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NEW BOOK ON CULTURE AND CARE

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In rural Mexico, people often say that Alzheimer’s does not exist. “People do not have Alzheimer’s because they don’t need to worry,” said one Oaxacan, explaining that locals lack the stresses that people face “over there”—that is, in the modern world. Alzheimer’s and related dementias carry a stigma. In contrast to the way elders are revered for remembering local traditions, dementia symbolizes how modern families have forgotten the communal values that bring them together.

In Caring for the People of the Clouds, psychologist Jonathan Yahalom provides an emotionally evocative, story-rich analysis of family caregiving for Oaxacan elders living with dementia. Based on his extensive research in a Zapotec community, Yahalom presents the conflicted experience of providing care in a setting where illness is steeped in stigma and locals are concerned about social cohesion. Traditionally, the Zapotec, or “people of the clouds,” respected their elders and venerated their ancestors. Dementia reveals the difficulty of upholding those ideals today. Yahalom looks at how dementia is understood in a medically pluralist landscape, how it is treated in a setting marked by social tension, and how caregivers endure challenges among their families and the broader community.

Yahalom argues that caregiving involves more than just a response to human dependency; it is central to regenerating local values and family relationships threatened by broader social change. In so doing, the author bridges concepts in mental health with theory from medical anthropology. Unique in its interdisciplinary approach, this book advances theory pertaining to cross-cultural psychology and develops anthropological insights about how aging, dementia, and caregiving disclose the intimacies of family life in Oaxaca.

Caring for the People of the Clouds

In rural Mexico, people often say that Alzheimer’s does not exist. “People do not have Alzheimer’s because they don’t need to worry,” said one Oaxacan, explaining that locals lack the stresses that people face “over there”—that is, in the modern world. Alzheimer’s and related dementias carry a stigma. In contrast to the way elders are revered for remembering local traditions, dementia symbolizes how modern families have forgotten the communal values that bring them together.

In Caring for the People of the Clouds, psychologist Jonathan Yahalom provides an emotionally evocative, story-rich analysis of family caregiving for Oaxacan elders living with dementia. Based on his extensive research in a Zapotec community, Yahalom presents the conflicted experience of providing care in a setting where illness is steeped in stigma and locals are concerned about social cohesion. Traditionally, the Zapotec, or “people of the clouds,” respected their elders and venerated their ancestors. Dementia reveals the difficulty of upholding those ideals today. Yahalom looks at how dementia is understood in a medically pluralist landscape, how it is treated in a setting marked by social tension, and how caregivers endure challenges among their families and the broader community.

Yahalom argues that caregiving involves more than just a response to human dependency; it is central to regenerating local values and family relationships threatened by broader social change. In so doing, the author bridges concepts in mental health with theory from medical anthropology. Unique in its interdisciplinary approach, this book advances theory pertaining to cross-cultural psychology and develops anthropological insights about how aging, dementia, and caregiving disclose the intimacies of family life in Oaxaca.

Caring for the People of the Clouds

BOOK REVIEWS


 

Caring for the People of the Clouds is a serious and significant contribution to the ethnography of care. Important, original, and relevant to the global study of aging and dementia, this sensitive ethnography illumines a people, a time, and a disorder and its fate. A fine blend of scholarship and clinical sensibility ”

Arthur Kleinman, Harvard University, author of The Illness Narratives: Suffering, Healing, and the Human Condition

Caring for the People of the Clouds offers an intimate look at how Zapotec families cope with ‘forgetful elders.’ Honoring local epistemologies of health, caring, death, and coping, Yahalom offers a new window on cross-cultural models of caregiving useful for a broad range of social, psychological, and medical sciences.”

Lynn Stephen, University of Oregon, author of We Are the Face of Oaxaca: Testimony and Social Movements

“With the aim of restoring a “sensibility of care” to his own profession of clinical psychology, Yahalom deftly uses the tools of anthropology to craft moving stories of how caregiving for elders with dementia is manifest in the intimate details of everyday life in Oaxaca. What results is a compelling argument about the need for a restoration of human dignity on both personal and societal levels, as well as in clinical practice.”

Larry Davidson, Yale University, author of Living Outside Mental Illness: Qualitative Studies of Recovery in Schizophrenia


 

BOOK REVIEWS


Caring for the People of the Clouds is a serious and significant contribution to the ethnography of care. Important, original, and relevant to the global study of aging and dementia, this sensitive ethnography illumines a people, a time, and a disorder and its fate. A fine blend of scholarship and clinical sensibility.”

