A Doctor for Disease, a Shaman for the Soul

The article I read was about how at Mercy Medical Center in Merced, California, they have integrated Hmong shaman into some patients treatment.  They designed the shaman program in hopes of building trust between doctors and the Hmong community.  With the Hmong belief system “surgery, anesthesia, blood transfusions and other common procedures are taboo.”  So it has been difficult in the past to help with their health needs.  The new policy allows shamans the same unrestricted access to patients as clergy members, and they are able to perform nine approved ceremonies for patients.

The shamans are the healers, and I would assume they have a somewhat high social status considering how serious they take these ceremonies.  When they are not at the hospital, “suburban living rooms and garages are transformed into sacred spaces and crowded by over a hundred friends and family members…shamans go into trances for hours, negotiating with spirits in return for sacrificed animals”.  In the hospital they do more toned down versions or these ceremonies including “soul calling” and chanting in a soft voice.  The use of gongs, finger bells require permission from the hospital.  One shaman Mr. Lee preformed a spiritual inoculation on a diabetic patient, “meant to protect his soul from being kidnapped by his late wife and thus extending his ‘life visa.’”

The shamans work in the folk sector, but are working with the professional sector.  Healthcare was delivered in the home with friends and family, and has now moved into the hospital as well with this program. The symptoms are due to the belief that souls can either be captured by malevolent spirits, or just wander off.  The shamans can go into trances and try to negotiate with spirits, or perform other ceremonies that try to prevent the soul from being taken.  The doctors that view the ceremonies from the professional sector say that social support and beliefs affect a patient’s ability to rebound from illness, but then Dr. McDiarmid points out that, “over half of the people who respond to antidepressants do so because of the placebo effect.”


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