Afghanistan Struggles to Modernize Mental Health Treatments

When countries well-known for the quality of their mental health treatments are called to mind, Afghanistan is not likely to be among them. Indeed, the country so often depicted as being plagued by insurgency and hotly contested political and social issues is still emerging in terms of its medical and psychological offerings to citizens, and as many of the nation’s larger cities move towards implementing new technologies and methods, a growing divide between the new and the traditional is being felt by those with mental health issues and their families. Details have surfaced about classic Afghani shrines, or religious centers that tend to people with mental health issues, who are often stigmatized.

Receiving a poor diet of bread and pepper and involuntarily chained to walls or trees in warm weather, the “clients” at these mental health shrines are typically subjected to a forty-day ordeal, after which it is expected that they will achieve personal understanding and peace and a newfound dedication to a higher power. While some professionals and community members praise the efficacy of the shrines-–some clients of modern hospitals are removed by their families and taken to the more traditional sites–others suggest that the questionable treatment is an unethical practice that should step aside for modern mental health care.

As conflicts continue in Afghanistan, the number of citizens who encounter mental health difficulties is likely to rise, and the need for adequate and meaningful treatment services is bound to become more pressing. Whether the country will fully embrace accepted modern standards of care or continue to keep some clients firmly rooted to the past remains to be seen, though many outside the country are likely hopeful that Western-supported efforts to modernize health care will play a major role in development.

© Copyright 2009 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • nathan knowels

    nathan knowels

    December 17th, 2009 at 2:04 PM

    Hmm…that sounds so weird… Speaking of the conflict, yes, it is bound to happen whenever there is a change sweeping through any society. If a practice which has been followed from a very long time is now having to compete with a modern alternative and something that others have been using for quite some time, it is bound to have some effects of conflict.

  • Frank Wells

    Frank Wells

    December 17th, 2009 at 3:36 PM

    Chained to walls…?!hmm…this just demonstartes how much lawlessness is present in Afghanistan and it will take a long time for them to bring about a change in their land.Nevertheless a start is a start and modernization of treatment methods needs to be encouraged.

  • Oliver


    December 17th, 2009 at 5:35 PM

    Not sure that Afghan government is open to the types of changes that modernization in medicine there would inevitably bring. They have led a very closed society for a very long time. Sometimes it feels like they want as little to do with the modern world as possible

  • isaac H.

    isaac H.

    December 18th, 2009 at 2:25 AM

    Well I think it is not our responsibility or anybody else’s reponsibility to try and bring a change in their system… just let them be. As long as we are not affected by their traditional health care system, why bother?

    I don’t mean to be indifferent but I do have a problem with our government pumping in billions of dollars in bringing about ‘changes’ when we are running short of money for our own use!

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