Open Access Open Badges Research

The culture of care within psychiatric services: tackling inequalities and improving clinical and organisational capabilities

Micol Ascoli1, Andrea Palinski1, John Arianda Owiti1, Bertine De Jongh1 and Kamaldeep S Bhui12*

Author Affiliations

1 Tower Hamlets Cultural Consultation Service, Queen Mary, University of London, Old Anatomy Building, Charterhouse Square, London, EC1M 6BQ, UK

2 Cultural Consultation Service & Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, Queen Mary, University of London, Old Anatomy Building, Charterhouse Square, London, EC1M 6BQ, UK

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Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine 2012, 7:12  doi:10.1186/1747-5341-7-12

Published: 28 September 2012



Cultural Consultation is a clinical process that emerged from anthropological critiques of mental healthcare. It includes attention to therapeutic communication, research observations and research methods that capture cultural practices and narratives in mental healthcare. This essay describes the work of a Cultural Consultation Service (ToCCS) that improves service user outcomes by offering cultural consultation to mental health practitioners. The setting is a psychiatric service with complex and challenging work located in an ethnically diverse inner city urban area. Following a period of 18 months of cultural consultation, we gather the dominant narratives that emerged during our evaluation of our service.


These narratives highlight how culture is conceptualized and acted upon in the day-to-day practices of individual health and social care professionals, specialist psychiatric teams and in care systems. The findings reveal common narratives and themes about culture, ethnicity, race and their perceived place and meaningfulness in clinical care. These narratives express underlying assumptions and covert rules for managing, and sometimes negating, dilemmas and difficulties when considering “culture” in the presentation and expression of mental distress. The narratives reveal an overall “culture of understanding cultural issues” and specific “cultures of care”. These emerged as necessary foci of intervention to improve service user outcomes.


Understanding the cultures of care showed that clinical and managerial over-structuring of care prioritises organisational proficiency, but it leads to inflexibility. Consequently, the care provided is less personalised and less accommodating of cultural issues, therefore, professionals are unable to see or consider cultural influences in recovery.

Cultural consultation; Cultural formulation; Ethnography; Institutional racism; Culture and mental health