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Western Psychotherapy and Traditional Healing Practices


Therapy is a form of treatment thought to be suitable, worthy and beneficial by both the patient and the therapist. Therapy aims at reducing pain and this happens by unearthing underlying issues that may be causing the pain. The pain may be physical or psychological. However, regardless of the type of pain, there are different modalities applied in therapy. Each modality aims at rounding the problem from different angles to come up with the most appropriate way of helping the client. Identifying the underlying issues heightens the chances of a successful recovery process and this may require a professional as in the case of western therapy. Tucson (2009), notes that motivation of patient undergoing therapy is crucial and this hastens the recovery process. Therapy is more of art and depends largely on how the patient understands, and accepts the exercise.

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Psychotherapy in particular deals with helping people overcome mental problems like stress or depression and this happens by alleviating one’s sense of well-being. This essay gives insight on the mainstream western psychotherapy and establishes how it compares with traditional healing processes. Psychotherapy essentially deals with faith and beliefs (Frank, 1970). It is a logical and coherent process, which all people can understand. However, some modalities used do not generate results with some people hence the need to have varied modalities of carrying out the same. In some cases, some people have unrealistic expectations that drive them to asking many things and trying out weird things. A psychotherapist obtains data from client, analyses it and offers suggestions on the way out. The final word and action lies with the client because a psychotherapist only offers suggestions and it is upon clients to determine whether it is true or not. If unchecked, psychotherapy may dissipate to a thought experiment.

Common Factors in Western Mainstream Psychotherapy

The common factor across western psychotherapy is that it involves a professional. These specially trained people specialize in aiding people overcome mental problems that they face in life. Psychotherapists have to undergo rigorous training in school systems following well-established syllabuses. Even though the modalities by which psychotherapy works appear to be complicated, it works on three basic principles that are common across all modalities used in western psychotherapy. They include experiential, relational and cognitive. Therapists apply these three aspects to different people and achieve different results. Relational aspect hinges its functions on the fact that humans are relational beings (Raughton, 2007).

Human beings like relating with each other with studies showing that isolated individuals are likely to fall into emotional complications like stress. Relationships are thus important to human beings and satisfying them is the starting point to a happy life. Western therapists employ this principle widely. According to Raughton (2007), western therapists start by establishing a strong relationship with their clients and this is common across all modalities used. A good therapy relationship forms the basis of a quick recovery as relationships form the basis of trust and trust leads to revealing emotions and problems, which in turn help therapists to tackle the problem efficiently.

Cognitive aspect is also widespread across different therapy modalities. Cognition goes beyond intellectual insight and it refers to thoughts that occur in people’s mind. Thousands of thoughts arise and pass through our minds spontaneously everyday. Even though these thoughts may have minimal impacts in our lives, some negative impacts may get hold of us and lead to stressful lives. Therapists capitalize on these thoughts, analyse the rationality behind them and suggest a remedy by dislodging these thoughts from minds of clients (Herkov, 2006). Most of psychotherapeutic complications result from negative thoughts about self, and therapists work to alleviate this condition by creating positive thoughts in the client. Recognising these thoughts help someone overcome mental problems; an unachievable task through mere positive thinking and willpower (Herkov, 2006). People are what they think they are and if people think they have stress, they become stressed in reality due to the deep held belief of stress in them. It all lies in the mind and it is the work of psychotherapists to dislodge these thoughts from one’s mind.

Experiential aspects supplements the cognitive aspect by letting individuals relate with their experiences (Stevenson, 2007). Insights derived from connection and experience of one’s self, helps to unravel old habits. In this aspect, therapists apply five principles that include unity, non-violence, organicity, mind-body holism and mindfulness. It involves connecting emotionally with the client tardily, then leading him or her into mindfulness and eventually arousing and intensifying core materials with appeasing experiments. Core materials in this context imply memories, emotions, beliefs and body sensations that may arise from past wounds. As the client unravels the past, the therapists concentrate on gathering information about the client and coming up with suggestions that counter these issues. This is a gradual process calling for skill and experience. These three elements are common in western mainstream psychotherapy.

