Collaboration between traditional practitioners and primary health care staff in South Africa: developing a workable partnership for community mental health services

Transcult Psychiatry. 2010 Sep;47(4):610-28. doi: 10.1177/1363461510383459.


The majority of the black African population in South Africa utilize both traditional and public sector Western systems of healing for mental health care. There is a need to develop models of collaboration that promote a workable relationship between the two healing systems. The aim of this study was to explore perceptions of service users and providers of current interactions between the two systems of care and ways in which collaboration could be improved in the provision of community mental health services. Qualitative individual and focus group interviews were conducted with key health care providers and service users in one typical rural South African health sub-district. The majority of service users held traditional explanatory models of illness and used dual systems of care, with shifting between treatment modalities reportedly causing problems with treatment adherence. Traditional healers expressed a lack of appreciation from Western health care practitioners but were open to training in Western biomedical approaches and establishing a collaborative relationship in the interests of improving patient care. Western biomedically trained practitioners were less interested in such an arrangement. Interventions to acquaint traditional practitioners with Western approaches to the treatment of mental illness, orientation of Western practitioners towards a culture-centred approach to mental health care, as well as the establishment of fora to facilitate the negotiation of respectful collaborative relationships between the two systems of healing are required at district level to promote an equitable collaboration in the interests of improved patient care.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Community Mental Health Services*
  • Cooperative Behavior*
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison*
  • Cultural Competency
  • Faith Healing
  • Humans
  • Interdisciplinary Communication*
  • Magic
  • Medicine, African Traditional*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Mental Healing
  • Motivation
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology
  • South Africa
  • Spirituality