Culture and Psychopathology

Postgraduate course

Course description

Objectives and Content

Like all systems of healing, biomedicine is a cultural product arising from Western industrialised countries. Yet practice of medicine to a large extent has shown very little cognisance to cultural and social factors. Biomedical conception of health and its practice are often transported from one part of the world to the other in packages of absolute truths. Notwithstanding great results, they have sometimes proven to be ineffective and even detrimental to the receiving group of people. Central to this problem is failure on the part of biomedicine to take into account culture's influence on people's attitudes, belief systems, conception of illness and disease, disease aetiology, and health-care seeking behaviour. In addition, while certain health problems (e.g. culture-bound syndromes) are difficult to understand using imported biomedical models from the West, they are readily understood within the cultural societies where they are manifested. The crux of this course is to examine mental illness, their manifestations, diagnosis, and treatment in different cultural societies.

The following areas of topics will be addressed during the 5-days of lectures:

  • Culture and mental illness: Concepts, issues, models and theories
  • Classification/grouping of mental disorders in diagnostic manuals: culture and methodology
  • Review of some common mental illness (anxiety, mood, somatoform disorders and schizophrenia from a cultural perspective
  • Culture bound syndromes, cultural validations and their possible links with mental illness in the classification manuals
  • Acculturation, multiculturalism and mental health
  • Cross-cultural and multicultural psychotherapy: Help-seeking behaviour, treatment and prognosis

Number of weeks:
2 week (1 week face-to-face contact, 1 week self study)

Learning Outcomes

On completion of the course the student should have the following learning outcomes defined in terms of knowledge, skills and general competence:


The student is able to:

  • describe and identify the role of cultural variables in the aetiology of mental disorder.
  • explain how cultural variables interact with biological, psychological and environmental variables to influence psychopathology.


The student is able to:

  • appraise cultural variations in standards of normality and abnormality.
  • critically evaluate cultural variations in the classification and diagnosis of psychopathology.
  • describe and determine the cultural variations in the expression, course and outcome of psychopathology

General competence

The student is able to assess how cultural change affects adaptation outcome

Level of Study


Semester of Instruction


Place of Instruction

Centre for International Health
Required Previous Knowledge

Proficiency in English at a level corresponding to TOEFL 550 (paper-based) or 213 (computer-based) or IELTS band 6.0 is expected.

Physicians and dentists specialising in public health, general practitioners and other health workers with special interest in culture and psychopathology.

Access to the Course
Students enrolled in the master programme in Global Health, students enrolled in similar programmes at UiB or other partner universities (e.g. tropEd Network for Education in International Health)
Teaching and learning methods

The course will involve formal lectures, interactive group discussions. Otherwise, the students will do a lot of reading and self-reflection on mental disorders from their own society, as well as discuss and interview people from other cultures how mental disorders are defined, identified and treated in their particular society.

Total student investment time: 110 hours

Preparatory reading: 40 hours

Contact hours: 20

Group work: 20 hours

Individual assignment: 30 hours

Compulsory Assignments and Attendance

The students choose a topic, find relevant literature and write a report.

The group assignment involves a topic for debate.

80 % for group work and seminars.

Forms of Assessment

Continuous assessments involving the short (up to 500 words) and long (up to 2500 words) essays to be written at home.

Students who receive the grade "F" are allowed to re-sit according to standard procedures at the University of Bergen.

Grading Scale
In all students have to submit 5 different assignments:
(i) A report (i.e., an annotated summary) of self-defined reading. This will be about 2500 words)
(ii) 3 short ones essays (ca 500 words in length), based on the daily home work during the first week of the course: and
(iii) An essay (ca 2500 words) to be submitted after the self study.
The 3 short essays will form 30 % of the final grade, 10% for each essay): The two assignments after the self-study period (i.e., the annotated summary and 4th essay) will respectively account for 40%.and 30% of the final grade.
A student who does not submit at least 2 of the 3 short essays will automatically fail. Similarly, failure to submit any of the two assignments from the self-study (i.e., the annotated summary and the essay) will automatically fail. Essays will be graded using letter grading ranging from A-F, where A = Excellent and F = Fail. All essays should be submitted online through MY SPACE
NB: There will not be any school exam.
Assessment Semester
Reading List
The reading list will be made available by 1 December on Mitt UiB
Course Evaluation
Students evaluate the teaching according to the quality assessment requirements of the University of Bergen. The evaluation method is through an online electronic form.