Ethnomedical Approach

I picked the approach of ethnomedical because I believe that it really focuses on the understanding of illness in relation to the cultural definition and how those illnesses are treated based on cultural practices. This approach allows for the comparison of defining what each culture constitutes as a disease and illness and how multiple approaches to the topic affects each individual’s physical being. For example, when I am sick I seek help from a respected medical physician. However, some Native American tribes seek health treatments from a medicine man or a respected spiritual tribal leader. Though, we seek medical treatment from different people we do share a common goal of getting help from someone that is known within the community as a respected member that possesses the ability to enable better health. The way that we experience disease and illness is different because of our differences in cultural representation. Disease and illness fall under the umbrella of sickness but each one as different constructs of sickness. The disease aspect is the outward expression of your physically altered state whereas illness is our individual interpretations of physical ailment.

In Miner’s article about the Narcerima people, he is describing a culture that focuses on health through the understanding of magical and spiritual belief. I realized this when he started talking about how each family has an alter room that they store their potions and relics in a box in the wall. Their belief in the power of magic explains why they provide gifts to the medicine men and use potions to ward off disease and illness. The fact that these people still experience all the ailments that they believe magic will alleviate shows just how deep of a cultural bond they have to their understanding and experience with illness.

There are a few rituals that demonstrate their cultural beliefs of health and the influence of medicine. One ritual is exorcisms. The belief that a witch doctor can exercise evil out of an individual shows a high value on spiritual healing. There is an importance on the cleansing of the spirit and that evil can cause harm to one’s health if allowed. Another ritual is unclothing of sick individuals as they enter the imposing temple. Since nudity is so taboo within this culture, the stripping off of the clothing and allowance of others to wash them shows how strong the beliefs are put into the healers of this temple. The faith that they have in their healers parallels the faith we put into doctors and the medical system. The last ritual is the packing of the gums with magical relics and potions. This ritual is to stop gum decay and even though individuals still experience this decay and disease, the fact that they continue to go and have this practice done continues to demonstrate the belief that these healers and medical men know all and that all faith is put into spiritual healing.

3 thoughts on “Ethnomedical Approach

  1. Hi Brittany! I chose the applied approach because I like the way it deals with all the aspect of health instead of just being on sided and I also like the Ethnomedical approach.
    Even though The Body Rituals of Nacirema was written 50 years ago it is still cultural relevant to this day and age. You talked about the alter room and the potions and relics they have in store in there which they got from the medicine man. Today countless people still have medicine cabinets where they store medicine they got from the doctors. Even though most of the medicine they have store they do not really use them anymore it’s still there for emergency. Another thing you talked about which still happens today is the stuffing of the gums with supernatural relics and concoction. The toothbrush and tooth paste is still very important to people nowadays because most people are cautious about how the teeth look and how their breath smell. Tooth paste and the toothbrush is not the only way you can make your teeth white. There white strips which you can get just about anywhere to make you teeth white. Also the dentist is another place you can go to make your teeth whiter.

  2. I personally chose the biological approach and I thought it would be the most helpful mainly because it is the one I am most familiar with. Being someone who is on the pre-med track I guess it is just what I jump to first because it is the one that seems to be more evident in our culture. After reading your post I have kind of realized that if you want to study health you have to do it by using multiple approaches and I do agree with you that the ethnomedical approach is very important! Health and illness differ from culture to culture, not only in their definitions but also by the illnesses most prominent in other cultures. I think that if I want to be a doctor I will have to take each case individually and if someone is from another country or different culture I will have to adjust my approach. For instance, some people cannot accept blood transfusions because of their religion and this leads the doctor to have to find a new approach. I also really liked that you said “the way that we experience disease and illness is different because of our differences in cultural representation”, I never really thought of it like that. I think that I am beginning to realize just how much culture can affect the way we experience certain things.

  3. Hi Brittany, I chose the Biological Approach because I have focused on Science Orientated classes rather than culture orientated ones. However, one of the reasons I am taking this class is to acquire a better understanding of the cultural side of medicine, and it is for this reason that I am also interested in the Ethno medical Approach.
    As far as the Nacerima article is concerned, I cannot think of any specific ways in which its context could be updated. As you and Christin said, the parallels drawn in the article are still relevant today. Many individuals store their leftover medicine in case of future emergencies, but few understand how the medicine works or when it is appropriate to use the medicine without the expertise of a physician. I also believe that the strong faith the Nacerima have in their medical system despite the fact that they do not understand how the treatments are meant to work or perceive a decisive improvement in their health as a result of the treatment parallels our current faith in the expertise of our medical system and its physicians.
    The part of the Nacerima article that I found most interesting was the section on the Holy-Mouth-Men. The fact that the Nacerima would return to their ‘dentists’ even though the treatments were painful and the results negligible highlighted the strong faith they have in the Mouth-Men. This made me realize that in modern dentistry, health issues are often caught before the symptoms are ever noticeable to the individual; because of this, the only difference many patients feel after leaving a dentist appointment is the discomfort the treatment caused. Nevertheless, most individuals return to the dentist regularly, trusting that the pain their dentist causes is necessary and will save them pain in the long run. This helped me to better understand the almost blind faith we have in medical authorities.

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