Does the evidence support collaboration between psychiatry and traditional healers? Findings from three South African studies

  • BA Robertson Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa


It is estimated that 70% of South Africans consult traditional healers, who include diviners, herbalists, faith healers and traditional birth attendants. Calls from the new democratic South African government for medical practitioners to collaborate with traditional healers escalated during the nineties, and the draft Traditional Health Practitioners Bill of South Africa was unanimously approved by parliament in September 2004. The author felt that there is a significant lack of information about the contribution of traditional healers in South Africa to mental health, and over recent years conducted three studies designed to fill some of the gaps. The combined data of the studies suggests that, while traditional healers provide a valued mental health service to certain types of clients, they resemble faithbased practitioners and counsellors more than medical practitioners. The author concludes that collaboration should be promoted, but further knowledge and debate is needed about the best way for mental health practitioners to collaborate with traditional healers, and on what basis it should be founded.

Keywords: mental health, indigenous, practitioner

South African Psychiatry Review Vol. 9(2) 2006: 87-90

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1994-8220