There has been a strong relationship between trauma and culture. The traumatic experiences of an individual become an integral part of life and universal in occurrence and manifestation. It demands cooperation from the cultures in the form of support, treatment, healing, medical care, counseling and interventions. To understand the concepts of trauma and cultural systems in depth, it is important to understand the dimensions and the pattern of both the concepts (France, del Carmen Rodríguez & Hett, 2012). There are different types of the reasons behind the traumatic experiences, such as, childhood abuse, terrorism, domestic violence, natural disasters, civil war in the country, warfare, etc. and it affects psychologically as well as physically. Trauma can cause deep harms to the self-confidence, personal identity and ego strength of a person and the effects can remain life long, hampering his or her normal, social and cultural life. At the same time, cultures are simple as well as complex in terms of dealing with the traumatized people. The social structure of the cultures has significant effects on the treatment of the traumatized people. Different cultures use different mechanisms to help people with such experiences (Iqbal, 2015).
Trauma refers to the extreme psychological and physical stress reactions from different types of events affecting the normal life of a person. According to Delauney (2012), it is a resultant effect from any event, circumstances, or series of events, experienced by a person, which are emotionally or physically harmful and have long lasting negative effects on his or her normal life and spiritual, social, physical or emotional well-being. For some, domestic abuse is traumatic, while for some, the natural disaster that wiped out their families is a traumatic event. The 5th edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defines trauma as the situation when a person is open to the elements of threatened or actual physical injury, death or sexual abuse (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).
Trauma was characterized broadly by Caruth (2016). He defined it as the sudden and forced event that hampers an individual’s capacity to react. Trauma is not always physical harm to oneself, rather it often includes various other events causing emotional harm.
According to Wilson (2012), traumatic experiences can lead to various types of mental health disorders such as Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorders, mood disorders, i.e. extreme depression, etc. The effect of trauma are sometimes subtle, dangerous or destructive. These effects are dependent on the nature of the individual, type of the events, process of developments, vastness of the event, and socio cultural and economic factors. When the impacts become too much, a person needs medical help, as well as support from the society to recover. The attitude of the society towards a traumatic victim depends on the culture.
It is important to know the influence of culture on trauma. LaCapra (2014), says that human beings generally tend to make sense and explain the experiences. In the process of explaining, the culturally influenced beliefs come into play. This is a determining factor of the treatment and the healing process; as this would also be influenced by culture of the patient, and it would decide if the treatment would be effective. The medical studies have shown that many health practices are not accepted in many societies due to some traditional beliefs. Similarly, the traumatic patients often reject many counseling advices due to some social and cultural beliefs. They do not become open to the medical practices and that leads to more suffering.
According to Antze & Lambek (2016), to treat the traumatic patients, understanding of culture is very essential. It helps to understand the background, race, ethnicity, age, race, citizenship status, gender identity, spirituality, and other social economic factors that would help in supporting the patients. The cultural beliefs of people also influence the reactions to the traumatic events. If a person had been abused in his or her childhood, then the person would suffer from this experience throughout his or her life, but the way of reacting to this event depends on the socio cultural background of the person. Different societies deal with such victims in different ways. For example, if a woman is raped in a Middle East country, then the victim is punished rather than the people who committed the crime. Such events create very deep scars among the trauma victims and they often cannot recover from that.
Hence, it is evaluated in the medical science that, different cultural approaches are required for treating different types of trauma. The harmony in the relations with society and nature; personal vulnerability caused by the trauma; mental balance; illness resulting from that trauma and effects on health, mind and spirit are the influential factors of the type of counseling and treatment. If the counselor can understand the victim’s culture correctly, then it becomes easier for him to evaluate the situation and treat the patients in the most beneficial and effective way (Holmes et al., 2015).
Counseling is one of the most effective treatment processes for the traumatized people. When people are unable cope up with traumatic experiences in life, then they need medical help. In most cases, people reach out to their families and friends for emotional support. However, when they cannot open up in front of their near and dear ones, they need professional help. The first step of such treatment is counseling. The counselors listen to their problems and give them advice to cope up with the situation accordingly (An introduction to counseling, 2015).
It is a challenge for the counselors to understand the patient, know his or her background and guide them accordingly. Culture again plays a vital role in this. If a counselor has profound knowledge about the culture and socio economic background of the trauma victim, then he can guide the person according to his or her cultural beliefs. This way he ensures that the victim would follow his advice and can recover from the trauma. Counseling is not just about two people; it also includes the characteristics, which incorporate the culture of the modern societies (Shalev, Yehuda & McFarlane, 2013).
