A Doctor for Disease, a Shaman for the Soul

“The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and The Collision of Two Cultures” written by Anne Fadiman. Tells a story about a Hmong girl who has epilepsy and how she is being treated by western medicine and her traditional beliefs. The hospital failed to accept her deep-rooted traditional views. This book lead to Mercy Medical Center to adapted a policy allowing shamans to treat the Hmong community at the hospital. This program has strength the confidence amongst the doctors and the Hmong community. The article talks about how the Shamans must first go through a training program for seven weeks to learn about western medicine. This program also pioneered for other programs across the USA just like it. Incorporating shamans into the hospital will help patients seek western medicine when they really need something like blood transfusions, anesthesia, or surgeries which are very vital.

The Shamans are healers for the Hmong their really look to them to heal them if their souls has runaway. I believe their social statuses are very high amongst the Hmong because most Hmong will not go to the medical center if the shamans were never there. The shamans are not given the ability to use the full range of their techniques at the hospital. But they are allowed “certain elements of Hmong healing ceremonies, like the use of gongs, finger bells and other boisterous spiritual accelerators, require the hospital’s permission”. (BROWN, 2009) Shamans interact great with their patients and are very respected by them also.

The Shamans operate under the folk sector for the Hmong community at Mercy Medical Center. They use more a holistic approach to healing their patients and the healers are called shamans. The Shamans deliver healthcare in the medical center by performing “nine approved ceremonies in the hospital, including “soul calling” and chanting in a soft voice”. (BROWN, 2009). They understand and believe that the “souls, like errant children, are capable of wandering off or being captured by malevolent spirits, causing illness”. (BROWN, 2009). They soul is then treated through ceremonies to bring it back to the body.


BROWN, P. L. (2009, September). A Doctor for Disease, a Shaman for the Soul. Retrieved from The New York Times.


1 thought on “A Doctor for Disease, a Shaman for the Soul

  1. Hmong healers differ from American doctors in that they treat the soul rather than the body. Their methods are spiritual and based on metaphysical beliefs and interventions. With all due respect, these healers are not credible in my biomedical opinion; you can not cure cancer with a gong. But I understand the importance that culture and tradition play in healing. While a physician may physically treat a patient’s disease one may not fully cure their illness without going through the patient’s cultural practices. It is important to be culturally sensitive when dealing with those in ill health. The medical profession has had a history of being culturally insensitive. It is great to see that our practices are shifting. We have to avoid being overbearing with our western approach to the body. We make an effort can to make a visit to the American hospital not as intimidating as it would be for non-native seekers of healthcare. Many hospitals have adapted literature in a variety of languages to make the hospital visit less extenuating. Allowing Hmong healers into the Mercy Medical Center, a health care provider in a community with a large Hmong population, was a very thoughtful accommodation. I am sure it has strengthened the confidence in the doctors and made the Hmong community much more comfortable.

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