Discussing cultural differences between countries generally calls to mind differences in things
like clothing, music, or language. Going a little deeper, people also consider differences in
things like social interactions, even in simple things like how to greet others or polite table
manners. Cultural differences are infused into every part of day to day life, influencing how
people in different societies go about daily activities, including their jobs.
Dorien, a Belgian student, wrote her dissertation on the different approaches Belgium and
South Africa took towards child psychology regarding sexual abuse. Cultural differences
between the two countries were found to likely contribute to a number of these differences.
Here’s just a small sample of some of Dorien’s amazing work:
Play therapy is a common form of child therapy that is used in both Belgium and South Africa
for victims of child sexual abuse. In this method, different forms of play or other enjoyable
activities are used to help the child express their emotions. This could be through drawing or
playing with dolls or teddy bears. In Belgium, play therapy is generally used as a coping
mechanism, while in South Africa, the focus is on gathering information about the assault. This
can be partially explained by cultural differences. Dorien explains below:
“Culturally children in South Africa are taught not to talk about their feelings and
to be emotionally strong all the time. This makes it more difficult to comfort the child and
to obtain information from it. It is therefore important to get through that first barrier of
talking to be able to work with the child. Gathering information is the first step towards a
process of making the child feel better.”
In Belgium, therapists generally begin working with children at a later stage, after information
has been gathered by the police. In South Africa, therapist are involved from a much earlier
stage, making it more necessary to gather information.
Group therapy is also used in both countries, however it is more widely used in South Africa. In
fact, nearly every therapy session involves group therapy as a means to help children find new
coping strategies by listening to one another. It also helps the child deal with negative thoughts
and share more information about their own experience. As Dorien explains:
“The difference between both countries can be explained on a cultural level. Communities
are very important in South Africa. To be able to survive, people need to count on each
other. Therefore it is for children easier to open up in group and learn from each other.”
Finally, it is common for both countries to involve the parents victims in therapy. The two main
reasons in both countries are to provide support for the parents themselves and to help the
parents understand the impact of the abuse on the child. The first goal is more emphasized in
Belgium while the second is considered to be the main focus in South Africa. Dorien attributes
this difference to culture, saying:
“This difference can be explained on a cultural level. In South Africa children need to grow
up early on. They are needed to take care of their family and are helping in the household.
When sexual abuse happens, it is important that the child gets the support it needs.
Therefore the parents should change their way of raising their child. In Belgium the parents
also need advice how to deal with sexual abuse, but every child gets the chance to be a
child, so that space is already there. The focus is different. The main focus in South Africa
is the child, while in Belgium they focus on the wellbeing of every person. “
There is the added component of cultural rituals in South Africa. Raped children are not able to
participate in certain Zulu rituals, and counselors often have to show the parents that the abuse
was not the child’s fault. The parents are encouraged to spread awareness of sexual abuse
around their own communities, as it is still very much considered taboo in South Africa.
Interested in including volunteer work in your own dissertation? There’s a ton of ways to
incorporate volunteering abroad with your dissertation. Whether it be education in Ghana or
India, or psychology or criminology in South Africa, like Dorien. Contact us to find your best fit!