Monday November 21, 2016

Like I Was Talking to Myself in the Mirror

Detail of a painting by  Dr. Jaswant Guzder, Professor of Psychiatry at McGill University.

Detail of a painting by Dr. Jaswant Guzder, Professor of Psychiatry at McGill University. (Dr. Jaswant Guzder)

Listen to Full Episode 53:56

Early in the twentieth century German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin travelled to Indonesia to see how mental illnesses there compared to what he knew back home. Transcultural psychiatry was born. Today McGill University is a world leader in the research and practice of a branch of psychiatry with links to anthropology, cultural studies and family therapy. David Gutnick steps into a world where treatment relies less on medication and more on talk and understanding. **This episode originally aired March 2, 2016.


One of the fathers of modern psychiatry is Dr. Emil Kraepelin. In 1904 Dr. Kraepelin sailed from his native Germany to Indonesia. When he came back he reported on his observations.

In a letter from 1904 Dr. Kraepelin wrote:

"...apparently the occurrence of mental diseases is much lower amongst the primitive peoples than amongst us, where the burden of the mentally ill increases year by year at an incredible rate. Therefore it seems urgent to find out whether the forms of mental disease, which cause this increase, occur similarly in completely different races, who live in totally different regions and conditions."

Transcultural psychiatrists followed in his footsteps. 

​McGill University is a world leader in transcultural practice and research. Dr. Laurence Kirmayer, is the James McGill Professor of Psychiatry and directs the division of social and transcultural psychiatry.

"So it is very much a social perspective, it puts the person in their context, in the context of their life world and it insists that those dimensions that are part of how we live with each other in communities that have a history, that have a tradition, and have a direction are inseparable from the phenomenon we call mental health and mental illness that are the purview of psychiatry." - Dr. Laurence Kirmayer

Dr. Jaswant Guzder is a Professor of Psychiatry at McGill University and the Head of Child Psychiatry at Montreal's Jewish General Hospital.

 "... many people from ethnic minorities have to hide their real self. They have to hide what is authentically their family of origin, because they have to work in a world that has nothing to do with that world. So they may anglicize their names or they may accommodate who they are speaking to like a chameleon.  It gives them a presentation of the social self and how complex that is. Because if you are doing psychotherapy with someone in a language other than their maternal language and you actually want to reach their inner world, and this often happens when you are doing psychotherapy with someone whose maternal language is definitely not the language you are doing the psychotherapy in, they may be hearing or wanting to respond or telling you about a dream that they are actually hearing in their internal world in another language and they will get blocked. So you say please say it in the language that you are thinking, and as soon as they say those thoughts and those words, all of the emotions that are connected start to surface and are accessible. Just like when you hear music that you heard when you were a child, or the songs that your mother sang when you were on her lap, or in mass or in any number of contexts, it can bring a phenomenal amount of emotion to you because that memory is tied to your emotional life.  That is the first thing thing that we would teach in cultural psychiatry." -  Dr. Jaswant Guzder

Guests in this episode: 

  • Dr. Laurence Kirmayer, Professor of Psychiatry, McGill University
  • Dr. Jaswant Guzder, Professor of Psychiatry, McGill University
  • Dr. Fahimeh Mianji, Iranian psychologist and PhD student at McGill University 

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