Traditional healers in the treatment of common mental disorders in South Africa

Katherine Sorsdahl, Dan J. Stein, Anna Grimsrud, Soraya Seedat, Alan J. Flisher, David R. Williams, Landon Myer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

115 Scopus citations


There are few population-level insights into the use of traditional healers and other forms of alternative care for the treatment of common mental disorders in sub-Saharan Africa. We examined the extent to which alternative practitioners are consulted, and predictors of traditional healer visits. A national survey was conducted with 3651 adult South Africans between 2002 and 2004, using the World Health Organization Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI) to generate DSM-IV diagnoses for common mood, anxiety, and substance use disorders. A minority of participants with a lifetime DSM-IV diagnosis obtained treatment from Western (29%) or alternative (20%) practitioners. Traditional healers were consulted by 9% of the respondents and 11% consulted a religious or spiritual advisor. Use of traditional healers in the full sample was predicted by older age, black race, unemployment, lower education, and having an anxiety or a substance use disorder. Alternative practitioners, including traditional healers and religious advisors, appear to play a notable role in the delivery of mental health care in South Africa.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)434-441
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Nervous and Mental Disease
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Common mental disorder
  • Mental health
  • Religious advisor
  • South Africa
  • Traditional Healer


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