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Book Forum: SOCIAL PSYCHIATRY   |    
Mental Health Professionals, Minorities, and the Poor
NANCY A. DURANT, M.D.
Am J Psychiatry 2004;161:382-383. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.161.2.382
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By Michael E. Illovsky, Ph.D. New York, Brunner-Routledge, 2003, 265 pp., $54.95.

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"There is nothing new under the sun"; however, new audiences are always developing. Dr. Michael Illovsky, a psychologist whose students and associates include many "counselors," exhorts his readers to view minorities and their mental health with careful consideration of a number of factors.

Dr. Illovsky is acutely aware of the problems mental health professionals face in their dealings with minorities. He is also sensitive to and concerned about the social, cultural, and political realities that affect non-"Euro-Americans" in the United States. He sees research, technology, and evolutionary psychology as holding the keys to provision of more effective mental health treatment, especially to minorities and the poor.

Having traveled throughout the world, Dr. Illovsky has observed and experienced non-European cultures; he appreciates the real and potential contributions of these cultures. He is especially impressed with the differences in values between European and non-European cultures. The importance of traditions, different learning styles, learning through groups, and living in a noncompetitive, cooperative manner have great impact on people whose orientation is predominantly non-European.

Dr. Illovsky offers 41 pages of references providing sources of much of his material; these include books, articles, reports, and items retrieved from web sites. They are wide-ranging, including titles from many fields not usually studied by those engaged in counseling. The references include publications from the 1950s onward, giving readers an opportunity to gain insights from a historical perspective.

Dr. Illovsky’s concept of "new-ethnic mental health professionals," who "learn the traditional approaches and techniques—and then explore new ones" is very interesting. He even proposes a "national academy to train minority mental health workers…[in the hope that they] can add the advocacy empowerment component to their services."

Psychiatrists, through APA, have been engaged in such training for more than 30 years. Our history of encouraging the membership to evaluate patients sensitively with attention to their cultural and social backgrounds extends to the present. To help APA members maintain awareness of the diversity of our patients, the Council on National Affairs was established. Under the long-term leadership of Jeanne Spurlock, M.D., the different ethnically oriented committees (Hispanic, Black, Asian-American, and American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian) have functioned very effectively and have helped develop programs to encourage minority psychiatrists.

Psychiatrists may find Dr. Illovsky’s book valuable for use in teaching their nonmedical associates about cultural competency. Dr. Illovsky reaches out to new audiences, as we all adapt to the increasing diversity in our society.

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