A pioneer of psy: The first Ugandan psychiatric nurse and her (different) tale of psychiatry in Uganda

A new piece in Transcultural Psychiatry will be of interest to AHP readers: “A pioneer of psy: The first Ugandan psychiatric nurse and her (different) tale of psychiatry in Uganda,” Julia Vorhölter. Abstract:

In Africa, the emergence of a “modern” mental health regime centered on psychiatry is often portrayed as a unidirectional intervention by “the West.” Analyses ranging from medical histories of colonial psychiatry to more recent studies of Global Mental Health focus mostly on the role of external actors and the ways their actions impact(ed) on local populations. Uncritical studies simply reduce the complexity of African therapeutic landscapes to a “treatment gap” and see the introduction of “science-based” mental health approaches as necessary “civilizing” missions. Critical studies emphasize the harms of psychiatric interventions and celebrate local healing practices instead. Both approaches are problematic: they ignore the many interconnections between highly dynamic treatment regimes that cannot be neatly designated as African or western, portray local populations as largely passive, and neglect the multiple ways in which psychiatry has been embraced, adapted, and disrupted by Africans themselves. This article challenges simplistic depictions of “western” psychiatry in Africa by providing a portrait of Rwashana Selina, the first Ugandan psychiatric nurse who—after being sent to the UK in the 1950s for training—became a central figure in Ugandan psychiatry. Based on interview material, I recount her life story and discuss her formative role in the development of psychiatric care in the colonial and postcolonial era. Rwashana’s tale of Ugandan psychiatry emphasizes co-operation, mutual acknowledgments and pluralistic leadership and thus breaks with typical images of and dichotomies between white doctors and supposedly inferior African medical staff.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.