UCL Anthropology


Ciaran Tobin

Ciaran Tobin

UCL Email: ciaran.tobin.15@ucl.ac.uk
Year of start: 2019
Supervisors: Joseph Calabrese and Joanna Cook
Subject: Medical Anthropology
Fieldsite: Dharamsala, Northern India

PhD Research

Tibetan Mind Science and Western Mental Health: A Cultural Congruence Framework

Globally, the focus on mental health issues has become increasingly important in recent years. However, current Western approaches based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM V), have fuelled a contentious debate concerning how modern society should treat mental disturbance. The British Psychological Society suggests a ‘paradigm shift’ within the field of mental health, and call for alternative conceptual approaches away from the current ‘disease model’. In addition, academic literature reveals an imbalance within Western psychology concerning traditional indigenous non-Western approaches to mental health. Buddhist ideas have recently become more popular in Western societies, and we might see the popularity of mindfulness techniques as an invitation to explore a much wider range of practices available from their original traditional context.

My research aims to develop a culturally congruent model of mental health between Tibetan and Western psychologies. Cultural congruence is grounded in understanding (a) the worldview of the indigenous community, (b) the influence of one’s own worldview, and (c) the skilful integration of knowledge into mental health services. This model will be ultimately edited for and disseminated as a medical anthropology/mental health academic textbook.

This research is expected to complement existing knowledge and help narrow the gap between two divided paradigms. In light of the problematic issues identified, the development of a culturally congruent text will offer (a) students and health practitioners alternative perspectives and options when diagnosing and treating the individual, (b) a logical framework for exploring the Western view of the brain and the Tibetan view of the mind, (c) a scientifically holistic cross-cultural model of mental health and alternative conceptual model as called for by the British Psychological Society.

Research interests

  • Medical and psychological anthropology
  • Buddhist psychology and contemplative science
  • Consciousness, personhood and non-self
  • Ritual efficacy, perception and placebo
  • Mediation in medical pluralism
  • Ontology and philosophy of science
  • Global mental health
  • Neurophenomenology


Presentations & Conferences

  • Kinship, Conflict and Compassion, Mind and Life European Summer Research Institute, Chiemsee, Germany 2018.
  • Compassion Beyond Culture, Wolfson College, Oxford, UK 2014.

Teaching Experience

Guest Lecturer: ‘Tibetan Mental Health and Well-being’ at the Medical Anthropology Summer School, University College London (August 2017).

Education History

  • MSc Medical Anthropology – University College London
  • MSc Global Health – Trinity College Dublin
  • BA (Hons) Psychology – Trinity College Dublin

Honours, Awards & Funding

Mind and Life Europe – Francisco J Varela Award