Moldowsky (2009) notes that connection is important in psychotherapy, as many clients suffer from connection disorder. Another important characteristic is that therapists are naturally interested in helping their clients and this is common regardless of the modality used. Actually, one can define psychotherapy as a ‘healing attachment’ where a client gains self-belief and confidence.

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Contrast between Western Mainstream Psychotherapy and the Traditional Healing Practices

To compare these two practices successfully, we have to look at one of traditional practices in non-western culture: Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, people believe that, when a mother with postnatal depression takes care of her newborn, it affects the newborn’s socio-emotional growth and cognitive abilities. To overcome this, the mother undergoes through a series of traditional practices thought to cleanse her from postnatal depression. Since Afghanistan is a collectivist country, all people in the family play a role in these practices. After birth, the family organizes a big party for the mother in which friends and elders of community attend to celebrate the event. This is meant to relax the mother and restore good mood that prevents depression (Cheetman and Griffiths, 1962).

After ten days, the family comes together once more to provide entertaining environment to keep the mother away from depression. Highly nutritious meals to check mother’s hormone balance braces this occasion. According to Cheetman and Griffiths (1962). Afters forty days, the family once again meet to entertain the mother together with the child to keep anxious thoughts away Afghans believes that these practices keeps the mother entertained and occupied to plunge into postnatal depression. It works for them because as noted at the beginning of this paper, therapy depends on how acceptable it is to the client.

Other traditional practices involve ‘specialists’ who can evoke supernatural powers in the process of seeking solutions to existing problems. These people undergo a special calling through supernatural powers inform of spirits. These people become decision makers by evoking spirits in the society (Moldowsky, 2009). These healers also involve themselves in determining causes of natural disasters like droughts and earthquakes. During consultations, the whole family has to be around so that no family member fails to get ‘treatment’ from whatever problem is harassing the family.

Mainstream western psychotherapy differs from these traditional healing practices on number of aspects. First aspect is the nature of the ‘healer’ used. While western psychotherapy employs trained personnel in form of a psychotherapist, traditional healing practices involves family members and relatives. There is no training needed for family members to qualify as ‘healers’. The social status of the healer also differs in these greatly. While western psychotherapists need professional qualifications and commands esteem from society due their educational achievements, traditional healers are qualified by virtue of being family members or relatives. Training in traditional setting has to be a calling but in western culture, anyone with academic qualifications can do the exercise (Miller, Duncan and Hubble, 1997). It is important to note that not all traditional practitioners undergo training and not all traditional healing practices involve trained practitioners.

The relationship between the healer and the client differ widely in the above cases. In Afghanistan and other collectivist establishments, it is everybody’s business to foresee success of these practices. On the other hand, in western culture the healer does not necessarily have to be a family member or relative. If someone has the desire training and authentication from approval bodies, he or she qualifies to take a client through psychotherapeutic exercise (Frank, 1970).

The level of brain consciousness involved in the healing process differs also in these two practices. Fundamentally, these two practices involve brain consciousness but western psychotherapy involves brain at a higher level (Corey, 2005). As discussed in common factors in western psychotherapy, cognition aspect of it deals primarily with brain consciousness at advanced stages. Experiential aspect also requires that individuals recall past events in the appeasing experiments mentioned. Contrary to this belief, traditional practices do not involve brain consciousness at advanced levels. Individuals believe that the healing process will automatically take place after the rituals are over. While traditional practitioners have the power to determine causes of natural disasters like earthquakes and determine why they befell one family and not the other, western practitioners do not have this capacity. Invoking spirits is not part of western psychologists.

The other difference stands out in analysing successful outcomes. Western psychotherapists appreciate that success of the entire process lies with the clients. They appreciate the importance of creating relationship with the clients to connect with them emotionally. Evaluating the results takes place after a lapse of time whereby psychotherapists assesses clients to determine healing progress. In traditional setting, the healers believe that the exercise is successful upon its completion. For instance, Afghans belief that mother’s child is free from postnatal stress after forty days. Beyond that, the mother can tend her child without fear of inflicting negativity to the baby. While western practices employ specific healing techniques decided upon by psychotherapist after gaining substantial information from the client, traditional practices use general techniques and invoking supernatural powers to obtain answers for the prevailing problems (Cheetman and Griffiths, 1962, p. 979).

