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October 2021

Psychiatr Serv. 1997 Jan; 48(1): 86-90.

The influence of culture on psychiatric assessment: the Vietnamese refugee.

Phan T, Silove D.

Faculty of Nursing, University of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

The influence of culture on psychiatric diagnostic assessments remains controversial. The authors outline differences between the emic approach to assessment, which is informed by ethnographic concepts of the centrality of culture in shaping the psyche and its expressions, and the etic approach, which downplays cultural effects and focuses on the universal elements in manifestations of psychological distress. Based on the experience of assessing Vietnamese refugees in Australia, the authors explore semantic, contextual, and conceptual factors that may impede the psychiatric assessment of patients from other cultures. Areas of misinterpretation are illustrated using examples from the Vietnamese language. The authors discuss how variations in politicohistorical experiences within ethnic populations may result in differences in the modes of expressing and understanding mental illness. Recognition of the tension between etic and emic perspectives allows the clinician to draw on the most useful elements of each in assessing and treating individual patients.

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