31 May

A recent session with one of my female clients, Anna, really triggered my thinking in the area of culture.  Being a multicultural therapist, with experience of living in other countries, culture is a concept close to my heart and I often find myself reflecting on the cultural differences which exist in our society viewed from different perspectives, including mental health. Cultural background plays an important role in the context of mental health literacy and treatment. It can often determine many factors incl. attitudes towards illness, ways of understanding symptoms, approaches towards treatment and the wider perception of one’s illness within the wider community. 

Culture is a term that refers to a large and diverse set of mostly intangible aspects of social life. According to sociologists, culture consists of the values, beliefs, systems of language, communication, and practices that people share in common and that can be used to define them as a collective. Culture also includes the material objects that are common to that group or society. Culture is distinct from social structure and economic aspects of society, but it is connected to them—both continuously informing them and being informed by them. 

Culture is one of the most important concepts in sociology determining a crucial role in our social lives and is important for shaping social relationships, maintaining and challenging social order, determining how we make sense of the world and our place in it, and in shaping our everyday actions and experiences in society.  Culture has been analysed by sociologist and philosophers as an important  force used as creating a phenomena of oppression and domination, as well as creativity, resistance, and liberation. 

As highlighted by Esther Perel, internationally proclaimed psychotherapist and cultural commentator,  in one of her recent interview suggests that culture plays an incredible important role is our positioning within the family unit orientating our values towards more collective or individualistic responses and through that determining our actions as orientated more towards valuing independence and autonomy or being collectively orientated focusing on loyalty and shared responsibility. 

The recent conversation with Anna also highlighted how culture can be a defining factor in understanding and interpreting roles within the family and the individual’s life opportunities. The story of her family Anna shared with me, was fascinating in illustrating how culture can migrate and solidify within a foreign country creating a blueprint of experiences as encapsulated at the time of migration. In that sense her parents replicated the traditions of the country they originated from with their ingrained perception of gender roles and attitudes towards opposite sex, which then influenced the dynamics and rules within the family for the generations to come.

Anna described her experience of this as characterised by a deep divide existing in the sphere of values: with her values being orientated towards cultivating individual growth, uniqueness and open mindedness while her parents attitudes being orientated towards assessing others for “the suitability of fitting in” within their own set of rules. The conflict created as a result of this disjoint formed a significant point of difference in the interactions shaping their relationship for the decades to come.

It is clear that culture is a deeply important aspect of human social life and social organization underpinning intersectional fabric of our relationships and societal structures.  Though its often an invisible force, culture often underpins our values and through this, guides our actions, behaviours and attitudes shaping norms and conventions. My conversation with Anna was a very poignant reminder of it……


Cole, Nicki Lisa, Ph.D. "So What Is Culture, Exactly?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/culture-definition-4135409.

E. Perel, E, How to Resolve Conflict in Relationships: A conversation with Esther Perel (podcast)

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