Congress Abstracts

Profiles of traditional healers and their healing practices in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa

Ntombizanele Menze, Alberta S.J. Van der Watt, Karis Moxley, Soraya Seedat
South African Journal of Psychiatry | Vol 24 | a1305 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajpsychiatry.v24i0.1305 | © 2018 Ntombizanele Menze, A S.J. Van der Watt, K Moxley, S Seedat | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 30 August 2018 | Published: 19 September 2018

About the author(s)

Ntombizanele Menze, Department of Psychiatry, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
Alberta S.J. Van der Watt, Department of Psychiatry, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
Karis Moxley, Department of Psychiatry, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
Soraya Seedat, Department of Psychiatry, Stellenbosch University, South Africa


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Abstract

Background: Despite the widespread use of traditional healers in the management of mental health problems among South Africans, there is a knowledge gap in their practices that needs to be narrowed in order to develop a more collaborative and integrated mental health system. There is a need to better understand traditional practices from the perspective of the healers themselves and how these align with Western approaches.

Aim: We specifically explored the journey towards becoming a traditional healer, the types of interventions and key practices in the management of mental disorders, and the extent to which traditional healers collaborate with conventional medical practitioners.

Methods: This mixed-methods study involved 77 traditional healers who practice in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. We administered semi-structured interviews to gather data on healer training, experiences and practices. The Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) was used to screen for depression. All interviews were conducted in isiXhosa at participants’ homes.

Results: Most of the healers were female (80.5%) and only half (49%) had a traditional healing certificate. Healer training typically consisted of six key steps and was mostly facilitated by a non-family member or trainer, as directed by the ancestors. Most healers treated physical illnesses (86%) and called on their ancestors to assist with diagnoses (90%). Only 40% of healers treated mental illnesses. While some healers revealed tensions in working with Western practitioners, the majority were open to collaboration (71%).

Conclusion: Traditional healers may have an important role to play in the development of culturally-relevant mental health care in South Africa. This study contributes to a greater understanding of what it means to be a traditional healer, and the types of treatment provided. The findings emphasise that conventional mental health practitioners need to make equal effort to collaborate, especially if we are to provide culturally-relevant mental health care in traditional South African settings.


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