The perceived effectiveness of traditional and faith healing in the treatment of mental illness: a systematic review of qualitative studies

  • A. S. J. van der Watt
  • T. van de Water
  • G. Nortje
  • B. D. Oladeji
  • S. Seedat
  • O. Gureje
  • Partnership for Mental Health Development in Sub-Saharan Africa (PaM-D) Research Team



This work complements a quantitative review by Nortje et al. (Lancet Psychiatry 3(2):154–170, 2016) by exploring the qualitative literature in regard to the perceived effectiveness of traditional and faith healing of mental disorders.


Qualitative studies focusing specifically on traditional and/or faith healing practices for mental illness were retrieved from eight databases. Data were extracted  into basic coding sheets to facilitate the assessment of the quality of eligible papers using the COREQ.


Sixteen articles met the inclusion criteria. Despite methodological limitations, there was evidence from the papers that stakeholders perceived traditional and/or faith healing to be effective in treating mental illness, especially when used in combination with biomedical treatment.


Patients will continue to seek treatment from traditional and/or faith healers for mental illness if they perceive it to be effective regardless of alternative biomedical evidence. This provides opportunities for collaboration to address resource scarcity in low to middle income countries.


Traditional healing Faith healing Mental illness Perceived effectiveness Qualitative Review 



This review was supported by the South African Research Chair (SARCHI) in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder hosted by Stellenbosch University and funded by the Department of Science and Technology, and the National Research Foundation, South Africa. SARCHI had no role in the methods, preparation, writing, or decision to publish the Review. We thank Alvina Matthee and Linda Bellairs for their assistance in the literature search. Additionally, we would like to thank the PaM-D team, including L. Kola, J. Appiah-Poku, C. Othieno, B. Harris, O. Esan, V, Makanjuola, and L.N. Price; for their contributions.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

On behalf of all of the authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 43 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. S. J. van der Watt
    • 1
  • T. van de Water
    • 1
  • G. Nortje
    • 1
  • B. D. Oladeji
    • 2
  • S. Seedat
    • 1
  • O. Gureje
    • 2
  • Partnership for Mental Health Development in Sub-Saharan Africa (PaM-D) Research Team
  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryStellenbosch UniversityTygerbergSouth Africa
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of IbadanIbadanNigeria

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