Mental health treatment outcome expectancies in Burundi

Best practices in global mental health stress the importance of understanding local values and beliefs. Research demonstrates that expectancies about the effectiveness of a given treatment significantly predicts outcome, beyond the treatment effect itself. To help inform the development of mental health interventions in Burundi, we studied expectancies about the effectiveness of four treatments: spiritual healing, traditional healing, medication, and selected evidence-based psychosocial treatments widely used in the US. Treatment expectancies were assessed for each of three key syndromes identified by previous research: akabonge (a set of depression-like symptoms), guhahamuka (a set of trauma-related symptoms), and ibisigo (a set of psychosis-like symptoms) . In individual interviews or written surveys in French or Kirundi with patients ( N = 198) awaiting treatment at the clinic, we described each disorder and the treatments in everyday language, asking standard efficacy expectations questions about each ("Would it work?" "Why or why not?"). Findings indicated uniformly high expectancies about the efficacy of spiritual treatment, relatively high expectancies for western evidence-based treatments (especially cognitive behavior therapy [CBT] for depression-like symptoms), lower expectancies for medicine, and especially low expectancies for traditional healing (except for traditional healing for psychosis-like symptoms). There were significant effects of gender but not of education level. Qualitative analyses of explanations provide insight into the basis of people's beliefs, their explanations about why a given treatment would or would not work varied by type of disorder, and reflected beliefs about underlying causes. Implications for program development and future research are discussed.

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