- Colonizing the Greek Mind? The Reception of Western Psychotherapeutics in Greece ed. by Charles Stewart
This interesting but uneven edited volume on psychotherapeutics in Greece and the question of colonization of Greek psychiatry by Western psychiatric models is composed of six chapters. Each chapter was originally a paper prepared for the conference “Colonizing the Greek Mind?” which was organized in 2011 by the volume’s editor, Charles Stewart, and held at Deree College—The American College of Greece. The chapters are written by three anthropologists, one historian, and two psychiatrists, one of whom is a priest. The lack of an introductory overview or preface makes it unclear as to who is the intended reader of the book.
For this reviewer, there is something both familiar and unfamiliar about the styles and substance of the chapters in this slim volume of noble aims and critiques. Since I believe that it helps to know the reviewer in order to better understand the review, I offer some disclosures: I am a psychologist and psychoanalyst. I came of age as a psychologist during the ambitious U.S. community mental health movement of the 1970s, with its emphasis on educational and community interventions, not psychiatric interventions. I was trained in contemporary psychoanalysis in the late 1980s with an emphasis on both psychic and social realities as sources of suffering. I adhere to developments in attachment research, complexity theory, constructivism, and feminism. Thus, the psychiatric and Freudian-Oedipal ideologies interspersed in the various chapters in this volume seem somewhat dated to me. On the other hand, I find the anthropological perspective in many of the chapters thought provoking.
These anthropological chapters raise a few questions. Do psychiatric concepts and psychoanalytic theories hold up in non-Western or traditional rural cultures? Are their observations universal? Can attempts at institutional psychiatric reform gain from anthropological interviewing in fieldwork situations? How do we learn about culture when we all have our own biases and cultural values? These types of questions are partially addressed in this book.
The first and last chapters of this volume are the strongest. Editor Charles Stewart opens with a reference to Nikos Kazantzakis to highlight the Greek resistance to intellectual “colonization.” Astutely, Stewart reminds the reader that the people of Greece are too diverse and complex to classify “by such lumbering criteria as individualism and collectivism” (15). He moves from language to dreams to body to the evil eye to financial crisis with considerable scholarly ease. In the end, he answers his own question of whether the Greek mind has been colonized by Western therapeutics with an “It depends …” on what one means by the word colonized. He admits to using the word “colonizing” in order to provoke the reader. Frankly, I was less provoked by the word “colonizing” and more by the term “psychotherapeutics.” My understanding is that the term “psychotherapeutics” is used broadly in this volume, perhaps indicating a variety of interventions such as psychiatric, pharmacological treatments, psychotherapies, and self-help therapies. But it’s a new term for me, and I am not fully sure what is meant by it. [End Page 208]
If one is a clinician, the last chapter on “The Problem of Culture” by anthropologist Elizabeth Anne Davis may be the most relevant one. The brief clinical narratives she provides are compelling, but it is her analysis of the distinctly Greek dialogue between anthropology and psychiatry on the concept of culture that is brilliant. While Davis is an on-the-ground data collector and not a mental health specialist, she does offer clinical material that directly addresses the matter of cultural diversity and Western psychiatry. Her illustrations are most welcome, as she gives brief vignettes of women from minority communities in Western Thrace: Turks, Pomaks, Gypsies, and Pontians, among others, who suffer from “hysteria,” according to their psychiatrists. The female patients are treated as primitive and Other. In my view, the interventions of the psychiatric clinic do not...