Recognition and treatment of psychotic symptoms: spiritists compared to mental health professionals in Puerto Rico and Brazil.


This article expands psychosocial and cultural perspectives on the experience and expression of psychotic symptoms and the treatment of schizophrenia by exploring how Spiritism, a popular religion in Latin America, provides healing to persons with severe mental illness. Beliefs and treatment by Spiritist healers of persons with psychotic symptoms, some diagnosed with schizophrenia, are described. Reactions by mental health professionals (psychologists, mental health technicians and psychiatrists) to this alternative treatment are described. Qualitative data have been collected through in-depth interviews with 49 Spiritist mediums in Puerto Rico, and case histories of 22 patients and their family members, all of whom gave informed consent. In Brazil, interviews were conducted with a sample of 115 Spiritist mediums, with their informed consent. These mediums responded to semi-structured interviews and standard measures of social adjustment and mental health. As expected, beliefs and practices of Spiritist healers regarding psychotic symptoms, whether manifested by themselves or by clients diagnosed with schizophrenia or other disorders, differ substantively from conventional psychiatric constructs and treatment approaches. According to patients’ self reports and researchers’ observations, spirit healers often achieve positive results with persons manifesting psychotic symptoms or diagnosed with schizophrenia in that symptoms become less frequent and/or social adjustment improves. We suggest psychosocial mechanisms to explain these findings and raise questions for future research.

[PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]
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