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Spiritual Healing—A Traditional Way of Recovery in Mental Illness

Submitted by on April 7, 2016 – 6:00 PM

healing-handsAccording to a book titled, “Nursing Concepts for Health Promotion,” spirituality can be defined as “the spiritual dimension trying to be in harmony with the universe, striving for answers about the infinite, and coming especially into focus at times of emotional stress, physical (and mental) illness, loss, bereavement and death,” (Murray & Zentner, 1989).


As the definition implies, spirituality usually becomes the center of attention at the time of illness. Especially in Pakistani culture, it is very commonplace to approach spiritual or traditional healers in case of physical or mental illnesses.


Orethnotherapists are people who claim to have direct contact and communication with God. They claim to be able to cure the mentally ill by treating them with special powers from the spiritual world (Gadit, 1996). These faith-healers use a number of methods to cure illnesses; certain practices may involve reciting Quranic verses, doing dam or darood, visiting holy places, wearing holy necklaces, rings or bracelets (Ateeq, Jehan, Mehmmod, 2014), while other techniques may involve injurious practices such as harming the patient in order to drive the evil spirit out of their body (Agara, Makanjuola, & Morakinyo, 2008).


In this scholarly paper, I will attempt to analyze this issue in light of contemporary theory, highlight the significance of this issue in socio-cultural context and discuss strategies to promote the mental health of the client within the context of this issue.


The reason I am discussing this issue here is the case I encountered in Karachi Psychiatric Hospital. A 40-years-old admitted patient who was diagnosed with schizophrenia believed that she was under the influence of black magic. For this, she consulted both western medicine as well as spiritual healers for treatment. As the family held a strong belief in spiritual healing, they credited her recovery to these faith-healers in spite of her being treated with modern medicine.


After the occurrence of this reported scenario, I attempted to investigate the prevalence of people in Pakistan who are consulting spiritual healers for their treatment. According to the survey, 387 patients who visited Community Health Center of Aga Khan University Hospital used spiritual healer services and were found to constitute a ratio of 11.6% (Qidwai, 2003). Many cases also reported use of dangerous methods in their treatment. Use of these services are highly prevalent in Pakistan, therefore it is necessary to address this issue within the community.


People who consume traditional healer services or their resources are usually considered deprived or uneducated. However, a number of factors are linked with help-seeking behavior from faith-healers. Strong beliefs play a significant role in directing people towards traditional healers—especially in our society, where people habitually believe in the evil eye and black magic (Alosaimi, Alshehri, Alfraih, Alghamdi, Aldahash, Alkhuzayem, & Al-Beeshi, 2015).


In addition, faith-healing is immensely correlated with mental illness. According to Kelley-Moore (2005), a mentally ill patient’s strong spiritual and religious values bestow a well-built foundation for therapy. The proper and appropriate faith-healing setup basically provides a supportive, non-threatening and reassuring setting. A belief-supportive milieu plays a much more beneficial role in the recovery of mentally ill patients as compared to a long-term stressful environment in the course of hospitalization (Raguram, Venkateswaran, Ramakrishna, & Weiss, 2002). These faith-healing methods provide mental satisfaction to the clients, as is evident in the above case scenario where the patient was believed to have recovered by the ultimate power of faith and not by contemporary medical treatment.


Many psychologists have presented theories that declare the idea of faith as salutogenic, hence suggesting that it is centered around the aspects that support health rather than the aspects that result in disease. In this regard, contemporary psychological theories can be used to expand the idea of faith-healing. The curing power of faith is remarkable; not only is it naturalistic without obliging faith in paranormal or supernatural agents, but it is also consistent with contemporary scientific perception of mind-body interaction (Levin, 2009).


To date, there are limited means of researching faith and healing. Nonetheless, faith definitely plays an important part in psychological well-being (although faith-healing methods should be appropriate and suitable for the client using them). On an individual level, a mental health nurse should firstly and foremostly identify the use of harmful faith-healer practices on the patient. He or she should also discourage patients to continue practices that are threatening or posing harm to them. Additionally, nurses should encourage the use and continuation of western medicine treatment side-by-side, as pharmacological treatment is essential for the residing symptoms of mental illnesses.


On a community level, awareness sessions about the harmful practices of faith-healers should be addressed and people should be encouraged to contact reliable religious leaders of their respective religious places. Faith-healers may be categorized as reliable if they are not causing harm to anyone or if they are not demanding unreasonable amounts of money. Moreover, strict policies should be made and firm actions should be taken by the government on a national level against any faith-healers who resort to hazardous techniques.


To conclude, faith healing is the traditional way of treatment for mental ailments in our particular culture, as people in our society usually perceive mental illness to be the result of supernatural influences. Use of faith-healers is irrespective of socio-economic factors as it usually depends on the person’s belief towards spiritual healing. Commonly used faith-healing techniques involve repetition of Quranic verses, dam, and use of taweez or ropes on the body. Apart from these, a number of fake faith-healers use dangerous methods to cure illness and prioritise their lust for money. Hence, it is important to identify correct faith-healers and techniques. Moreover, using only faith-healing methods may not result in the best outcome; it is essential to use modern western medical treatment in combination with faith-healing methods.



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