How do you help people with dysfunctional attitudes and behaviors, if they are driven by deeply entrenched cultural beliefs? A father brought his depressed 17 year old son for counseling, to “make him study for his final exams”. The son had experienced a series of peer related problems, displayed oppositional behavior, and even attempted suicide. His diagnosis included clinical depression. The parents were in denial about the seriousness of his condition, and attributed his behavior to attention-seeking. Their complete focus was on the need for him to study – so he gets into a good college – so they can be proud of him – so they can enjoy the social status of having a son in college. They were blinded by this cultural expectation.
When I suggested a gap year, or delaying exams so that intensive therapy could happen, they stopped bringing him to see me – until the next incident of suicidal ideation. The cycle repeated itself: they thought he was seeking attention and wanted me to focus the sessions on persuading the boy to study. I was up against a brick wall. When I pointed out what I saw as the problem (a complicated mix of social issues and cultural identity confusion), they turned a deaf ear.
The pursuit of education is a good and noble value. Culture enriches, enhances, and brings a kaleidoscope of color to life most of the time. But when we start interpreting things through a black or white cultural lens only, our senses become blind and deaf to reason. Sound mental and emotional health depend upon keeping that balance between our culture and our common sense.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA