Psychology in Nepal - by Prof. Dr. Shishir Subba

Shishir Subba

The history of psychology in Nepal can be traced from 1947 when it was introduced at Tri-Chandra College, Kathmandu. At that time Tri-Chandra was the only college in Nepal and was affiliated to one of the Indian Universities. Psychology was introduced at the intermediate level as part of philosophy. When Tribhuvan University (TU) was established in 1959, other colleges also came into existence.
By 1966, four more colleges introduced psychology as an academic subject at either the Intermediate or Bachelor level. The first generation of psychology teachers was educated at Indian Universities. As a relatively new discipline with a small number of manpower, psychology grew slowly and since the 1960s, new psychology departments have not been established in colleges in Nepal. Outside the Kathmandu Valley, psychology was introduced only in two colleges. The Master level course in psychology started in 1980. At present, psychology is taught at eight campuses. In the following paragraphs, a brief glimpse of problems that psychology faces and the future of psychology in Nepal is described.

The growth of psychology as an academic and professional discipline in Nepal has been slow and has been set back to merge in the mainstream of the national development. Compared to sociology and anthropology, psychology emerged earlier as an academic subject in Nepal, but remained docile in its intellectual exercise. Sociology and anthropology programmes started from 1982 in TU, and research activities by both Nepalese and foreign scholars have been going on since the 1950s (Bista, 1987; Bhattachan, 1987). By the time sociology and anthropology became academic subjects in Nepal, these disciplines were well prepared to be relevant to the social and national need of the nation. Contrary to this, psychology suffered from an inability to address the national need. The first generation of teachers – trained in the West or India – had their own priorities on academic curricula that were influenced by their respective training and these priorities were in many ways not parallel to the national need. The curricula and prescribed books were Western in orientation and the Western perspective on psychology heavily influenced the teachers. Textbooks and reference books prescribed were either American or Indian with Western orientation. And even in the latest period, this influence can be plainly observed in research activities. In the books and articles published by Nepalese psychologists, the western research works are heavily cited. In a recently published book by Regmi (1994) no citation of findings by other Nepalese researchers are made except in one chapter dealing with the research history in Nepal. Of the total 256 reference cited, 18 Nepalese and 25 co-studies are cited and recited and most of them are from the author himself. Very few Asian and African studies are cited. A similar pattern is seen in articles published by Nepalese psychologists in Western journals. A race to merge in the world psychological community by publishing research findings in international journals is also seen. The priorities of the nature of research are naturally shaped more by the preferences of the international journals than by the national context. Textbooks written in Nepal also do not cite the research conducted in Nepal. In fact, book writing following the western framework is a general practice among Nepalese scholars despite the fact that such a pattern does not reflect the social and cultural reality of the Nepalese people (Subba, 1994). Despite the anthropological writings about patterns of Nepalese socialisation and the situation of children and childhood (Bista, 1993, Khatry, 1986) Nepalese psychologists follow Western patterns of child rearing practices in their curricula and teaching. Many unadopted standardised psychological tests and inventories are taught in academic sectors and practised in applied sectors. Thus, many concepts and issues that were raised in the academic curricula were irrelevant to Nepalese setting. Group prejudice and discrimination is followed with the parallel concept of race relationship whereas the Nepalese social structure and discrimination in relation to caste system and marginalised ethnic groups are almost untouched. Social relevance of psychology is not yet explored.

Nepalese research activities are also shaped by Western influence. Research activities in psychology started much later though first research work in psychology was published in 1955 (Regmi, 1994). In the eighties some psychologists started doing research. However heavy dependency on research tools developed in the Western World continued. Most of the research works are replicated and cross cultural in orientation but much effort appeared to fulfil the theoretical framework of other countries. The native priorities and relevance were almost overlooked. In the Nepalese social science community, questions about the use of some social science methods in Nepal’s development planning were raised by Campbell, Shrestha and Stone (1979). However, psychologists have a general tendency to accept the readymade psychological tools and inventories uncritically. The appropriateness of these methods in terms of applicability, reliability and validity are yet to become explored.

