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Ethno Psychology aims to fill the gap between Western Psychology and the Psychological needs of the majority of people in South Africa, within their own cultural belief systems. The tools provided by Ethno Psychology are a mixture of Cultural Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, Hypnotherapy and Metaphysical Science.

In post-apartheid South Africa there is a need for a different type of Psychology which includes community involvement and assistance in areas which may traditionally be seen as lying outside of what a Eurocentric psychology should concern itself with. We are faced with a different social and political crisis, creating a need to reformulate not only the practices of psychology, but to add the necessary tools to assist and understand the needs of the majority of South Africans. Many people in rural areas have never been introduced to Western Psychology, but visited Traditional Healers, who assisted them through Metaphysical methods to overcome mental and emotional problems.

Metaphysics is the ‘physics’ of the ‘other side’, also called the ‘other dimensions’, or the world of spirit, which the average person can not perceive through normal conscious awareness. Most people, when in a trance state, can however see or feel what is happening on the various levels of the ‘other worlds’.  This phenomena is not new, and has been used for thousands of years, but due to our ‘intellectual development’, most people lost this natural ability. By using a westernised psychological framework to try and assist all the cultures in South Africa will not work, as modern psychology is produced by a certain group, in certain ways, and for certain interests, with particular forms of knowledge, generated within and particular to the ‘First World’, then became generalized, assumed to be universal, and hence applied to Non-Western settings in prescriptive ways.

When looking at the ideological nature of much knowledge produced by psychology, it is not only a question of who is producing knowledge and for whom; it is also a question of how such knowledge is approached, what mechanisms are applied, and what particular methodologies and procedures are used to produce such kind of knowledge.

Here we see a vital concern for an African Psychology, as psychological research has historically been dominated by issues of interest to the ‘First World’. This kind of knowledge production has traditionally been unconcerned with political issues and, even less so, with political change. Very little psychological research has been directed towards explaining the process of rapid social change in developing countries. Ethno Psychology is concerned with implementing social betterment and/or change, considering political change, aiming to contribute to the specific concerns and interests of the developing world, by providing knowledge and services of social development in a rural African development context.

Ethno Psychology is concerned with how psychology creates ways of understanding ourselves, frameworks of popular knowledge, for example, through which we begin to ‘know’ and speak of ourselves, thereby regulating and controlling our behaviours. Ethno Psychology is concerned with how psychology ‘makes us’, gives us subject-positions, categorical roles in society through which we describe and understand who we are as people; as men, women, children, ‘black’ or ‘white’. Ethno Psychology is also concerned with ‘how psychology impacts on our identities’, in its part of making us who we are. We need a type of Psychology that provides the technical vocabulary and concepts that will enable us to do this; to be able to examine ourselves, developing ourselves in the terms that it provides.

Psychology plays an important part in generating and substantiating categorical kinds of knowledge about groups of people; how they are, how they act, and what their tendencies and characteristics are. Psychology locks us into descriptions of who we are, thereby reiterating and reinforcing patterns and relations of social power. We see here how the vocabularies, theories and clinical techniques of psychology come to hold particular versions of people and social worlds in place.

These psychological vocabularies, theories and techniques have a great deal of power in modern societies, not only because they are formulated by experts, but because they provide us with parameters of normality and abnormality, informing questions of self, subjectivity and sexuality, which we perceive to be fundamental truths of our existence. Ethno Psychology will be considering the effects and implications of these constructed identities in our local context, finding new ways of making sense of ourselves.

Ethno Psychology needs to equally involve both intellectual and practical components, as we live in a country consisting of many different cultures, religions and levels of development. Many people in rural parts of the country may be perceived as not being intellectual, but this does not means that they don’t have the mental abilities. If given the right opportunities, we will see a different South African society within the next twenty years.

A new psychology in post-apartheid South Africa involves very practical concerns of redress, community involvement and assistance in areas which may traditionally be seen as lying outside of what a Eurocentric psychology should concern itself with. It needs a reformulation not only of the practices of psychology, addressing and engaging as central and even primary the socio-political concerns of its location.

The pressing concerns of ongoing social inequality, the effects and circumstance of poverty, the rampant HIV/Aids problem, and globalised underdevelopment, are items at the top of the agenda of what a South African Ethno Psychology will be. The hope is that this reformulation and discourse will not only challenge the discourses and institutions of Western Psychology, but create new modes of practice, encompassing the needs of all. For this reason, the study of Ethno Psychology will include studies of Abnormal Psychology, so that the Ethno Psychology Practitioner will have a broad knowledge of the categories created by Western Psychology. It may not exactly fit into the parameters of work in Traditional Rural Areas, as Ethno Psychology makes use of different tools to establish the cause of a problem, the root cause being called the Initial Sensitizing Event, which is usually not recallable by the conscious mind.

The aim of Ethno Psychology is not to destroy psychology, but to transform it to the point where it can become what it claims to be for all the cultures of South Africa; a way of understanding people and a caring profession. It is not the enemy of psychology, but a different method of psychology that lives up to its own best principles; a systematic attempt to bring transformation through a different type of analysis, which includes the unseen spiritual world of African cultures.

