Conceptualization of mental illness within Arab cultures: Meeting challenges in cross-cultural settings

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Mohammed Azim Sayed
Cite this article:  Sayed, M. (2003). Conceptualization of mental illness within Arab cultures: Meeting challenges in cross-cultural settings. Social Behavior and Personality: An international journal, 31(4), 333-342.


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This article reviews some of the cultural characteristics and conceptualizations that distinguish Arab patients. It is important to note that the terms Arab and Arabic do not necessarily indicate a monolithic approach. Conceptually, the term Arabic denotes a common language, geography, history and shared values and characteristics. There are vast differences within different Arab cultures which may converge and diverge to form what is sometimes "lumped together" as Arab culture. The paper also attempts to delineate some of the cultural barriers that may be significant in explaining a set of mechanisms that facilitate or hinder the seeking of psychological help by Arab patients within given psychotherapeutic relationships. Issues of cultural transference and countertransference are briefly discussed. Case studies are given to illustrate how to overcome such difficulties, especially when they pertain to therapeutic encounters between Arab patients and their Western therapists and the ensuing role expectations and role confusions.

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