Report from the WPA Transcultural Section: "Treatments in Psychiatry: A new update"

Florence, Italy, 1-4 April 2009

Ronald Wintrob MD
Chair, WPA-Transcultural Psychiatry Section


It was chilly and rainy as March ended and turned to sunny, warm, spring days in Florence in early April. The majesty and beauty of the historic center of Florence was in full view as one strolled around the narrow streets and broad piazzas of medieval and renaissance Florence….as you can see in some of the photos accompanying this report.


I had assumed that cultural psychiatry would not have a very visible presence in a congress devoted to ‘treatments in psychiatry’. But I was wrong: our field was much better represented than I had expected.


Two of the ‘update symposia’ were on “cultural issues in mental health care” and “mental health care in low-resource countries”. There were ‘regular symposia’ on “the future of research on migration and mental health” on “spirituality and mental health”, and on ”anti-stigma strategies in developing countries”.


WPA sections organized symposia on “stigma: current challenges for care and treatment”, “the enigma of psychiatric brain drain in developing countries”, “international perspectives on forensic psychiatry”, and “global perspectives on access to mental health care”. There was another symposium on “integrating rural mental health with primary care in diverse cultures”. One of the ‘new research sessions’ was on “culture and mental health”.


There were also the two symposia organized by WPA-TPS: “education and training in transcultural psychiatry: prospects and challenges”, and “culture, humor and psychiatry; a synthesis”.


The WPA-TPS symposium on “education and training in transcultural psychiatry” included presentations by Ron Wintrob (USA), Marianne Kastrup (Denmark), Solmaz Golsabahi (Germany), Simon Dein (UK) and Kamaldeep Bhui (UK).


The WPA-TPS symposium on “culture, humor and psychiatry” was a two-part symposium, with presentations by Ron Wintrob (USA), Tsuyoshi Akiyama (Japan), Dave Kinzie (USA), Levent Kuey (Turkey), Yves Thoret (France), Miguel Jorge (Brazil), Dan Mkize (South Africa), Henrik Wahlberg (Sweden/Finland), John Cox and Annie Lau (UK). There was, as you might imagine, a lively series of presentations and active audience participation.


WPA zonal symposia addressed “recent advances in mental health care in sub-Saharan Africa”, “psychiatric care in Eastern Europe” and “recent research advances in Latin America”.


The ‘brain drain’ symposium, organized by the Section on Psychiatry in Developing Countries’ included presentations by colleagues from India, UK, Australia and Brunei. WPA-TPS will be working closely with the Section on Psychiatry in Developing Countries, and with Dan Mkize and other colleagues in South Africa, in the planning and organization of a jointly sponsored ‘international conference on cultural psychiatry in southern Africa’, to be held in Durban, South Africa, 27-29 Sep, 2010.


The ‘new research session’ on “culture and mental health” included presentations on ‘service utilization by immigrants to Israel’, ‘cultural beliefs about mental health problems in Egyptian, Kuwaiti, Palestinian and Israeli-Arab university students’, and ‘first episode psychosis among immigrants in Bologna, Italy’.


The ‘update symposium’ on “cultural issues in mental health care” included presentations on “the impact of culture and migration on

mental health”, “causes of the epidemic of psychoses in African-Caribbeans in the UK”, and “culture and mental health care: a perspective on depression in India and the UK”.


The symposium on ‘the future of research on migration and mental health’ included presentations from colleagues based in Morocco, Spain, Israel,, Sweden and The Netherlands.


This overview of cultural psychiatry and related areas of psychiatry in the scientific program of the Florence congress will. I hope, give you a sense of the very active interest in our field in WPA: not just among cultural psychiatrists, but among the very diverse cross-section of psychiatrists and other clinicians, researchers, educators and policy makers working in all areas of mental health and social policy.


We are in the midst of an enormous upsurge of interest in the relationships between culture, health/mental health, access to heath care services, and educational and rehabilitative policy initiatives related to culture and health.


In this context, there is a pressing need to develop programs to broaden the understanding of these issues by all health and mental health personnel. There is an even more pressing need to initiate educational programs ‘to train the trainers’ of this and future generations of health and human services personnel. The greatest need is to develop basic training programs for these purposes in the low-income countries, where faculty and educational resources are limited.


The executive committee of WPA-TPS is very much aware of these pressing needs, and has been exploring ways to bring the broad experience and expertise of WPA-TPS members to bear on some of the issues involved. I hope to be able to elaborate on how WPA-TPS members can contribute to this effort during the months to come. 




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