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Education And Debate

Traditional community resources for mental health: a report of temple healing from India

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: (Published 06 July 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:38
  1. R Raguram, professor of psychiatry (,
  2. A Venkateswaran, resident in psychiatrya,
  3. Jayashree Ramakrishna, additional professor of health educationa,
  4. Mitchell G Weiss, professor and head of departmentb
  1. aNational Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bangalore 560 029, India
  2. bDepartment of Public Health and Epidemiology, Swiss Tropical Institute, CH-4002 Basle, Switzerland
  1. Correspondence to: Dr Raguram

    The use of complementary medicine and the traditional medicine of other cultures has been increasing in Europe and North America.3 Although less well documented, the use of complementary medicines and consultations with traditional healers is widely acknowledged in low income countries, such as India. Here too the limited availability of health services motivates the use of a wide range of alternative systems of care for various ailments, including mental illnesses4

    In addition to herbal and other traditional medicines, healers and healing temples are seen as providing curative and restorative benefits. In India many people troubled by emotional distress or more serious mental illnesses go to Hindu, Muslim, Christian, and other religious centres. The healing power identified with these institutions may reside in the site itself, rather than in the religious leader or any medicines provided at the site. Studies of these healing sites have focused primarily on ethnographic accounts.5 Research has not systematically examined the psychiatric status of the people coming for help at these religious centres or the clinical impact of healing. It has focused primarily on possession and non-psychotic disorders, rather than serious psychotic illnesses.

    Yet people with serious psychotic illnesses do visit such healing temples in India,6 and understanding the role of these institutions may help with planning for community mental health services in underserved rural areas. We describe here the work of a Hindu healing temple in South India known as a source of help for people with serious mental disorders. We also tried to measure the clinical effectiveness of religious healing at this site.

    Summary points

    Traditional community resources, including temple healing practices, are widely used in managing mental illnesses in India

    This research shows that a brief stay at one healing temple in South India improved objective measures of clinical psychopathology

    In …

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