Di Prete (2016), described the story of Paula in his writing. He wrote that, Paula and her friend were hit hard by a car accident. It became a trauma for her and she started to shy away from her family, friends, works and life. Finally, she was taken to a counselor. The counselor started with giving her a homework sheet to fill up with the accident story every day. In next session, he recorded an audio tape with the narration of the accident story by Paula herself and told Paula to listen to that tape until she got bored. After that, he told her to remember the good and positive pre-accident memories in the next session. This way he treated her with dignity and respect and listened to everything she had to say attentively. After few sessions, Paula recovered completely from her trauma and started to live her normal life again. In this example, culture was a vital part too. Had the counselor ignored the cultural beliefs of Paula, he could have never understood her mentality accurately and would have treated her differently, which would have a negative impact on her (Ardino, 2014).
The above example proves that counselors must be culturally sensitive as well as must evaluate the victims in the cultural framework. Victims, who are from the collectivist culture, find it difficult to report or talk about any traumatic experiences to others. It is a social responsibility of the counselor to respect that aspect and guide them in a way, which would be beneficial for them. He should respect their culture rather than impose his own cultural view on them. If the counseling process is aligned with the victim’s cultural belief, they would follow those for recovery; otherwise the advice could be harmful for them by making them ore disconnected (Sanderson, 2014).
From the above discussion, it can be concluded that, trauma and culture are quite interlinked. Many cultural factors can create trauma to a person, while, in many cases, the cultural aspects help in the way of counseling of the traumatized person. In modern world, people are stressed about everything in life, but, when the stress become unbearable due to any particular event, the person fails to respond rationally and becomes a victim of trauma. There are many disorders of trauma, known as PTSD. When the traumatized people cannot cope up with it, they either harm themselves or seek for professional help. There comes the role of the counselors. The counselors help them with advice on how to deal with trauma and how to live life again by recovering. In all these things, culture is one of the most vital parts. If the society and its culture are liberal, then a traumatized person can get support from the society in the recovery process. Therefore, it can be said that, trauma and culture counseling is a very important part of the medical science, as well as for the wellbeing of the society as a whole.
American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association; 2013.
An introduction to counselling. (2015). Retrieved 16 May 2017, from https://www.mheducation.co.uk/openup/chapters/0335211895.pdf
Antze, P., & Lambek, M. (Eds.). (2016). Tense past: Cultural essays in trauma and memory. Routledge.
Ardino, V. (2014). Trauma-Informed Care: Is Cultural Competence A Viable Solution For Efficient Policy Strategies?. Clinical Neuropsychiatry, 11(1), 45-51. Retrieved from https://www.clinicalneuropsychiatry.org/pdf/ardinoweb.pdf
Caruth, C. (2016). Unclaimed experience: Trauma, narrative, and history. JHU Press.
Delauney, T. (2012). Fractured culture: educare as a healing approach to indigenous trauma. Science in Society.
Di Prete, L. (2016). Foreign Bodies: Trauma, Corporeality, and Textuality in Contemporary American Culture. Routledge.
France, M. H., del Carmen Rodríguez, M., & Hett, G. G. (Eds.). (2012). Diversity, Culture and Counselling: A Canadian Perspective, 2e. Brush Education.
Holmes, C., Levy, M., Smith, A., Pinne, S., & Neese, P. (2015). A model for creating a supportive trauma-informed culture for children in preschool settings. Journal of child and family studies, 24(6), 1650-1659.
Iqbal, A. (2015). The ethical considerations of counselling psychologists working with trauma: Is there a risk of vicarious traumatisation. Counselling Psychology Review, 30(1), 44-51.
LaCapra, D. (2014). Writing history, writing trauma. JHU Press.
Sanderson, C. (2014). Introduction to Counselling Survivors of Interpersonal Trauma (1st ed.).
Shalev, A. Y., Yehuda, R., & McFarlane, A. (Eds.). (2013). International handbook of human response to trauma. Springer Science & Business Media.
Wilson, J. P. (2012). The Lens of Culture: Theoretical and Conceptual Perspectives in the Assessment of Psychological Trauma and PTSD. In Cross-cultural assessment of psychological trauma and PTSD (pp. 3-30). Springer US.
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