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The final contrast comes in determining relationship of the client with supernatural powers. Western psychotherapy does not employ use of supernatural powers. It contacts the unconscious part of brain without necessarily evoking spirits. Every client can understand this logical process. However, traditional healing practices are full of evoking supernatural powers. After a healer receives a calling to become a healer, he or she assumes the position of an arbitrator between people and supernatural powers (Cheetman and Griffiths, 1962, p. 977). After the calling, the healer cannot refuse to enter into this supernatural training for fear of death or becoming insanity. When clients visit the healer, he invokes supernatural powers in a bid to understand the problem and pass a sure solution.

Similarities between Western Mainstream Psychotherapy and the Traditional Healing Practices

Despite the diverse differences between these two practices, there are some outstanding similar aspects between them. First, both processes involve use of brain. Even though they involve brain at different levels, essentially they utilise brain, belief, and thought patterns underlying it. In the healing process, clients brain, soul and body gets involved. Healers in these two settings hold similar views concerning the healing process. Both use established protocols in healing their clients. Western psychotherapists use knowledge gained in class, while traditional practitioners use knowledge passed from supernatural words (Stevenson, 2007). The bottom line here is that, regardless of source of the information, its flow from healer to client follows established protocols.

In both cases, there is creation of trust towards the practitioners to give them personal information regarding a particular issue. Moreover, both processes involve explaining clients’ problems and suggesting ways to overcome them. Clients in both situations share a common belief regarding the practitioners. Clients’ belief is that the practitioners have answers for their problems. According to Stevenson (2007), this is why they entrust their personal information with these people.

Experience is a key factor in these two practices. Clients pass information on how a certain practitioner is experienced in healing a certain condition whether traditionally or in western practice. It does not matter whether this is genuine or not, but as far as a certain client receive healing from a given practitioner, that practitioner becomes prominent. The prominent rises as more and more clients visit that particular practitioner. The final similarity the nature of services offered. Both practitioners offer their services for money, not free. The payment rates differ to some extent but essentially clients have to par for services offered in both practices (Tucson, 2009).


According to Moldowsky (2009), psychotherapy engages mainly the brain. Western mainstream psychotherapy is a logical process understood by everyone. Even though different modalities find application in this field, they all rely on some common facts and factors in healing the clients. Psychotherapists are trained professionals who understand clearly the thought processes of clients. Psychotherapy is a connection process where clients gain lost self-confidence. It is not a complicated process, as many people tend to think. There are outstanding differences and similarities between western psychotherapy and traditional healing processes.

Differences occur in issues like training, relationship between healer and client among other issues. While traditional practitioners invoke spirits to gain understanding on particular problems, western practitioners use simple logic to solve clients’ problems (Herkov, 2006). Similarities stand out in the way both processes involve brain and soul in their practices. It is evident that clients have problems that they believe the practitioners can handle. Otherwise, without this conviction, they would not go to these practitioners. Element of trust is also common in both practices. Moreover, regardless of the type of healing, clients have to pay for services offered.


Cheetman, S. & Griffiths, J. (1962). The Traditional Healer/Diviner as Psychotherapist. p. 975. Web.

Corey, G. (2005). The Theory and Practice of Counselling and Psychotherapy. (7th Ed). Brooks: Cole: Belmont, CA.

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Frank, D. (1970). Therapeutic factors in Psychotherapy. Web.

Herkov, M. (2006). About Cognitive Psychotherapy. Web.

Moldowsky, S. (2009). How Psychotherapy Works. Web.

Miller, S. Duncan, B. & Hubble, M. (1997). Escape from Babel: Towards a Unifying Language for Psychotherapy Practice. NY: Norton.

Raughton, D. (2007). How Therapy Works. Web.

Stevenson, L. (2007). Equine Facilitated Life Coaching Experiential Learning or Psychotherapy. Web.

Tucson, S. (2009). Treatment Modality. Web.

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