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The Book of the Week is “Crazy Like Us, The Globalization of the American Psyche” by Ethan Watters, published in 2010.
After the December 2004 mega-tsunami hit the Sri-Lanka region, Western-trained mental health professionals from the United States, Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand rushed over there, with little understanding of the culture they were “trying to help.” They knew the populations would suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and therefore, would need psychotherapy. The arrogance and snobbishness of most of the counselors were versions of “white savior complex” and “white man’s burden.”
Few looked before they leaped. Most had no clue about the victims’ local languages, religious beliefs, mourning practices or tribal-warfare history. They were under the impression that the whole world thought the same way they themselves did, about how to recover from a traumatic event.
American-style capitalists that they were, “Within days, bitter rivalries broke out between counseling groups over which populations would receive which services.” Further, the Sri Lankans were a fresh crop of guinea pigs for trauma researchers.
Some explicitly corrupt researchers collected data unrelated to the PTSD presumed to be caused by the tsunami, such as data on domestic violence and sexual harassment. The Asians were unsophisticated, so they freely answered questions. They were eager to please their interviewers– wrongly thinking they’d receive disaster aid by doing so. There was bias galore in all the studies; especially confirmation bias. Unsurprisingly, all the different studies widely used by elitist, mostly American institutions (such as UCLA and Harvard) reported significant rates of PTSD in the selected populations of Thailand, Sri Lanka, Sumatra, Indonesia and India. Never mind that there was so much lost in translation.
Interestingly, the aid workers offering medicine, food and shelter, cooperated with the local community to provide what was truly needed, doing it in a way that jived with the Asians’ culture.
Read the book to learn more about PTSD situations– other aspects of the counselors’ approach involving power of suggestion, self-fulfilling prophecy, social contagion, and profiteering in Hong Kong, Zanzibar and Japan.