Indian Conceptions of Mental Health,
Healing, and the Individual
Many psychological theories and interventions that prevail have originated in the West and are based on particular conceptions of mental health and the individual that have largely evolved within a Western cultural and historical context. This chapter looks at alternative conceptions of health and the individual as developed by Indian psychologists originating in an Indian cultural context. This different understanding of mental health, which is based on a different definition of the individual, has implications for treatment in India, as well as the potential to significantly contribute to and expand Western concepts of health and interventions. The recent growth of indigenous psychologies originating in non-Western cultures such as India presents an opportunity for psychology to be built on a broader range of cultures and human experience.
Indian indigenous psychology cannot be articulated without taking into account the current situation in India regarding not only psychology and treatment strategies, but also the larger social context of rapid modernization within which Indian psychology operates. Therefore, the first part of the chapter is devoted to the current situation in India regarding the psychological effects of modernization and acculturation, followed by a discussion on the current status of psychology in India, both theoretical and applied, and its gradual indigenization. The second half of the chapter is devoted to a review of Indian indigenous psychology, and an attempt is made to synthesize traditional Ayurvedic conceptions of mental health and the individual with the concepts of dharma and swadharma. The implications of the Ayurvedic concept of the individual as representing a personality type are delineated as a contribution to the development of an Indian psychology. Since the purpose of the chapter is to review, discuss, and add to the formulation of an Indian indigenous psychology, it draws primarily on the work of Indian psychologists and their use of Hindu philosophical concepts, as well as their articulation of some of the underlying attitudes and beliefs of many Indians that derive from the Hindu worldview and seem to permeate Indian society. It does not therefore rely on philosophical, religious, or anthropological sources, because this would be beyond the scope of this chapter.
In India, the status of psychology and psychotherapy is fraught with contradiction. It reflects the disparities of a country in transition; of globalizing, Westernizing forces in an uneasy juxtaposition with older, more deeply rooted traditional worldviews and