When people seek help from a doctor for mental health problems, they don’t anticipate being beaten on the head or tied up with a rope. Yet this is exactly what is happening in places like Kenya.
Witch doctors and traditional healers are shunned by the medical profession for their typically inhumane treatments. Now however, these healers are being recognised as an important resource in countries where hospitals and psychiatric help are scarce.
Daniel Gichohi is a trainer with Basic Needs, an international development charity with a focus on mental health issues, and has been working to bring the two opposing areas of medicine together.
Daniel has seen patients being chained up, whipped and beaten on the head in the name of exorcising demons and says it is common practice among traditional healers. More seriously, other procedures he knows of include lobotomies.
Over the last three years Daniel has been working with faith healers and witch doctors in Kenya, educating them in human rights and patient protection. He is also providing extensive training in how to identify mental health issues and which patients should be referred to psychiatrists.
Encouraging these traditional healers to work alongside psychiatrists requires teamwork from both sides. It is therefore important that psychiatrists recognise the need for some of their patients to seek this kind of traditional help and to accept the presence of faith healers in the mental health care system.
Many psychiatrists are seeing the benefits of using traditional healers especially as the cultural beliefs surrounding the causes of mental illness (for example spirit possession) can often fuel mental distress.
Understanding mental health in all its facets can be hard. To find out more about mental health and to find counsellors in your area, please see our Mental Health page.
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