Recent sociopolitical events in Egypt have alarmed the global mental health community and led to warnings about the lasting psychological effects of political turmoil for Egyptian women, who are often characterized by Western-trained psychologists as likely to suffer from mental illness due to ‘Arab culture’ (Al-Krenawi, 2005; Charara et al., 2017). This dissertation examines the assumptions underlying this explanation of mental illness through a qualitative study of how representations of ‘culture’ shape the work of counseling psychologists in Egypt providing psychosocial support to women (and men). Drawing on poststructural thought, and through in-depth interviewing and participant observation, this dissertation explores the process by which ‘culture’ becomes understood as heavily influencing the cause, course, and treatment of women’s social and emotional issues. Although Arab and/or Muslim ‘culture’ is often understood as a broad category and is mostly defined in counseling psychology theory and practice as negatively affecting women, through this work an argument is put forth that there are multiple and often competing ways that ‘culture’ is taken up and put to work in the provision of psychosocial support to women in Egypt and the broader Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The findings suggest that notions of culture are taken up and utilized in different ways at the macro, meso, and micro-level. In this study the macro-level represented how ‘culture’ was used simultaneously to explain and deny the existence of sociopolitical events and their effects on women. At the meso-level, notions of culture provided the foundation for the construction of an East versus West divide that privileged Western psychological knowledge and practitioners as having the utmost authority in the field of counseling psychology. Lastly, at the micro-level, practitioners’ understandings of ‘culture’ affected how they described interactions with their clients, and the ways in which they defined themselves as either similar or different from their client populations. Building on the deep exploration and analysis of ‘culture,’ this work concludes with a call for further and more critical psychological research in Egypt and the MENA region that analyzes the problematic centralizing of ‘culture’ in Arab and Muslim women’s mental health.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2017. Major: Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development. Advisor: Michael Goh. 1 computer file (PDF); x, 366 pages.
Putting culture to work in counseling practice: Intersections of mental health and representations of Arab and Muslim women in Egypt.
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