Reassessing the Mental Health Treatment Gap: What Happens if We Include the Impact of Traditional Healing on Mental Illness?

Community Ment Health J. 2021 May;57(4):777-791. doi: 10.1007/s10597-020-00705-5. Epub 2020 Sep 7.


In this Fresh Focus, we reassess what the mental health treatment gap may mean if we consider the role of traditional healing. Based on systematic reviews, patients can use traditional healers and qualitatively report improvement from general psychological distress and symptom reduction for common mental disorders. Given these clinical implications, some high-income countries have scaled up research into traditional healing practices, while at the same time in low-and middle-income countries, where the use of traditional healers is nearly ubiquitous, considerably less research funding has studied or capitalized on this phenomena. The World Health Organization 2003-2020 Mental Health Action Plan called for government health programs to include traditional and faith healers as treatment resources to combat the low- and middle-income country treatment gap. Reflection on the work which emerged during the course of this Mental Health Action Plan revealed areas for improvement. As we embark on the next Mental Health Action Plan, we offer lessons-learned for exploring potential relationships and collaborations between traditional healing and biomedicine.

Keywords: Ethnopsychology; Medical anthropology; Mental health; Shamanism; Spirituality; Traditional medicine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Faith Healing
  • Health Personnel
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders* / therapy
  • Mental Health*
  • Psychotherapy