The concept of psychological mindedness is used to describe a person's ability to perceive relationships among thoughts, emotions and actions, in order to learn the meanings and causes of his or her behaviour. Psychological mindedness is clinically important because it influences the efficacy of psychotherapy. Individuals who have difficulty symbolizing and resolving emotional conflict, and verbally expressing their emotions, are considered to lack psychological mindedness, a deficit also known as alexithymia.
In this study, Nadia Ferrara examines cultural differences in styles of emotional expression and psychological mindedness by comparing two groups: Euro-Canadians, and Cree Amerindians – who are often stereotyped as taciturn and less verbally expressive. She investigates the ethnographic, historical and cultural context of the Cree people, as well as their style of communication, narratives, beliefs, and views of imagery, dreams and art. Working with the Cree group, she has discovered that art therapy provides an effective channel of emotional communication for many of them: thus, inability to discuss feelings, imagery or fantasy may not indicate an underlying psychological deficit.
Ferrara argues that some cultures predispose individuals to use non-verbal modes of emotional expression, but that psychiatry does not take into consideration in clinical assessment. This, of course, can lead to misdiagnosis. Her fascinating and thought-provoking study challenges the assumption that the constructs and practices of psychiatry can always be appropriate cross-culturally.
About the Author:
Nadia Ferrara is a registered art therapist and researcher who has been working with Native Americans for the past ten years as a consultant and art psychologist. She received her MA in Art Therapy from Vermont College, Norwich University, and her MSc in Transcultural Psychiatry from McGill University. She has worked in residential treatment settings, educational settings and hospitals. In her attempts to develop the area of cross-cultural art therapy, Nadia has published several papers and presented workshops across North America and Europe. She is also a researcher at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, involved in the Native Mental Health Team, and is currently working on her doctorate in Medical Anthropology.