The Cultural Context Of Counseling

Mental health continues to be a daunting subject to talk about in today’s society. We are only beginning to understand how people cope, especially in difficult situations.

The COVID-19 pandemic has even pushed our issues on mental health to the limits. Aside from current events, several other factors also affect how we tackle mental health.

Read on to learn more about the historical and cultural contexts of mental health and coping mechanisms associated with this.

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Historical Context

A deeper dive into our history can help us understand our present-day traditions and beliefs in all fields, including psychotherapy. In this segment, we can see how our understanding of our minds has evolved with time. This way, we can appreciate our current strategies in counseling and how we can improve them further.

Our understanding of the mind goes back to our ancient past. For millennia, Egypt has been the cradle of civilization at the center of three huge continents. Records exist about the brain, mind, and consciousness in ancient Egypt going as far back as 1900 BCE. There is even reference to some mental illnesses such as melancholia, hysteria, and dementia. To treat these illnesses, it is likely priests conduct dream interpretations, hypnotic and religious methods.

Over time, modern Western psychology has swept across the globe. At first, philosophical ideas about how the mind works dominated the field. Eventually, psychotherapists applied these theories in clinical practice to help people with mental illnesses. Further, these mental health practices have also accommodated mainstream people having difficulty coping with their problems. Psychotherapists also practice as counselors to help them with personal struggles.

Sociocultural Contexts

Culture has also significantly influenced how we engage with other people and see ourselves in the world. It guides us on how people expect us to interact and behave in a particular setting. Moreover, our culture can define how much we value our health and which curative practice we need to seek. In particular, there may be certain stigma left about some mental illnesses and even towards the field of psychology itself. 

As transportation and communication keep people more connected now than ever, it is inevitable for cultures to clash. Differences in cultural expectations stand out when viewed from a different angle. For example, expectations for people from an Arab world such as Egypt are different from Western countries. To make the counseling more effective, the counselor must understand the differences between these cultural norms.

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Economic Contexts

An individual’s socioeconomic status can give us information on their health and educational background. Simply put, people with higher socioeconomic status are healthier and better informed about their mental health options. They are also financially capable of any form of counseling and psychotherapy should they need that kind of help.

On the other hand, people with lower socioeconomic status may have many apprehensions about mental health programs such as counseling. For one, it is not as high on their priority list as food and shelter. Because of this, they might have difficulty seeing the value of counseling. Their financial resources are limited, and paying for consultation fees or even just going to a counseling facility can be too big of an extra cost.

There are many ways to help everyone achieve optimum mental health, regardless of socioeconomic status. Even simple education and advocacy drives about mental health and counseling can go a long way. Likewise, a universal mental health care system can help rich or poor people have accessible treatment options and counseling.

Religious Contexts

Religious beliefs greatly impact the social, political, cultural, familial, and gender-based ways of life. Any culture following a single dominant religion seems to have a more cohesive and unified worldview. In some cases, they can even affect the laws and way of life of an entire nation. With their considerable impact on our world, we cannot deny that some aspects of our religions have affected our understanding of the mind.

Some religions use faith-based counseling to help their followers enlighten themselves. They might conduct prayers, meditation, or other forms of rituals. Current psychology does not discriminate against any form of religious belief. Some counselors might even consider religion to be a great source of motivation and support for their clients.

There is no exclusive or one best way in treatment for counseling. We all have different coping methods; what is effective for you may not be effective for me. Current practices combine both medical and spiritual perspectives to achieve better well-being and mental health.

Gender-Based Contexts

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Men and women differ in two aspects: sex and gender. While sex refers to the biological and physical aspects, gender focuses on social norms, roles, and expectations. For example, in traditional cultures, women are expected to care for the family. Moreover, especially in the Arab world, women are expected to keep their bodies covered and submit to their husbands.

Gender contexts also tell us how we should behave and act on a more personal scale. For instance, traditional cultures typically expect men to keep to themselves and refrain from showing emotion. Because of this, they might be reluctant to participate in counseling, where they need to share their thoughts and feelings.

Likewise, gender contexts are present in a larger community setting. For instance, in a patriarchal society, the views and opinions of men may be perceived as more valuable than those of women. In these circumstances, women might undervalue their own experiences and worldviews. Because of these, women might need a little push to encourage them to talk and participate in group counseling.

The Current State Of Mental Health

While we are more conscious of mental health now, not everyone can access resources helpful to them. There are still limits in diagnosis and access to mental healthcare. There is a need to expand mental health awareness even further and provide better services. Without these, mental health issues might continue to be pushed aside as a non-important matter.  

Our health care system has yet to address the growing need for mental health care. It is necessary to train more mental healthcare professionals, build facilities, and allocate a budget, especially in these trying times. We must start to take mental health more seriously and eliminate the stigmas associated with it. Mental health issues should no longer be taboo for people to seek help when they need it.

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