Traditional healing may relieve symptoms of mental illness

Temple healing practices may help to improve the symptoms of people with mental illnesses, according to researchers in this week`s BMJ.

The study was conducted at the temple of Muthuswamy in South India, known as a source of help for people with serious mental disorders. From June to August 2000, everyone who came for help was assessed by a trained psychiatrist on the first day of their stay in the temple and again on the day they left to return home, using recognised psychiatric rating scale scores. Family caregivers were also asked to assess satisfaction with their experience at the temple.

A total of 31 people sought help and stayed at the temple. Twenty three were diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, six with delusional disorders, and two with bipolar disorder. No specific ceremonies to promote the recovery of patients are performed at the temple. Instead the patient is encouraged to take part in the daily maintenance routines of the temple.

The researchers found a reduction of nearly 20% in psychiatric rating scale scores, representing a level of clinical improvement that matches that achieved by many psychotrophic drugs. Family caregivers also thought that most of the patients had improved during their stay.

In the absence of any specific healing rituals, the observed benefits appeared to result from a supportive, non-threatening environment, say the authors. They suggest that these institutions may have a role in providing community mental health care.

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