Ajita Chakraborty, My Life as a Psychiatrist: Memoirs and Essays.
Reviewed by Anindya Das, Government Medical College, Haldwani, India.
Dr. Ajita Chakraborty is a noted authority in transcultural psychiatry. While trained in traditional Western psychiatry, she has campaigned for a culturally sensitive form of mental health practice better suited to patients in India.
As mentioned in the Preface of the book, one of the author’s aims in writing a memoir was to expose some of the barriers she faced while establishing herself in the field of academic psychiatry, primarily due to her gender. Chakraborty uses three different perspectives in her self analysis: a personality disposition view, a social angle, and finally a psycho-dynamic perspective to analyze the role of gender. The collection of essays provides the theoretical and practical outlines of Chakraborty’s approach to general and transcultural psychiatry. In her critique of modern psychiatry, she rightly identifies its ideological biases. She invokes Foucauldian insights to show how psychiatry is influenced by Western notions of liberal humanism which are either alien to or have been slow to develop in Eastern societies.
The central argument in most of the essays revolves around the importance of culture in the expression of self, identity, and psychopathology. Chakraborty redefines psychotherapy as “care of the mind”, drawing from Erna Hoch’s “care of the soul.” She urges us to understand the variations in power differentials in a psychotherapeutic setting, and the differences between Western and Indian contexts in the importance of the family and social interaction for psychotherapy.
Chakraborty argues that the perception of identity and definition of self is guided by the socially constructed nature of Indian-ness, modernity and tradition.
Dr. Chakraborty has chosen a simple and direct style of writing, shunning any pretence and revealing her socially engaged self rather than the “technical psychiatric” self. The accessible language of the book makes it very readable. Those with an interest in social science, particularly gender issues in professional experience and mental health will get much material for reflection.