Does it sometimes take distance to better understand one another?
PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS
In specializing in cultural psychiatry over my 50-year career, one of the ongoing questions has been: does it take one to know one? Actually, that is a basic question in all of psychiatry. Can clinicians who have never had mental illness empathize and understand well enough those who have? In cultural psychiatry, that translates into potential matches of those of different or similar cultural backgrounds and values. All other things being more or less equal, seeing someone from a similar background often, but not always, helps understanding and comfort.
That cultural challenge has come to the fore once again with renewed attention to racism. Can those thought to be privileged understand racism well enough, and what antiracism role should they have?
In a different area of culture, that of the arts, 2 new productions suggest that surely people of different cultures can cross that bridge successfully. One is the play “The Lehman Trilogy,” which just closed on Broadway and will be moving to Los Angeles, and then hopefully other cities. My wife and I were privileged to see it last November.
“The Lehman Trilogy” is a play written by an Italian writer, produced successfully first in London. It is a story about 3 Jewish brothers who came from Bavaria to Alabama in the 1840s to eventually build a Wall Street behemoth that failed in 2008 after the last family member was bought out. The play is directed by a Brit, and acted by 3 British actors, including 1 Jewish man and 1 Black man.
On Christmas Day, my wife and I watched the new MSNBC movie “Paper & Glue.” The title refers to the greatly enlarged photographs produced by a French artist of the dispossessed in the US, Brazil, and France that were put up in different locals, producing increased self-esteem for those photographed. Even the skeptical maximum security prison inmates of various cultures and gangs worked successfully together on the project. Follow-ups suggest some lasting change for the better, including a prison program to voluntarily have tattoos removed, like the swastika on an inmate’s cheek.
Perhaps sometimes in society and psychiatry, it takes someone from another culture to creatively and successfully see the humanity and potential of another.
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.