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Related Topics
Mental SlaveryReview - Mental Slavery
Psychoanalytic Studies of Caribbean People
by Barbara Fletchman Smith
Rebus Press, 2000
Review by Su Terry
Jun 30th 2001 (Volume 5, Issue 26)

In 1992, Jamaican Folksinger, Bob Marley urged his listeners to "emancipate yourself from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds."(p.153) Dr. Barbara Fletcher Smith takes up Marley's challenge in her new book, Mental Slavery: Psychoanalytic Studies of Caribbean People. Using case studies from her own practice, Dr. Smith illustrates the unique racial and ethnic issues involved in doing psychotherapy with individuals of Afro-Caribbean descent who have relocated outside of the Caribbean Basin.

In this compact work (only 166 pages), Dr. Smith provides valuable insights garnered from her experience from psychoanalytic working with Afro-Caribbean immigrants residing in the United Kingdom. (Dr. Smith's practice is located the England.) She focuses upon the psychological impact that generations of slavery have had on the psychological well-being of Caribbean peoples of African decent. She specifically focuses upon the impact that these generational memories have upon the issues of personal trust, racial paranoia, truncated gender relations, and reliance upon an extended matriarchal families. She notes that coping mechanisms and learned behaviors from the Afro-Caribbean culture will appear notably dysfunctional and maladaptive when the individual relocate outside the Caribbean culture and attempt to readjust to an Anglo-European culture. She illustrates her findings with a literary analysis and eight case studies in which these unique cultural traits are demonstrated. Each of her case histories include a familial and individual histories, the case progress, a Freudian analysis, and her own personal learning experiences about doing psychoanalysis with Afro-Caribbean individuals.

I have two recommendations for increasing the reader's learning and enhancing the reader's enjoyment of this fascinating little book. First, the reader should obtain a copy of Roy Heath's novel, The Murderer. (Luckily, this novel is now available not only in the UK, but also in the US.) A pre-reading of this novel will save the reader much frustration upon reaching chapters three and four, approximately one-quarter of the book, which contains the author's lengthy psychoanalysis of the novel's main character. While reading Heath's novel is not essential to understanding the rest of Smith's book, being able to read and appreciate these two chapters will greatly enhance the reader's comprehension of the author's analysis of the case studies in the rest of the book. Second, the background material presented in chapters one and two detail the history of slave trade in the Caribbean (chapter 1) and basic Freudian psychology (chapter 2) may be too basic for many readers. A psychologist may wish to skip chapter two and an historian may wish to skip chapter one.

It is this reviewer's opinion that much of the materials in this book can also be applied not only to Afro-Caribbean emigrants, but also to Afro-American individuals and other individuals of African slave ancestry who are attempting to adapt to modern Anglo-European culture. This book is an excellent appetizer, and I hope that Dr. Smith continues to research and publish her findings on this topic and/or to expand the current volume to include an exploration of these issues in even greater depth. This book deserves a space on the shelves of any one - psychologist, historian, or social worker - who is interested in expanding their knowledge of the psychology of Afro-Caribbean emigrants. This book is definitely worth reading.

© Suzanne Garrison-Terry, 2001

Suzanne Garrison-Terry

Education: B.A. in History from Sacred Heart University, M.L.S. in Library Science from Southern Connecticut State College, M.R.S. in Religious Studies/Pastoral Counseling from Fairfield University, and a M.Div. in Professional Ministry from New Brunswick Theological Seminary. She is currently completing a Certificate in Spirituality/Spiritual Direction from Sacred Heart University (July 2001). She is a Licensed Minister of the United Church of Christ and an Assistant Professor in Library Science at Dowling College, Long Island, NY

Interests in Mental Health: I am interested in the interplay between psychology and spirituality. My current research focuses on the role of hormonal fluctuation during puberty, pregnancy, and peri-menopause as a stimuli for mystical experiences. Through the study of autobiographical accounts of the mystical experiences of "historically accepted" female Christian mystics and additional biographical information, I am analyzing the connection between the onset of mystical experiences and biological data/symptomology for the potential existence of hormonal fluctuation or irregularity. If this sounds like an unusual topic, nota bene how many medieval female mystics began having "vision" on or about the age of 40!


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