During my guestblogging stint, I have mentioned a couple of American expats who exported their problematic conceptions of "mental illness" all over the world from their base in Toronto. Ken Zucker and Ray Blanchard are egregious examples of this problem, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. It's one of the most important political issues of the 21st century, but it is one of the most difficult for both practitioners and the general public to step back and see in its historical and geopolitical context. It involves challenging some of the most deeply held beliefs about how the world works.
Today, the New York Times has an excellent introduction to the concept, by Ethan Watters, author of Therapy's Delusions. It's a good overview of his upcoming book. Quoth Ethan:
In any given era, those who minister to the mentally ill — doctors or shamans or priests — inadvertently help to select which symptoms will be recognized as legitimate. Because the troubled mind has been influenced by healers of diverse religious and scientific persuasions, the forms of madness from one place and time often look remarkably different from the forms of madness in another. That is until recently.
The Americanization of Mental Illness (article)