Becoming a Xhosa traditional healer : the calling, illness, conflict and belonging

Van der Watt, Alberta S. J. ; Biederman, Sarah V. ; Abdulmalik, Jibril O. ; Mbanga, Irene ; Das-Brailsford, Pricilla ; Seedat, Soraya, 1966- (2021-03)

CITATION: Van der Watt, A. S. J. et al. 2021. Becoming a Xhosa traditional healer : the calling, illness, conflict and belonging. South African Journal of Psychiatry, 27:a1528, doi:10.4102/sajpsychiatry.v27i0.1528.

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Background: Traditional healers (THs) are an important part of the healthcare system in sub-Saharan Africa. Understanding their training, experiences of becoming healers and their perceived roles in society is critical. Aim: This study aimed to explore the experience of becoming a TH, including accepting the calling, and sheds light on how the experience is conceptualised within the cultural and communitarian context of THs. Setting: This study was conducted amongst Xhosa THs in the Western Cape, South Africa. Methods: In-depth phenomenological interviews (n = 4) were conducted with Xhosa THs and analysed using Giorgi’s descriptive pre-transcendental Husserlian phenomenological analysis. Results: The experience of becoming a TH can be summarised in the context of three units of significance: (1) the gift of healing as an illness; (2) the experience of conflict (including with their families, the church and self-conflict); and (3) the experience of belonging. Familial conflict, specifically, was fuelled by the financial burden of becoming a TH and a lack of understanding of the process. Conclusion: To develop a workable model of collaboration in the future, it is crucial that mental healthcare providers develop a better understanding of the experiences of THs in becoming care providers. The findings highlight an appreciation of the challenging process of becoming a TH. Finally, further research and culturally appropriate psychoeducation can provide trainee THs and their family members with the skills and knowledge to support each other through a difficult process.

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