Arthur Kleinman, Harvard University, author of The Illness Narratives: Suffering, Healing, and the Human Condition

Caring for the People of the Clouds offers an intimate look at how Zapotec families cope with ‘forgetful elders.’ Honoring local epistemologies of health, caring, death, and coping, Yahalom offers a new window on cross-cultural models of caregiving useful for a broad range of social, psychological, and medical sciences.”

Lynn Stephen, University of Oregon, author of We Are the Face of Oaxaca: Testimony and Social Movements

“With the aim of restoring a “sensibility of care” to his own profession of clinical psychology, Yahalom deftly uses the tools of anthropology to craft moving stories of how caregiving for elders with dementia is manifest in the intimate details of everyday life in Oaxaca. What results is a compelling argument about the need for a restoration of human dignity on both personal and societal levels, as well as in clinical practice.”

Larry Davidson, Yale University, author of Living Outside Mental Illness: Qualitative Studies of Recovery in Schizophrenia

RESEARCH


I am a qualitative researcher in psychology with interdisciplinary interests in medical anthropology and continental philosophy. I link my previous training in psychology with other disciplines because I believe this is a primary way to deepen theoretical and clinical understanding of people as cultured, unique beings.

I am also a former college instructor with a passion for bringing psychology to life. In addition to introductory courses, I have taught on cognitive neuroscience and psychological disorders.

Throughout my research, I have published (or have forthcoming publications) in numerous journals, addressing themes in qualitative research methods, youth-targeted clinical interventions, medical anthropology, phenomenology and continental philosophy, and psychoanalytic theory.

I am a former UCLA visiting scholar of the Chicano Studies Research Center where I completed a book on caregiving for elders with dementia in Oaxaca, Mexico (University of Oklahoma Press, 2019).

SELECT AWARDS


2023 – American Anthropological Association, Society for Psychological Anthropology, Stirling Prize for Best Published Work.

2023 – American Psychological Association, Article Spotlight: “Does cultural competence need a philosophy?” [Article link]

2017 – American Psychological Association, Division 5 Distinguished Dissertation in Qualitative Inquiry Award.

2015 – Duquesne University Award for Scholarship Excellence, McAnulty College of Liberal Arts, Pittsburgh, PA.

2014 – Duquesne University Graduate Student Award for Teaching Excellence, McAnulty College of Liberal Arts, Pittsburgh, PA.

2009 – Google Inc., OSO Gold Award and U.S. Patent filed on behalf of Google, Inc., Mountain View, CA. 

2006 – Dunbar Fellowship, Gould Center for Humanistic Studies, Claremont McKenna College, Claremont, CA.

SELECT ARTICLES & CHAPTERS


Fein, E., & Yahalom, J. (2023). Ethnography in psychological research. In APA handbook of research methods in psychology: Research designs: Quantitative, qualitative, neuropsychological, and biological (pp. 171–188). American Psychological Association. [Chapter access]

Yahalom, J., & Hamilton, A. B. (2023). Cultural pragmatism: In search of alternative thinking about cultural competence in mental health. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology. [Article access]

Yahalom, J., Frankfurt, S., & Hamilton, A. B. (2023). Between Moral Injury and Moral Agency: Exploring Treatment for Men with Histories of Military Sexual Trauma. Medicine Anthropology Theory, 10(1), 1-21. [Article access]

Yahalom, J., Yarns, B. C., Clair, K., Cloitre, M., Lang, A. J., & Hamilton, A. B. (2022). Patient experiences and reported effectiveness of a multimodal short‐term pilot therapy group for veteran men with military sexual trauma. Journal of Clinical Psychology78(12), 2410-26.  [Article access]

Yahalom, J. (2020). Social Factors of Health-Seeking Behavior: On Medical Treatment for Elders With Dementia in Oaxaca, Mexico. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 0(0). [Article access]

Yahalom, J. (2020). Toward a methodology of chance: On obstacles to research and their advantages. Qualitative Psychology, 7(2), 153-168. [Article access]

Yahalom, J. (2019). Pragmatic truths about illness experience: Idioms of distress around Alzheimer’s disease in Oaxaca, Mexico. Transcultural Psychiatry, 56(4), 599–619. [Article access]

Yahalom, J. (2017). Levinasian caregiving: Dementia and the other-in-between. Philosophy in the Contemporary World 24(1), 51-62. [Article access]

Yahalom, J. (2014). Freud and Epicurean philosophy: Revisiting drive theory. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 50(3), 395-417. [Article access]

Goicoechea, J., Wagner, K., Yahalom, J., & Medina, T. (2014). Group counseling for at-risk african american youth: A collaboration between therapists and artists. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 9(1), 69-82. [Article access]

Yahalom, J. (2013). Mothers and the phenomenology of the memorable photograph. Phenomenology & Practice, 7(1), 126-138. [Article access]