Making Contact with Culture: A Psychotherapist’s View

Kubik’s (2014) paper, Culture Contact: cognitive and psychodynamic aspects deals with interesting facets of the discourse of the concept of culture, that one would tend to overlook. It starts off simply, describing a scenario of two individuals holding passports from different continents. How do these persons view each other’s culture? How do they communicate their differences in culture? How much of the culture that represents each person’s heritage do each individual actually possess? How much do these individuals have in common?

Culture is learned.

In gestalt therapy terms, the learning is actually introjected (Clarkson, 2014, S. 58). Introjection is often also described as the act of swallowing information and influences without chewing it first. The difference between learning and introjection, is that learning is cognitive and introjection goes deeper— introjected material becomes the self. The resultant terminology is aptly called the cultural identity. Once it becomes integrated into the self, the self does not notice it any longer as material that is merely learnt. This could be a way of explaining why we tend to be blind to our cultural learnings.

The process of introjecting learned material in the cultural context can be described as enculturation.  Enculturation is a life-long process of introjections. This process serves the purpose of enabling the individual to integrate and function in the social sphere.

Society provides as much security as it traps the individual. This is how we also understand the concept of introjection – what we learn in this way is difficult to escape from if it doesn’t serve us positively. Hence throughout phases of life, we find ourselves having to deal with our cultural biases and adapting to other people’s culture.

The self as many voices.

I like to think of a learning of cultural elements as a way of obtain a new “voice” in our heads. Each introject is like introducing a new character or “face” (Satir, 1978/2009) in an intra-psychic theatre. As a child develops into adult these form the polyphonic voices similar to the ones we encounter in Dostojevskij’s novels (Bakhtin, 1984).  As the article mentions, these become our unique cultural profiles, which change dynamically with the influences we encounter in our lives.

Cognitive and Psychodynamic Levels of Learning

Learning involves being in contact with material. I guess that this is what the article alludes to with the term, cognitive level. We perceive and learn the material, but for the material to be internalized, it trickles thorough the psychodynamic aspects of our consciousness, the psychodynamic level.  What I am imagining is, that the perception of the learned material can be shared by separate individuals at the cognitive level, but each person makes meaning and introjects this material differently at the psychodynamic level.

An example is the symbolism of crows in Japanese culture as mentioned in the article, citing Akira Kurosawa’s (1990) film. Most persons at the cognitive level see the same crows— which are black birds— but the meaning different cultures make of crows are different. The Japanese culture, for example, sees the crows to be more injurious than perhaps other cultures. There are also explanations for it: the crows in Japan are bigger and more likely to attack people and property. Incidentally, in western media, the Raven, also a black bird is often depicted as a messenger of menace in literature—like in Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven— and Hollywood films.

How Cultural Objects are Dealt with in Gestalt Therapy

Throughout my gestalt therapy training, we are constantly trained to be aware of the fact that we, as individuals, put different attributes onto tangible and intangible objects. These are also sometimes termed as cultural objects (Owen, 2015).  As gestalt therapist, we need to ask the client what the objects mean to them individually, so as to avoid assuming that we share the same meaning of the said object with our clients.

The content of the article is very relevant to our work as therapists. If we are able to be aware of our cultural biases, we will be better able to make contact with the client in therapy, thereby being more effective in understanding the client and his/her psychological issues.

Bibliography

Bakhtin, M. (1984). Problems of Dostojevskij’s poetics: Theory and history of literature. (Bd. 8). Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.

Clarkson, P. (2014). Gestalt Counselling in Action (4th Kindle Ausg.). London: SAGE Publications.

Kubik, G. (2014). Culture Contact: Cognitive and psychodynamic aspects. Lecture at the University of Rome Tor Vergata Feb 25 2014.

Kurosawa, A. (Produzent). (1990). Dreams. [Kinofilm].

Owen, I. R. (2015). Phenomenology in Action in Psychotherapy.

Satir, V. (1978/2009). Your many faces: The first step to being loved. (Kindle Ausg.). Celestial Arts.

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