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Transcult Psychiatry. 2014 Dec;51(6):829-49. doi: 10.1177/1363461514524472. Epub 2014 Feb 26.

Ritual healing and mental health in India.

Author information

1
South Asia Institute william.sax@urz.uni-heidelberg.de.

Abstract

Ritual healing is very widespread in the Indian state of Uttarakhand, and is by far the most common option for those with serious behavioral disturbances. Although ritual healing thus accounts for a very large part of the actual health care system, the state and its regulatory agencies have, for the most part, been structurally blind to its existence. A decade of research on in this region, along with a number of shorter research trips to healing shrines and specialists elsewhere in the subcontinent, and a thorough study of the literature, suggest that such techniques are often therapeutically effective. However, several considerations suggest that ritual healing may not be usefully combined with mainstream "Western" psychiatry: (a) psychiatry is deeply influenced by the ideology of individualism, which is incompatible with South Asian understandings of the person; (b) social asymmetries between religious healers and health professionals are too great to allow a truly respectful relationship between them; and (c) neither the science of psychiatry nor the regulatory apparatus of the state can or will acknowledge the validity of "ritual therapy"--and even if they did so, regulation would most likely destroy what is most valuable about ritual healing. This suggests that it is best if the state maintain its structural blindness to ritual healing.

KEYWORDS:

India; effectiveness; global mental health; ritual healing

PMID:
24572292
DOI:
10.1177/1363461514524472
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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