Dialogue with Traditional Health Practitioners

Home | Dialogue with Traditional Health Practitioners

Dialogue between Jungian Analysts and African Traditional Healers

David Barton (International Journal of Jungian Studies, 2016 Vol. 8, No.2, 75 – 84), in his article called C. G. Jung and the indigenous psyche: two encounters, states:

“A true, open dialogue requires many things, including an equal share of power and willingness to exchange ideas without immediately dismissing them. Almost all indigenous knowledge is built upon an ontology that is foreign to the modern psychologist. Entering into a dialogue means entering into the temporary suspension of belief, which is increasingly difficult for those trained in specific modalities, each with their own foundational assumptions. Never mind that our psychological assumptions are the product of a particular cultural experience, growing out of the European Enlightenment and the rationalism of the nineteenth-century Europe and America, or that our models are based primarily on the experience of a narrow class and ethnicity. Overcoming such barriers is exceedingly difficult.” (p.81)

Barton wonders why there has not been a sustained in-depth dialogue between the Jungian community and indigenous people, and says that “one part of the answer lies in the difficulty of such a project, given the shadow of colonization, the issues of distrust, guilt, anger, and betrayal that make dialogue difficult.”(p.78)

Establishing a dialogue between the South African Traditional Health Practitioners (THPs) and Jungian analysts, has been part of the vision of Dr. M.V. Bührmann, London trained Jungian analyst and founder of the Southern African Association of Jungian Analysts (SAAJA). She initiated this exploration and has written her experiences and reflections in her book, Living in Two Worlds: Communication between a white healer and her black counterparts (1986). Her aim with this book, was ‘to show that much of what is called “magic” in the healing systems of the amagqirha is not “magical” in the usual sense of the word but is based on sound principles of depth psychology, especially as formulated by Carl Gustav Jung and his followers. The amagqirha have not thought out and systematized their methods as is customary in the Western scientific world. They have, rather, perceived their methods intuitively, and use them in, to us, non-rational ways.’ (p. 14)

Peter Ammann, PhD, founding member of the International School of Analytical Psychology (ISAPZurich), where he is a lecturer, training analyst and supervisor in Jungian psychology, was invited by Vera in 1990 to come and teach on the training programme, and he became inspired by Vera’s work with Traditional Health Practitioners. For many years he had a vision of building on the work of Vera Bührmann and he pursued this vision in many ways, one of which was organizing a workshop at the IAAP conference 2007 in Cape Town, where Jungian analysts and traditional healers could encounter each other. A video of this conference is available in SAAJA’s library.

South African Traditional Health PractitionersShortly after this, he met Dr. Nomfundo Mlisa, who is both a trained clinical psychologist and a traditional healer, and deeply interested in Jungian psychology. Dr. Mlisa’s thesis, Ukuthwasa initiation of Amagqirha: Identity Construction and the Training of Xhosa women as Traditional Healers (2009) explores ukuthwasa initiation process amongst Xhosa women in the Eastern Cape Province. Her thesis also compares Western healing practices with those of Traditional Health Practitioners, and places these within their respective cosmologies, including the attitude to spirituality. As umbilini is a central therapeutic skill of Traditional Health Practitioners, Dr. Mlisa wrote papers on the Types of Umbilini – Intuition (2013) and on various uses of umbilini in the divination healing system (ukunyanga), in which umbilini is used as a therapeutic tool/skill in diagnosis and therapy.
Following this encounter, Peter Ammann, accompanied by Jane Bedford, an artist who has partially completed her training as a traditional healer, visited Nomfundo and the traditional healers in the Eastern Cape, at Cala and Tsolo. After these two visits it was agreed that the discussion between the two parties should be revisited.

Renee Ramsden, founder member of SAAJA, connected with Peter Ammann in 2015, expressing a serious interest in his work with Traditional healers. Peter sent her Nomfundo’s article on Types of Umbilini (Intuition), which led to a meeting between Nomfundo and Renee in February 2016. From this discussion, together with Peter Ammann, a conference was planned bringing together Jungian Analysts and Traditional Health Practitioners in order to establish an ongoing encounter between these two ways of healing. Other SAAJA members who joined this initiative were Fred Borchardt, Ester Haumann and Alan Fourie.

Peter Ammann managed to arrange funding, one from an anonymous donor, and the other Nancy Furlotti. Through their generosity, we were able to hold two conferences, consisting of six Jungian analysts and six South African Traditional Health Practitioners with the aim of establishing an ongoing encounter between these two ways of healing. The first of these was hosted in 2016 by Fort Hare University in Hogsback, and the second was hosted in 2018 by SAAJA, in Noordhoek, Monkey Valley, Cape Town.

Traditional Healing Practitioners and Jungian Analysis Traditional Healing Practitioners and Jungian Analysis

In July 2017, Peter, Nomfundo and Renee delivered a paper on our work in Hogsback at an international conference hosted by the International Association for Jungian Studies (IAJS) held in Cape Town, entitled “The Spectre of the Other”.

In July 2019 we hosted a full day workshop and an evening lecture by two traditional healers, both also qualified clinical psychologists, Vella Maseko and Nompumelelo Kubeka, whom we met during these two conferences. Their workshop and lecture was entitled “African Tradition and Psychotherapy – The Merging of Two Worlds”, and aimed at equipping ‘professionals with a basic knowledge of the ancestral world, the problem that many African patients present with when they come to a psychotherapy consultation.’

In August 2019, Peter Ammann, Fred Borchardt, Nomfundo Mlisa and Renee Ramsden presented this work at an international conference hosted by the International Association of Analytical Psychology (IAAP) in Vienna, entitled “Encountering the Other: Within Us, Between Us, and in the World”. The concluding remark from this presentation summarized the aim of this initiative:

“The healing effect of finding common ground through respectful receiving of each other, was eloquently expressed by our interpreter, Buntu George:

“I didn’t think clinical psychologists would ever…think of ancestors, there is some people can’t think of ancestors, you know. But…as uneducated as some of us, traditionally as we are, we could sit at one table, and share each and every experience. And the little story I have, or you have, and each of us have, maybe I think my story is nothing for somebody else, it’s my personal story, but from listening to the different stories we shared here, I picked up something from each and every individual story that can help me build my own life, moving forward.” (2018, Noordhoek, Cape Town)

What is this for SAAJA? Our modest hope is to build on Vera’s work, to break down barriers, to show remorse for ancestral hurt and to offer a healing path through a new pattern of dialogue.”

Jungian Analysis and African Traditional Healing


Barton, G. (2016). Jung and the indigenous psyche: two encounters. International Journal of Jungian studies, Vol. 8. No.2, 75-84. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/19409052.2016.1140066

Buhrman, M.V. (1986). Living in Two Worlds: Communication between a white healer and her black counterparts. National Book Printers, South Africa.

Mlisa, L. N. (2009). Ukuthwasa Initiation of Amagqirha: Identity Construction and the Training of Xhosa Women as Traditional Healers. University of Free State

Mlisa, L.N. (2013). Types of Umbilini (Intuition) in the “ukunyanga” (Xhosa Divination)
Tradition. Journal of Psychology in Africa, 23(4), 609–614.

Mlisa, L.N. (2013). Intuition as divination among the Xhosa of South Africa. In Reviewing Reality. Dynamics of African Divination’ by van Beek, WEA & Peek, P (Eds) pp59-82 .Berlin, Lit Verlag

Should you wish to make a donation,
please complete the form below to use PayFast, or scan our SnapScan code

*Cell Number
* Price