Psychotherapeutic Values of Igbo Healing Practices: The ‘Umunna Psychotherapy’

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Abstract

It had been observed by some researchers that psychotherapy should include effective emotional
healing activities of African traditional healers, religious faith healers, and African originated
forms of psychotherapy. This has not been achieved. To this effect, this study investigated how the
Igbo healing practices can be harnessed into psychotherapy interventions and techniques. The
main argument here is that Igbo traditional healing practices both the cultural and religious,
have definable psychotherapeutic values; hence, the need to provide some theoretical and
practical bases for recognition and adaptation of these practices into general and specific forms
of psychotherapy.
The research adopted a qualitative approach based on key informant interview (KII) of
four purposively selected native doctors, four spiritual kings and four clergy men: two Catholic
priests and two Protestant pastors from a purposively selected local government area in Anambra
State, Idemili North, in the Southeast Nigeria. Intensive structured interview method, where seven
specific questions were used to elicit information as concerned both the spiritual and traditional
‘psychotherapeutic practices of the Igbo people’ was adopted. The information gathered were
thematically analyzed based on the information of the participants, principles of Gestalt
psychology and macro ethical categorizations, and the general Igbo philosophy and world-view,
especially as express in idioms, names and proverbs; and in comparison to euro-western views of
psychotherapy.
The results revealed that ‘psychotherapy’ had been in existence in Igbo cultural traditions
for a very long time; having diagnosis (includes listening, questioning, examinations,
consultations, divination) and interventions (involves sacrifices and ikpu alu, among others) as its
major procedural parts. It also revealed the Igbo Concept and Sources of Psychopathology, and
Some Qualities that are Common to Most Igbo ‘Psychotherapists’. It also revealed that the most
popular technique in use is the ‘Umunna’-centered technique. Cultural aptness, acceptability,
affordability, availability, effectiveness, low cost, inclusivity, wholesome restoration, zero percent
chance of relapse and adoptability were found as some major advantages of Umunna
‘psychotherapy’. It was also observed to provide high levels of psychological, spiritual and social
supports for the clients, and these in turn, lead to high restoration of eudemonia within a
calculated period, both of the client and his/her umunna. Though simple and unique, it covers a
wide range of psychotherapeuticism. However, the issue of confidentiality is of no interest to the
Umunna psychotherapy.
Based on the values found, the study recommends Umunna ‘psychotherapy’ to all
psychotherapists, both as a type and a technique, and both within and outside the Igbo cultural
regions.

 

Author:

Innocent U.O. Ejiofo,

Department of Psychology, University of Ibadan, Nigeria

Email: udobuchinno@yahoo.com

 

Description

It had been observed by some researchers that psychotherapy should include effective emotional
healing activities of African traditional healers, religious faith healers, and African originated
forms of psychotherapy. This has not been achieved. To this effect, this study investigated how the
Igbo healing practices can be harnessed into psychotherapy interventions and techniques. The
main argument here is that Igbo traditional healing practices both the cultural and religious,
have definable psychotherapeutic values; hence, the need to provide some theoretical and
practical bases for recognition and adaptation of these practices into general and specific forms
of psychotherapy.
The research adopted a qualitative approach based on key informant interview (KII) of
four purposively selected native doctors, four spiritual kings and four clergy men: two Catholic
priests and two Protestant pastors from a purposively selected local government area in Anambra
State, Idemili North, in the Southeast Nigeria. Intensive structured interview method, where seven
specific questions were used to elicit information as concerned both the spiritual and traditional
‘psychotherapeutic practices of the Igbo people’ was adopted. The information gathered were
thematically analyzed based on the information of the participants, principles of Gestalt
psychology and macro ethical categorizations, and the general Igbo philosophy and world-view,
especially as express in idioms, names and proverbs; and in comparison to euro-western views of
psychotherapy.
The results revealed that ‘psychotherapy’ had been in existence in Igbo cultural traditions
for a very long time; having diagnosis (includes listening, questioning, examinations,
consultations, divination) and interventions (involves sacrifices and ikpu alu, among others) as its
major procedural parts. It also revealed the Igbo Concept and Sources of Psychopathology, and
Some Qualities that are Common to Most Igbo ‘Psychotherapists’. It also revealed that the most
popular technique in use is the ‘Umunna’-centered technique. Cultural aptness, acceptability,
affordability, availability, effectiveness, low cost, inclusivity, wholesome restoration, zero percent
chance of relapse and adoptability were found as some major advantages of Umunna
‘psychotherapy’. It was also observed to provide high levels of psychological, spiritual and social
supports for the clients, and these in turn, lead to high restoration of eudemonia within a
calculated period, both of the client and his/her umunna. Though simple and unique, it covers a
wide range of psychotherapeuticism. However, the issue of confidentiality is of no interest to the
Umunna psychotherapy.
Based on the values found, the study recommends Umunna ‘psychotherapy’ to all
psychotherapists, both as a type and a technique, and both within and outside the Igbo cultural
regions.

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