Talking science and wishing for miracles: understanding cultures of mental health practice

Document Type


Publication details

Lakeman, R 2013, 'Talking science and wishing for miracles: understanding cultures of mental health practice', International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, vol. 22, no. 2, pp. 106-115.

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Science can only offer a limited account of, and prescription for, mental health care. Yet the language of science and faith in the universal applicability of particular scientific methods to the craft of mental health care has come to permeate mental health practice communities. In this paper, the argument that many beliefs held by mental health professionals might be considered to be based on faith rather than science is presented, and the view that culture provides a useful lens for understanding mental health services and these paradoxes is proposed. Clearly there is a grand mental health narrative or colonizing influence of biological psychiatry that in various ways affects all mainstream mental health services. Local health services and professional communities might be considered subcultures. Understanding how mental health professions and practice are embedded in culture might be useful in considering how practice changes and why. Culture and caring practices are mutually embedded in localized subcultures. Therefore, a rich description of context and history is necessary in publication, presentation, or other communications to enable genuine understanding by a global audience. Viewing mental health practice in a cultural context highlights the importance of values and differences, and encourages humility in the face of ambiguity.

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