Traditional Healers and Mental Health in Nepal: A Scoping Review

Tony V Pham, Bonnie N. Kaiser, Rishav Koirala, Sujen Man Maharjan, Nawaraj Upadhaya, Lauren Franz & Brandon A. Kohrt

Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

Published on: 22 May 2020

Abstract: Despite extensive ethnographic and qualitative research on traditional healers in Nepal, the role of traditional healers in relation to mental health has not been synthesized. We focused on the following clinically based research question, “What are the processes by which Nepali traditional healers address mental well-being?” We adopted a scoping review methodology to maximize the available literature base and conducted a modified thematic analysis rooted in grounded theory, ethnography, and phenomenology. We searched five databases using terms related to traditional healers and mental health. We contacted key authors and reviewed references for additional literature. Our scoping review yielded 86 eligible studies, 65 of which relied solely on classical qualitative study designs. The reviewed literature suggests that traditional healers use a wide range of interventions that utilize magico-religious explanatory models to invoke symbolic transference, manipulation of local illness narratives, roles, and relationships, cognitive restructuring, meaning-making, and catharsis. Traditional healers’ perceived impact appears greatest for mild to moderate forms of psychological distress. However, the methodological and sample heterogeneity preclude uniform conclusions about traditional healing. Further research should employ methods which are both empirically sound and culturally adapted to explore the role of traditional healers in mental health.

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