About Cultural Psychology

Cultural psychology provides conceptual resources for helping us to realize that our most fundamental ways of thinking always presupposes particular cultural values and assumptions. Discerning these presuppositions underlying our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors is a discipline—it requires ongoing commitment to expose ourselves to those who differ from us in important ways. When we engage in cross-cultural and historical study we discover that in different places and in different times people have held vastly different understandings of such important notions as health, the self, the mind, and the good life. Awareness of this range of variation can help us to not only better understand what is potentially at stake in cross-cultural interactions, but it can also allow us to better understand ourselves.

To gain perspective on American society, I have spent a considerable amount of time traveling internationally and studying indigenous practices of health in non-Western cultures. My scholarly research has also included participant observation in various forms of mindfulness training as well as fieldwork with traditional healers and shamans. These experiences have provided me with a vantage point to observe what is presupposed in Western understandings of health and have expanded my training in methods that are increasingly being used in behavioral medicine. I continued this line of work while on a Fulbright-Nehru Award in India studying Indian indigenous psychology. I bring these perspectives into my teaching as well, emphasizing how Western views of the self can obscure how we are embedded in socio-political-economic practices that have consequences for health. By including units on such topics as consumerism, health disparities, social determinants of health, and community-based participatory research, I try to help students understand how working downstream with patients will never solve the deeper structural problems that contribute to mental illness and health disparities in the first place. I see this broader program of work as critical for promoting health across our society and avoiding the pitfalls of looking at health in solely individualistic terms, such as focusing on individual health risk factors.