The widespread use of faith-based and traditional healing for mental disorders within African contexts is well known. However, normative responses tend to fall within two camps: on one hand, those oriented towards the biomedical model of psychiatry stress the abuses and superstition of such healing, whilst critics adopting a more 'local' perspective have fundamentally challenged the universalist claims of biomedical diagnostic categories and psychiatric treatments. What seemingly emerges is a dichotomy between those who endorse more 'universalist' or 'relativist' approaches as an analytical lens to the challenges of the diverse healing strands within African contexts. In this article, we draw upon the resources of philosophy and existing empirical work to challenge the notion that constructive dialogue cannot be had between seemingly incommensurable healing practices in global mental health. First, we suggest the need for much-needed conceptual clarity to explore the hermeneutics of meaning, practice, and understanding, in order to forge constructive normative pathways of dialogue between seemingly incommensurable values and conceptual schemas around mental disorder and healing. Second, we contextualise the complex motives to emphasise difference amongst health practitioners within a competitive healing economy. Finally, we appeal to the notion of recovery as discovery as a fruitful conceptual framework which incorporates dialogue, comparative evaluation, and cross-cultural enrichment across divergent conceptualisations of mental health.
Birkbeck College, London, United Kingdom.