Psychologists are working in insularity. Recently, in the developing countries, questions are being raised about the relevance of many Western psychological theories and methods. Western psychology is regarded as readymade intellectual package imported from the West (Sinha, 1986), or a “pale copy of Western psychology” (Sinha, 1993) that was transferred to the third world countries as a part of the general process of transfer of knowledge and technology. A problem of “dual perception” and “parallel growth” is also felt (Moghaddam and Taylor, 1985; Moghaddam, 1993). It is criticized that general psychology is both “culture blind” and “culture bound”. The bottom line of the argument is that serious doubts are raised on scientific ethnocentrism of Western psychology and emphasis is made that psychology should go native in order to become relevant to the local setting. Third world psychologists are involved in developing indigenous psychology. The approach is both emic and etic. The first process is developing indigenous psychology, and cross-cultural psychology, in the second step, helps to identify the common elements which will later, in the third stage, helps to shape the universal principal. In one sense, indigenous psychology appears “culture bound” and the indigenous movement a reflection of identity crisis or reactions against mainstream thought but when one looks at the system and reality of both “first world” and “third world” the sharp difference appears. Third world needs and priorities are different than “first world” and psychology in many third world countries is applied in the context of development and nation building process. Many third world countries have some common issues like human resources, problem of achievement, motivation, education, poverty, health and disease, and population (Ardila, 1993) that differ in priorities among individual nations. Nepal, being a developing country, is a third world country with its own need, issues and priorities. Developing indigenous psychology not only help to understand Nepalese psychology based on Nepalese setting but also help immensely to use psychology in the developmental task.

As an academic and professional discipline, psychology in Nepal is suffering from a series of problems such as failure to produce professional psychologists, lack of relevancy of psychology to national setting, problem of implanted psychology, and lack of uniting centres to all psychologists (Subba, 1997). The narcissistic confinement to limited disciplines without considering the national need has made psychology self-limiting. Nepalese developmental issues and problems like mass illiteracy, malnutrition, general poverty and deprivation, health and disease, child development, discrimination against women and children, ethnic identities and caste system and so on are almost left untouched by native psychologists. The tendency to look at the West for inspiration, weak infrastructure, lack of fund for research and training, and contact and cooperation with association and universities outside Nepal are some of the major problems psychologists are facing. The number of highly educated psychology (post-graduate and above) manpower is about one hundred in Nepal and only a few are involved in academic and non academic, semi-professional field. Psychology is yet to establish as an active discipline.

Indigenization of psychology and an interdisciplinary approach will work as solutions for psychology to become more relevant in national context and boost the discipline. A few good research projects have been conducted by western scholars in Nepal and have added much in understanding native psychological perspective. However, many areas are yet to be explored and understood. Interest in applying psychology as a part of interdisciplinary approach in mental health areas has increased. Similarly, awareness of applying psychological approaches in health areas has also increased. However, the vital aspect for the thrust of indigenization of psychology is research and training but it is almost absent due to lack of funds and trained manpower who can look at the national issue from native point of view.

Ardila, R. (1993). Latin American psychology and World psychology. in Indigenous Psychologies ed. by Kim, U., and J. W. Berry, Sage Publications, Newbury Park, London, New Delhi.

Bhattachan, K. B. (1987). Sociology and anthropology curriculum and the needs of Nepal. In Occasional papers in sociology and anthropology,Vol.1. (1987). Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, Nepal.

Bista, D. B. (1993). Fatalism and development. Orient Longman. Delhi

Bista, D.B. (1987). Nepal school of sociology/anthropology. In Occasional papers in sociology and anthropology, Vol.1. (1987). Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, Nepal.

Campbell, J.G., R. Shrestha, and L. Stone (1979). The use and misuse of social science research in Nepal. Central for Nepalese and Asian Studies (C NAS), Kirtipur, Kathmandu.

Khatry, P. K. (1986). Childrearing and socialization among the Newar of Dolakha and Bungmati: A study on the impact of cultural change and continuity, Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis submitted to University of California, River side, U.S.A.

Moghaddam, F.M. (1993). Traditional and Modern psychologies in competing cultural systems, in Indigenous Psychologies ed. by Kim, U., and Berry, J.W., Sage Publications, Newbury Park, London, New Delhi.

Moghaddam, F.M. and Taylor, D.M. Psychology in the developing World: An evaluation through the concepts of “Dual perception” and”parallel growth”. American Psychologist. 40.3.1986.

Regmi, M. R. (1994). The Himalayan mind. Nirala Publications, New Delhi.

Sinha, D. (1986). Psychology in a Third Would Country. Sage Publications, New Delhi, Beverly Hills, London.

Sinha, D. (1993). Indigenization of psychology in India and its relevance, in Indigenous Psychologies ed. by Kim, U., and Berry.J.W., Sage Publications, Newbury Park, London, New Delhi.

Subba, S. (1994). Review of psychology text book. Manas, Journal of Central Association of Psychology. 1994, Kathmandu, Nepal.

Subba, S. (1998). Psychology in Nepal: Its status and prospect of development as an academic discipline and profession. CNAS, Kathmandu (Paper was originally presented at the National Seminar on Social Sciences in Nepal, organized jointly by CNAS and UNESCO from September 15-17, 1995).

By: Prof. Dr. Shishir Subba
Published in NASA NEWSLETTER, No. 7, April 1999, Department of History of Religions, Artillerivej 86, DK – 2300 Copenhagen S, Denmark

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