In the East, societies struggle to balance tradition and modernity
At one point in time, before the dawn of modern medical science, cultures around the world attributed physical and mental illness to taboos and superstitions, thinking that disease was a phenomenon much like bad luck, a divine sign of the wrath of the gods.
But, thanks to scientific advancement, we are no longer burning people on stakes in the name of witch hunts; neither is possession the thing we think of when someone falls ill either mentally or physically. Well, not in developed Western countries at least.
Not that Eastern countries are less developed or are more uncivilized than our Western counterparts, but for a modern country like Taiwan, a majority of our population remains immensely religious and superstitious to a fault. And the trend is commonplace in believers of traditional Eastern religions found in countries like Japan, Korea, mainland China and of course Taiwan.
For Eastern countries, religion, culture and tradition are often just different terms to define the same thing. After living through a consistent development in history, Eastern cultures are often older than Western cultures, which results in a close bond between religion and our daily lives. But in the case of emotional, mental and habitual well-being, having a lifestyle that is heavily dictated by traditional religions and values arguably does more harm than good.
Case in point, the first idea a lot of Taiwanese parents tended to fall back on in the very recent past when their newborn baby wouldn’t stop crying was to bring their kids to a local Taoist establishment so that a shaman-like person may perform the ritual of Siu-Kiann ( ) on the infant. The ritual is performed to help retrieve part of a scattered soul of a child, which had left the body after enduring a frightful experience, thus resulting in an infant feeling unsettled. SiuKiann often concludes with parents feeding their babies water that includes burned spell papers — that’s right, burned papers — once the family returns home.
There are many reasons why infants would feel unsettled, and crying is one of the ways — if not the only way — a baby could tell their parents that something is wrong. Perhaps a child is suffering from a high fever or a stomach flu, which, by common sense, should not be treated with the consumption of water mixed with burned paper.
Aside from superstitions, the archaic belief in social etiquette and hierarchy are also reasons why behavioral science, emotional therapy, psychology and psychiatry are developing at an extremely sluggish pace in a country that would greatly benefit from such sciences.
Though more prominent mental and emotional disabilities like Down Syndrome and autism have been recognized and accepted by most Taiwanese families, the most common of behavioral illnesses like attention deficit disorder (ADD) and addiction are completely disregarded by a majority of the population even though the problems are in plain sight.
Problems like ADD, addiction and emotional issues could be diagnosed and treated though proper medication and therapy. But, as a result of the taboo in Eastern cultures, many think that even going to see a counselor would mean that an individual likely suffers from mental illness, and therefore such problems are left untreated. Correspondingly, counseling remains less developed in Taiwan than in other countries.
In the case of behavioral problems like gambling and drinking addiction, Eastern cultures have a lot to do with enabling these issues as opposed to combating them. It has been proven that the establishment of group therapies through interventions, anonymous meetings and rehabs would greatly improve one’s addictive condition through sharing and group support. However, as Eastern social norms would dictate, an intervention or group therapy would be highly impossible due to the twisted understanding of respect and hierarchy.
Most people with age or social seniority in Eastern cultures would ever let those who are younger or are at a lower social status aid them with confronting their inner demons by addressing behavioral problems. Thus, family interventions and group therapies are rarely heard of in the East.
Unfortunately, it is safe to say that progress of emotional therapy and counseling will not happen anytime soon; not while a considerable amount of the population continues to restrain themselves by the norms of outdated traditions.