Addressing the mentally ill in the ATR’s.

Photo by Peju

African Traditional Religions, or ATR’s, not only attract the mentally challenged and emotionally dysfunctional, but they are frequently crowned, or initiated as Priests.

Inadvertently, this creates an environment of Priests, that perpetuates the traditions through the lens of their dysfunction.

My theory is that the mysticism and perceived magical powers, are significant attracting factors.

The internet visibility, also gives more access to the traditions, and it is therefore easier to attain services.

In the age of social media, and virtual spiritual relationships, it’s increasingly challenging to really assess mental needs and decipher the best course of treatment.

The traditions provide spaces for individuals, who in other circles, are misunderstood because of their mental or emotional conditions. In the ATR’s , hallucinations, “bizarre” behaviors and other clinical issues, have spiritual significance and remedies.

Overall, the ATR’s are a beacon of light, for many searching for mental stability and a sense of normalcy.

We as practitioners and especially Priests, need to be better prepared to navigate through these situations, and more importantly, support those who are truly in need.


What do you do when someone sits on your mat, and clearly has mental health issues?

Do you refer them to professionals or continue to provide support, by way of initiations and crowning?

These issues need to be considered and closely monitored to determine the best course of action, not only for the client, but also for the community.

You see…once one who is mentally unstable is given these tools, prematurely and without appropriate guidance, then we as Priests, potentially put them and others at risk.

Not to mention, for the mentally compromised, sometimes engaging in the work, creates situations that can stimulate latent mental conditions.

The act of crowning a mentally challenged individual, without a thorough assessment, can have tremendous adverse affects. This becomes a potential liability.

My advice to Priests, who are attempting to navigate through these situations…

Take your time to really assess the needs of these individuals, immediate and long term.

Utilize divination to ascertain what underlying issues are factors.

Attend behavioral health trainings to prepare for these encounters and to support you in your overall spiritual work.

Develop increased compassion, patience, understanding and gain additional knowledge and insight to better address these potential clients.

Ask yourself…

  • How does this trigger you?
  • Are you prepared to take on this responsibility?
  • What impact will this have on your practice?
  • Are you capable of managing this client and are you able to address the mental health components?

Be honest. If you are not able to manage, then reach out for assistance.

Refer to mental health practitioners and or priests, who are in the tradition, who can assist and provide additional services.

We need to be responsible and supportive of the mentally challenged, but as Priests, we also need to support each other.

Ìfé Michelle ~ Iyalorisha, LCSW, Certified Holistic Life Coach