Original Research

Becoming a Xhosa traditional healer: The calling, illness, conflict and belonging

Alberta S.J. van der Watt, Sarah V. Biederman, Jibril O. Abdulmalik, Irene Mbanga, Pricilla Das-Brailsford, Soraya Seedat
South African Journal of Psychiatry | Vol 27 | a1528 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajpsychiatry.v27i0.1528 | © 2021 Alberta S.J. van der Watt, Sarah V. Biederman, Jibril O. Abdulmalik, Irene Mbanga, Pricilla Das-Brailsford, Soraya Seedat | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 25 February 2020 | Published: 04 March 2021

About the author(s)

Alberta S.J. van der Watt, Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa
Sarah V. Biederman, Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Center for Psychosocial Medicine, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Hamburg, Germany
Jibril O. Abdulmalik, Department of Psychiatry, Faculty College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria
Irene Mbanga, Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa
Pricilla Das-Brailsford, Department of Clinical Psychology, The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Washington, DC, United States
Soraya Seedat, Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa


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Abstract

Background: Traditional healers (THs) are an important part of the healthcare system in sub-Saharan Africa. Understanding their training, experiences of becoming healers and their perceived roles in society is critical.

Aim: This study aimed to explore the experience of becoming a TH, including accepting the calling, and sheds light on how the experience is conceptualised within the cultural and communitarian context of THs.

Setting: This study was conducted amongst Xhosa THs in the Western Cape, South Africa.

Methods: In-depth phenomenological interviews (n = 4) were conducted with Xhosa THs and analysed using Giorgi’s descriptive pre-transcendental Husserlian phenomenological analysis.

Results: The experience of becoming a TH can be summarised in the context of three units of significance: (1) the gift of healing as an illness; (2) the experience of conflict (including with their families, the church and self-conflict); and (3) the experience of belonging. Familial conflict, specifically, was fuelled by the financial burden of becoming a TH and a lack of understanding of the process.

Conclusion: To develop a workable model of collaboration in the future, it is crucial that mental healthcare providers develop a better understanding of the experiences of THs in becoming care providers. The findings highlight an appreciation of the challenging process of becoming a TH. Finally, further research and culturally appropriate psychoeducation can provide trainee THs and their family members with the skills and knowledge to support each other through a difficult process.


Keywords

faith healing; mental health; thwasa; traditional healers; Xhosa

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