Research Informed by Culture


Brandon Knettel, a doctoral student in counseling psychology at Lehigh, takes an ethnographic approach to his research.

“My view is that no intervention can be effective if it isn’t informed by and rooted in the Tanzanian culture,” says Knettel, who is studying mental health conditions in Tanzania.

Knettel taught at a university there with a counseling education program in 2009 and 2010, teaching primary and secondary school teachers to recognize mental health problems in their students—for instance, being able to recognize signs of abuse and neglect that may be affecting a child’s emotional well-being.

“I completely fell in love with the country’s culture,” Knettel says. “I also saw that psychological services are on the rise there, for better or worse. I want to inform the development of those services—all while keeping in mind that it’s a very culturally sensitive matter.”

Knettel, who has returned to Tanzania twice since 2010, is also a volunteer and practicum student at The Philadelphia Refugee Mental Health Collaborative, a group of resettlement agencies, mental health providers, physicians and arts organizations working to link refugees to culturally and linguistically appropriate mental healthcare.

As part of his studies, he is interviewing mental health providers and the general public to get a better sense of how people in the East African country view mental illness.

For instance, depression and anxiety, two of the main mental health problems affecting Americans, are hardly seen as a priority in Tanzanian culture, he says. More visible issues, such as schizophrenia and other forms of psychosis, gain more attention.

Knettel, who plans to finish his doctorate in September of 2015, says that studying and working in other cultures “has helped me to understand that psychology as we know it is largely a Western, developed country phenomenon.

For psychology to be truly global, we need to allow it to expand to include the diverse perspectives of people all over the world.”