The Interface of Culture and Spirituality within Psychology during COVID-19 times

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Zininzi Anele Bomoyi
Zininzi Anele Bomoyi

Introduction

South Africa currently faces a potential 3rd wave of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Driving to the grocery store I heard the song “Every Breath You Take” by The Police on the radio.  It spoke to my soul and moved my spirit in peculiar way as I realised its relevance to COVID-19 times.  The lyrics “Every move you make, every vow you break, every smile you fake, every claim you stake, I’ll be watching you” apply to the culture and spirit of these times.  Breathing underneath the mask is profound and significant. Every move is regulated by the COVID-19 protocols; every vow broken to children and women through gender-based violence; the fake smiles we often give and receive during our online meetings and the claims we often make about who we are as human beings have been challenged by COVID-19 uncertainties.  People have lost jobs, relationships, dreams, and loved ones (Fox, Ward, Neha & Jose, 2021; Pérez & Marsico, 2021); we are all grieving some loss and this has resulted in unmet cultural and spiritual needs. It is against this backdrop that I hope this piece sparks cross-faculty and cross-cultural mind, spirit, body and soul holistic thinking about mental health challenges during COVID-19. 

Incorporation of Culture and Spirituality Within Psychology

Although mainstream psychology by western theorists such as Freud and Jung often rejected issues pertaining to culture and spirituality (Zinnbauer & Pargament, 2000; Nobles & Mkhize, 2020), these issues remain fundamental to human existence. Contemporary psychological theorists (Ramose, 2018; Simango & Segalo, 2020) hold that human beings are cultural and spiritual beings. African thought defines culture as constant and dynamic, consisting of ways of being, music, education, art, food and the environment. The family, individual and community are spiritually connected through a higher supreme being, nature and ancestors as one unit living codependently (Mkhize, 2005). Spirituality is the unseen, often sacred aspects of our being which forms the mind, the body and the soul (Nwoye, 2017). According to Eastern and African thought, the spirit is the main influencer of culture (Pillay, Kometsi & Siyothula, 2009). The incorporation of culture and spirituality (Bomoyi & Mkhize, 2016; Sue, 2001) within main stream psychology has promoted openness to diversity and multiple worldviews.

Culture and The Family

The African family is a part and parcel of a bigger whole (Baloyi,2020). Health care within the family, particularly in relation to elders and children is attributed to all aspects of human life and existence which include extended families, the community and nature. The individual within a family unit is intertwined with communal values and relationships (Mkhize, Ndimande-Hlongwa, Nwoye, Mtyende & Akintola, 2016). The values often refer to ubuntu, that is becoming a person       with a heightened sense of compassion and a readiness to respond to those in need if illness is encountered or there is disharmony within the family (Mbiti, 2015). Many South African families confront socio-economic challenges and a lack of basic needs such as food, shelter, and sanitation may disrupt family relations and leave family members spiritually out of balance and emotionally drained.

Is Technology Improving our Cultural Heritage and Spiritual Wellbeing?

Technology is now a significant part of global human culture. COVID-19 has radically improved our understanding and use of technology. We have ZOOM, video, WhatsApp chats and teleconferencing at our fingertips, but is this always an advantage? While there can be no doubt that it is convenient for certain parts of the population this is not the case for those in disadvantages communities that lack resources (Tian, Liu, & Li, 2020; Tsatsou, 2016). As a result of my geographical and cultural context, I believe that face-to-face interactions have an advantage as they allow for the development and sustenance of human relationships which have the potential to enhance culture and improve spiritual wellbeing. 

Recommendations and Conclusions 

Research (Rogild-Müller, 2021) shows that including cultural and spiritual dimensions within psychology improves psychological wellbeing in education and clinical settings.  A challenge in the decade ahead is to create opportunities for collaborative culture-sensitive psychology to meet society’s current and future needs through programmes that enhance awareness. The World Health Organisation (WHO, 2020) encourages diverse views across disciplines in order to resolve current challenges. Whilst operating under COVID-19 protocols, it is important to obey the rules within different contexts. Try and practice kindness towards self and others; be patient with yourself and those around you as there are always new things to learn. Being willing to offer help when necessary also promotes your mental health and that of those around you.

Zininzi Anele Bomoyi is a Psychology Lecturer based at the University of KwaZulu-Natal Email: BomoyiZ@ukzn.ac.za