Unfortunately Western Psychology has very little knowledge of the suffering of many South Africans due to evil manipulation of discarnate beings, and the suffering of these beings who became ‘dark entities’, trapped in the dark regions of the Astral World. Ethno Psychology teaches ways to heal beings found on all levels of physical and spiritual realms, thereby eliminating the ongoing suffering. Many humans are categorized as ‘mad’ but are in fact influenced on the unseen levels.

Ethno Psychology should take into account indigenous people’s languages, philosophies and worldviews. It is through these worldviews and philosophies that people make sense of themselves and the world. This can only be achieved through a Traditional African Metaphysical framework, which will provide a basis for an African-based psychology, empowering marginalised communities as active participants in the knowledge-generation process rather than being spectators.

Modern psychology as we know it is essentially a Western product, which was brought to developing countries as part of a general transfer of knowledge and technology, eagerly demonstrating the universality of psychological processes such as motivation, perception and emotion, seeking to uncover underlying, universal structures of human functioning.  It assumes that psychological processes are fixed and ‘deeply hidden’ within individuals, and its purpose is to go beyond ‘superficial differences’ resulting from varying cultural contexts, thereby isolating basic underlying psychological mechanisms.

Western Psychology has attempted to understand people in developing societies with reference to conceptual categories and theories developed in the West. Attempts are made to replicate studies conducted in developed societies, using imported theoretical frameworks.

Rural people hardly, if ever, participate in studies conducted by psychologists, and continue to rely on indigenous theories of illness and interventions. Do psychologists have a right to proclaim that these ways of living is out-dates?

Should rural inhabitants abandon the ‘outdated’ ways of life, can we guarantee that they will be able to participate in and benefit from modern psychology, or are we simply creating double marginalised people, who are deprived of their own cultural heritage, now unable to partake meaningfully in our modern way of living?

Because of the Aids pandemic, it has become important to conduct relevant research in developing societies.

In the past, research conducted in developed societies, was focused on changing people’s cognitions, assuming that cognitive change would result in behavioural change.

The reason why these efforts failed was that the sociocultural context of people in developing societies was not taken into account.

Ethno Psychology should not only be concerned with the way in which cultural and institutional practices form and shape individual development, but should produce research that furthers the needs of developing societies.

This should, amongst other things, include research into poverty, illiteracy and alienation caused by globalisation.

Metaphysics is concerned with how people perceive reality, their position in the universe, and their relation to others and the environment, including questions pertaining to existence, space, time and causality. Metaphysical systems can be seen as cultural models, which are models through which people make sense of the world and their behaviour in it.

Metaphysical Ontologies prescribe what is, but also include ideals of what can be, as well as the ideal cosmic and natural order, and its possible defects. For example, traditional African societies believe that there should be harmony and interdependence between elements in the cosmos.

Disconnection between parts comprising the whole is undesirable and immoral or unethical. It is this valuable to have an awareness of the African Metaphysical Framework to understand a people’s conception of moral reasoning.

On the other hand, Traditional Western theories conceive moral development individualistically.

Considering the abovementioned differences between traditional African and European understandings of the relationship between the person and his/her environment, one cannot declare one culture morally deficient based on the conceptual categories of another.

Africans traditionally believe that all things in the universe are ontologically connected to one another, and that beings and objects in the universe are hierarchically organised. They believe that relationships exist between organisms and objects in the hierarchy, and that each object or organism is dependent upon and capable of influencing and being influenced by others. The amount of life force (energy or power) determines the nature and direction of influence.)

The concept of life-force as ‘spirit’ does not mean ghost-like, inner powers of a dark spirit nature, but refers to dynamic creativity, a most precious gift from God.

The various ideas regarding ancestors have caused a great deal of confusion in African scholarship, causing the misrepresentation of African belief systems. We can see this confusion in the belief that Africans worship ancestors, which is further complicated by the fact that in English, the word “ancestor” means any person from whom one is descended. Africans however, conceive ancestors differently.

Life is, according to an African point of view, a continuous spiral of human and communal relationships, bringing reciprocal obligations. It is expected that all individuals would promote vitality in their communities by fulfilling their duties and responsibilities.

Considering the abovementioned differences between traditional African and European understandings of the relationship between the person and his/her environment, one cannot declare one culture morally deficient based on the conceptual categories of another.

Through the modality of Hypnotherapy in Ethno Psychology, we can determine, through the process of regression, which emotional traumas are responsible for emotional and physical illness. The patients is taken back in time, re-lives the event with all the relevant, long-suppressed emotions, and after various processes which includes forgiveness, the “dis-ease” can be eliminates. We thus treat the cause of the disease, and not the effect.

Natural Traditional Herbs and other Ethnomedicine Modalities are used in conjunction with Ethno Psychological methods, to bring healing to a nation through methods which have traditionally been used by Traditional Africans for centuries.

Dr. Trudie Bartholomew, Ph.D
Vice-President: HEPASA
Ethno Psychology Association of
South Africa




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