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Ethnopsychoanalysis is a form of psychotherapy that makes use of two complementary fields of knowledge: psychoanalysis and anthropology. Early in his career Sigmund Freud was careful to test the cultural diversity of his principal psychoanalytic concepts. The Oedipus complex, shortly after its introduction, was at the heart of the controversy between universalism and culturalism, and even today the question remains unresolved. Bronislaw Malinowski (1927) was one of the first anthropologists to take an interest in the relation between the psyche and culture through an analysis of the Oedipus complex among the Trobriand islanders, a matrilineal society. After Malinowski, the question was investigated by Géza Roheim and especially Georges Devereux (1970/1980, 1972), who further refined the relation between psychoanalysis and anthropology. Devereux postulated two fundamentals: psychic universality, toward which every human being tends, and cultural encoding, which is the effect of a culture on the content of the mind. Devereux held that researchers should focus on particulars without speculating about an abstract universal, which cannot be known a priori but was frequently inferred.

Ethnopsychoanalysis is based on the methodological principle of complementarity, which "does not exclude any method, any valid theory, but coordinates them" (Devereux, 1972). It is pointless to forcibly and exclusively integrate certain human phenomena into the field of psychoanalysis or anthropology. Human phenomena, Devereux asserted, are so specific that they require a two-pronged multidisciplinary approach that can neither be fused together nor carried out simultaneously.

In France and the United States, Devereux developed a theory of ethnopsychoanalysis based on the methodological principle of complementarity. Later in France, Tobie Nathan (1986) provided practical methods for its application, methods that are still being developed. Some parameters, however, appear to be well established (Moro, 1998): the need for a group of therapists in some cases, the importance of the patient's native tongue and the need to make a transition to the patient's language, the need to start from the patient's cultural representations, the need to construct intermediate spaces halfway between culture and psyche that enable the individual to speak more freely and creatively, the need to modify of the duration of sessions (longer sessions designed to comply with the cultural temporality of the patient), and so on. Finally, to encourage discussion, Western therapists must learn to look beyond the Western worldview and to modify their system of reference.

In this context it is important to implement, in addition to the mechanics for analyzing transference and affective countertransference, a specific method for analyzing the therapist's "cultural countertransference." In concrete terms, at the end of each interview, the group of therapists should attempt to elucidate the countertransference of each therapist by discussing the affects they have experienced, implicit elements, and theories that led them to believe certain things (inferences), and by planning activities (interventions) at the individual and cultural levels.

Ethnopsychoanalysis, which integrates the mental and cultural dimension of human dysfunctionality, is not a specific method, strictly speaking. Rather, it involves creating a complex cross-cultural psychotherapeutic setting that allows therapists to step outside of their own cultures and recognize the cultural differences of emigrant patients.

Marie-Rose Moro

See also: Anthropology and psychoanalysis; Balint-Székely-Kóvacs, Alice; Basic Problems of Ethnopsychiatry ; "Claims to Scientific Interest"; Devereux, Georges Incest; Individual; Individuation; Malinowski, Bronislaw Kaspar; Mead, Margaret; Morgenthaler, Fritz; Myth of origins; Róheim, Géza; Transcultural.


Devereux, Georges. (1972). Ethnopsychanalyse complémentariste. Paris: Flammarion, 1985.

. (1980). Basic problems of ethnopsychiatry (Basia Miller Gulati, and George Devereux, Trans.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (Original work published 1970)

Malinowski, Bronislaw. (1927). Sex and repression in savage society. New York: Harcourt, Brace.

Moro, Marie-Rose. (1998). Psychothérapie transculturelle des enfants de migrants. Paris: Dunod.

Nathan, Tobie. (1986). La folie des autres: traité d'ethnopsychiatrie clinique. Paris: Dunod.

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