Ethnomedical and cultural foundations of psychiatry for the person

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Horacio Fabrega Jr
Ronald Wintrob


Ethnomedicine highlights the cultural framework in terms of which societies understand and shape the subjective experiences of sickness and healing. As social and cultural institutions, ethnomedicines evolve and function through inclusion of diverse forms of sickness, including symptomatic expressions of both physical and emotional concomitants of distress. The symptomatic expressions of physical and emotional concomitants of distress are the principal focus of clinical psychiatrists and of other clinicians in fields closely related to psychiatry, in their efforts to help relieve the distress of their patients. Such symptoms are manifestations of peoples’ fears of all the types of misfortunes that can befall individuals, their families and communities; fears relating as much to supernatural influences as to the natural world order, to fears of malign magic, fate and divine punishment for evil thoughts and deeds, as much as to fears of flood, earthquake, drought and fire.As a clinical discipline, cultural psychiatry is concerned with both the intra-cultural and cross-cultural variations in the physical and emotional concomitants of distress. The history of ethnomedicine and cultural psychiatry reinforces the claim that the diverse needs of persons experiencing distress are central concerns of psychiatric practice

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Special Section: Conceptual Bases of Psychiatry for the Person