Carolyn SARGENT & Stéphanie LARCHANCHÉ : « The construction of « cultural difference » and its therapeutic significance in immigrant mental health services in France »

In : Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, 2009, Vol. 33, n° 1 : 2-20

Published online : 19 December 2008 SpringerLink

Carolyn SARGENT : Department of Anthropology, Washington University in St. Louis, USA.

Stéphanie LARCHANCHÉ : École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris, France.


Since the early 1970s, the French public health system has been accorded considerable responsibility for immigrants identified by the educational, judicial or social service authorities as psychologically distressed or socially disruptive. In this paper we discuss three models of healing embedded in constructs of « cultural difference » and addressed at specialized mental health-care centers catering to immigrants in Paris : « cultural mediation », transcultural psychiatry/ethnopsychiatry and clinical medical anthropology. Based on observations and interviews at three specialized mental health centers in Paris, we explore how these clinical approaches address migrant wellbeing and seek to resolve crises in migrant families, especially those of West African origin. We suggest that the prevalent approaches to therapy creatively blend concepts and practices of anthropology, psychiatry and psychology but, at the same time, confront challenges inherent in the use of a generic « African » healing modality. Cases studies demonstrate that in order for such interventions to be perceived as effective by patients, « cultural difference » must be acknowledged but also situated in broader social, political and economic contexts.

KEYWORDS : France – Mental health – Transcultural psychiatry – Immigration

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