Finding Common Ground in the Context of Difference: A South African Case Study

  • Ockert CoetzeeEmail author
  • Colleen Adnams
  • Leslie Swartz
Cultural Case Study


In a rapidly transforming world, cultural assimilation and the hybridity of clients and therapists are increasingly acknowledged. Juxtaposed against universalist and relativist discourses in Cultural Psychiatry, the elucidation of perceived “difference” from cultural norms, constructed as being observed in the lives of either the client, or therapist, or both, requires critical reflection on how such norms are derived and by whom. This cultural case study describes a clinical encounter between a Muslim South African woman, and a South African man of Afrikaner descent. A shared experience of marginalization led to surprising similarities and common ground against obvious cultural differences, which have contributed to the strengthening of the therapeutic relationship and consolidation of trust. Beside the more parsimonious focus on “shared marginalization” as a potential bridge to move towards transcending overt cultural differences, the case study’s emphasis on a shared humanity within the interwoven texture of perceived difference go beyond dichotomous discourses that sharply dissect “sameness” from “otherness”. This may well have relevance to any clinical encounter in which identity is dynamically presented and re-presented in complex ways.


Cultural identity “Othering” Marginalization Psychotherapy South Africa 



This study was funded by the Vera Grover Trust Fund.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the Human Research Ethics Committee of the University of Cape Town’s Health Sciences Faculty and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry and Mental HealthUniversity of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyStellenbosch UniversityStellenboschSouth Africa

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