In general people seek help from healers who hold the same beliefs as they do. Traditional healers in developing countries have the advantage of sharing the same belief system about illness with their clients. Thus they can take for granted a great deal of common ground and do not need to embark on long explanations. Clients of traditional healers often present their distress in terms of somatic symptoms. Skilled healers are adept at understanding the relationship problems that underlie the client's bodily complaints, and their prescription of rituals is aimed at involving the client's social network and regularizing relationships. Problems in communication arise when the patient brings somatic symptoms to the Western trained doctor, who is incapable of recognizing the relationship difficulties that have prompted the complaints.
It would be a mistake to believe that traditional healers are confined to developing countries or to ethnic minority groups in developed countries. Alternative medicine flourishes where Western biomedicine is perceived by the public to be ineffective, and psychiatry is one of those areas. Patients with psychiatric conditions are very likely to seek help from acupuncture, spiritual healing, homeopathy, or herbal remedies, in addition to consulting the general practitioner or psychiatrist. A sympathetic enquiry will elicit a number of sources of alternative medicine in the neighbourhood of the psychiatric facility. The efficacy of these treatments for any psychiatric condition has not been established, but it is a sobering thought that rauwolfia, an effective herbal antipsychotic, was used by Indian traditional healers for hundreds of years before chlorpromazine was introduced.
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