelensky.

The question of cultural identity and representation in politics is certainly alive and well. It influenced President Biden’s decision to nominate a Supreme Court Justice who could be the first Black woman to hold that position.

Nevertheless, how can we tell if Albright’s work as Secretary of State was influenced by being a woman and of Jewish ancestry? Moreover, even if these differences are relevant, she was a unique and unusual woman. See if you think some of her causes and preferences reflected being a woman:

-She campaigned on the danger of landmines and worked with DC Comics to warn children about them.

-She used jewelry as a symbolic diplomatic tool. That apparently started when Saddam Hussein called her a serpent and she decided to wear an antique snake pin.

-At a rally for Hillary Clinton, she was quoted as saying that “Just remember, there’s a special place in hell for women that don’t help each other.”

-She said that “everybody has their own style, and mine is people to people.”

-Soon after she was appointed Secretary of State, she found out her parents protectively converted from Judaism to Roman Catholicism during World War II. She worked on Middle East peace and advocated for Ukraine in the days before she died.

Albright seems to be an example that cultural identity matters in politics, as it does in psychiatry.For instance, it is helpful if patients have the opportunity to have cultural matches with their clinician of choice in order to facilitate the beginning of a positive and trusting therapeutic alliance, with the caveat that such a choice might be a defensive avoidance of an issue.

Using myself as an example, I specialized in cultural psychiatry, at least in part because I am Jewish and was guided by our value of Tikkun Olam, to make the world a better place.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues relate to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric TimesTM.

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