Culture-Bound Psychological Disorders and Treatment



There is a psychological disorder bound to the Malaysian culture, which is called Latah. Malaysian Latah is rarely rare in other parts of the world and occurs primarily in those of Malay descent, especially in women over 40 years old. The word Latah has its origins in Malay, and derives from the words of ticklish, nervous, creeping, and love madness. In mild cases, women typically exhibit involuntary utterances of incomprehensible, meaningless, or obscene words and/or gesturing, which last for few seconds. In severe cases the episodes last from a few minutes to several hours and consist of verbal obscenities and the imitation of others´ actions or words. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders categorizes latah under ´´dissociative trance disorder´´ (American Psychiatric Association 1994, p. 490), and The ICD-10 Classification of Mental and Behavioural Disorders Diagnostic Criteria for Research (World Health Organization 1993, p.180) suggests two classifications: ´´other specified neurotic disorders´´ and ´´other specified dissociative conversion disorders´´. Malays believe that latah results from weakened semangat, which means mental strength, and it is attributed to psychological stress, shock, or illness. It is also common among women, as it is believed that females possess weaker semangat that men .

According Psychoanalytic perspective, latah is a neurosis or fear of individuals who react to fright evoking stimuli by showing ego disintegration. Malaysian people display this type of behavior as, according to Murphy, they have repressed sexual desires, child-rearing practices conducive to dissociation, the rewarding of hypersuggestibility, and the encouragement of imitation; concluding that latah is a culture-reflective variant of hysteria (Murphy, 1976).

Latah is regarded as appealing and amusing because it provides opportunities for amusing foolishness, aggressive teasing, and sexual humor for people among whom other forms of joking are rather restricted. That operates as a reinforcer, which results in a stronger sustainability of this type of behavior. According to Behavioral approach, latah is acquired through a process of conditioning and learning.They faulty learn that this behavior is acceptable by their environment, so they repeat it when they reach the ´´appropriate age´´. They also use it as an excuse to express themselves more freely. Additionally, based on observations, Bartholomew concluded that the mild cases, which are the most common ones, are a culture-specific habit akin to Western swearing.

The most suitable method in treating latah would be the person-centered therapy. According to the Rogerian therapy, in order for an individual to grow and become more self-confident, the therapist must be empathetic, open, and show unconditional positive regard. In this case, women would be set free from the rules of their society and express themselves, without hiding or camouflaging behind the ´´curtains´´ of latah. By doing so, they would eventually alter their behavior and become more self-aware.

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