Traditional healers.

Research paper by David D Skuse

Indexed on: 25 Nov '20Published on: 01 Oct '07Published in: International psychiatry : bulletin of the Board of International Affairs of the Royal College of Psychiatrists


Traditional healers are an important source of psychiatric support in many parts of the world, including Africa. They offer a parallel system of belief to conventional medicine regarding the origins, and hence the appropriate treatment of, mental health problems. In this issue we present a thematic review from three regions of Africa where traditional healers are still important - and probably far more numerous than psychiatrists trained in Western medicine. First, we discuss South Africa, in a report from Professor Tuviah Zabow. Some years ago it was estimated that there were nearly ten times as many traditional healers practising in that country as there were doctors trained in modern medicine (Kale, 1995). The prevailing justification for their interventions, according to traditional beliefs, is that disease is a supernatural phenomenon. Its manifestations are governed by a hierarchy of vital powers. At the apex of this hierarchy is a deity of greatest power, followed by lesser spiritual entities, ancestral spirits, living persons, animals, plants and then objects (Kale, 1995). These entities interact and, should they become disharmonious, illness could be caused. Harmony can, however, be restored through judicious intervention, provided by a suitably trained person who treats the patient holistically, within the context of their family and their community.