Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Cross-Cultural Psychology and Counseling: A Middle Eastern Perspective

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Cross-Cultural Psychology and Counseling: A Middle Eastern Perspective

Article excerpt

This article revisits the themes of psychology and counseling and examines the assumptions behind their disciplines from a global and Middle Eastern perspective. It explores the meaning of religious-culture and spirituality in their social contexts and tries to redefine the role of psychology and counseling in a more contemporary, globalized, and polarized age. The article provides an overview of the Middle East and Arabic speaking people and offers practical guidelines to the helping-professionals on how to work with Arab Middle Easterners more effectively. While acknowledging the advances already made in the social sciences, this article also challenges the relevancy of a purely Western educational system and a specialized criterion for mental health and illness well developed in North America, as well as the applicability of all related theories and therapies to the rest of the world. The closing section explores the advantages and disadvantages of exporting the cumulative Western body of knowledge in general and the psychosocial and therapeutic fields in particular (one-way outward). It provides ideas and suggestions to help the North American psychology reach out to the world, build bridges with other developing nations, and therefore become truly global and international in nature.

Every society and culture has its own heritage and traditions, norms and values, views of health and illness, and styles of coping and celebration. Throughout history, mentors, wise elders, spiritual directors, sages, and local healers played a crucial role in the guidance and welfare of the group or community. In addition, societies had developed their own understanding of human nature and its various functions and manifestations, based on their theistic or naturalistic beliefs (or both), and on years of observation, generational experience, and distilled conclusion. These wisdoms and collective insights have been well preserved and carefully shared with others and transferred down the years. Consultation, advice, apprenticeship, guidance, and care for souls have been practiced long before the disciplines of psychology and counseling became established fields or discrete academic disciplines.

This is true of the Middle East (ME) region. It is a vast region and the birthplace of many civilizations and world religions. The ME, at times referred to as the Near East, stretches from the East Mediterranean basin, including countries such as Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel/Palestine, Egypt, to inland countries, such as Iraq and Jordan, and to the Arabic peninsula, including countries such as Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries. Some countries are included in the ME region but are non-Arabic speaking, e.g., Iran, Cyprus, and Turkey. North African nations stretch from Egypt to Morocco, including Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, and some inland countries such as Sudan and part of Somalia. Some of these countries are closer to Europe and speak daily conversational French. The Arab League is a lose oiganization of nations that consists of 22 members. Unlike what is generally believed, these countries do not share much in common among them besides the classical Arabic language (written and highly spoken forms) and some traditions and religious subcultures or broad mentalities. Far apart countries do not even fully understand each other's accents or expressions.

Religiously, there are a variety of Muslim branches, styles, and societies spread across the ME. In addition, there are numerous Christians of all traditions belonging both to the ancient and most recent church denominations, as well other religious minorities such as the Jews, the Druze, and the Alawites. Most Arabic Middle Eastern societies are characterized by: 1) a strong family bond, 2) a strong sense of community and social identity, 3) a strong rootedness in the land and a long generational heritage, and 4) a strong sense of hospitality and an openness to both, the East and the West, whether unregulated or with cautious and restricted openness (Abi-Hashem, 201 lc; Barakat, 1993; Hourani, 1991; Nydell, 2006; Patai, 2010). …

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