Psychology is predominantly taught from a Western perspective. However, when helping our students to become clinic-ready psychologists in our multicultural society, it’s become clear that students need cross-cultural graduate attributes.

Dr Kelly Prandl, clinical psychologist and associate at Curtin University, has the rewarding job of imparting cross-cultural understanding upon her psychology students. To help her students develop the right mindset, she presents the argument that Cross Cultural Psychology should simply be Psychology. Perhaps it’s Western Psychology that should be the subset.

Dr Prandl stresses, “It is so important that Cross Cultural Psychology is integrated throughout our teaching and our texts. Not as something different, but as a mainstream way of thinking about humans.”

“It is so important that Cross Cultural Psychology is integrated throughout our teaching and our texts. Not as something different, but as a mainstream way of thinking about humans.”

It’s interesting to reflect on the fact that Cross Cultural Psychology is taught as a subset of Psychology. Given our cultural diversity and the interwoven nature of cultural heritage in modern society, should it be the subset or the substantive?

Psychology from the Western lens

When we look historically at the science of psychology, all the research and therapies come from a Western understanding of the world and is based on the Western population. In fact, it’s coined the WEIRD population – Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic. Basing clinical psychology on this lens has caused a great deal of damage to people of other cultural backgrounds, including the Indigenous peoples of Australia. Historically, Western psychology assessments were imposed on Aboriginal people, which then was used for the basis of derogatory claims that impinged their quality of life and access to care.

Dr Prandl gained first-hand experience of potential misunderstandings in the cultural context when working as a midwife in the Aboriginal community. She remembers working with pregnant Indigenous women, and observed what she thought was depression.

Using a DSM-IV statistical diagnosis – a Western diagnostic tool – these women would’ve met the criteria for depression. But in fact, they were not depressed. They were stressed. It looked similar on paper, but within their cultural context it was something different.

If health workers hadn’t had the cross-cultural competencies to identify this, these women could’ve been mis-prescribed anti-depressants under a typical Western treatment plan. Anti-depressants would not have changed the experiences of systemic racism that the women reported, nor the lack of appropriate housing.

Dr Prandl reflects, “our students need to be taught to treat every patient as an absolute individual, and not make any assumptions that could lead to misdiagnosis simply because of a mono-cultural view.”