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Get to know the Muslim culture

December 30, 2015
by H. Steven Moffic
| Reprints

Right now, one of the surprise hits of Broadway theatre is “The King and I.” It's been nominated many times for one of the best plays in 2015. 

It is a fictionalized story of the historical relationship between an English school teacher and the King of Siam (now Thailand). Although many say it is a love story, a case could be made that it is also a lesson in cross-cultural understanding, which is still relevant for our society and for psychiatry.

In our time, probably the most important cross-cultural challenge is in understanding Muslim culture. In society, we seem to be struggling to successfully achieve that, as evidenced by screening refugees from Syria or Muslims already living in the United States. We also lose an opportunity to understand better when Muslims are not included to speak during Republican Presidential candidate debates, for example.

In psychiatry, we lose an opportunity, we who are not Muslim, if we are not educated on how the religion and cultures of Muslims interact with their use (or lack of use) of mental healthcare services.

Just take the lyrics of the popular song "Getting to Know You" from “The King and I,” and apply it to those of us needing to understand Muslims better. 

"It's a very ancient saying,

But a true and honest thought,

That if you become a teacher,

By your pupils you'll be taught"

This stanza describes the essence of cultural psychiatry education. Though we can all understand the principles of cultural psychiatry—respect, curiosity, and treatment adaptation, among them—each patient is different in their acculturation. Therefore, allow each individualized Muslim patient to teach you about what their religion and culture means to them, and then translate that to how to provide culturally acceptable treatment. Assumptions may turn out to be wrong or right.

"Getting to know you,

Getting to know all about you.

Getting to like you,

Getting to hope you like me"

Beyond individual patients, the continuing education of staff at any mental healthcare facility should receive education about Muslim mental healthcare. This should range from culturally acceptable non-verbal communication, including appropriate greetings, to folk beliefs about mental illness.

If there is not such an expert on staff, inviting an outside expert is essential. Reading relevant literature helps, too, but that literature is relatively sparse and doesn't allow for discussion of feelings and questions. Achieving some mutual likeness from such education is essential for achieving a positive reputation and establishing therapeutic alliances.

"Getting to know you, 

Putting it my way,

But nicely,

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H. Steven Moffic

H. Steven Moffic

H. Steven Moffic, M.D. retired from the clinical practice of psychiatry and his tenured...