“A Doctor for Disease, A Shaman for the Soul”

This article from the New York Times talks about shamans being integrated in to the hospital setting in order to better treat patients.  Although it does talk about other tradition healers, it focuses on Hmong shamans in Mercy Medical Center in Merced, California. The shamans have been given the same access as clergy members.  They have been trained and taught aspects of Western medicine.  Hmong tradition believes that illness is caused by the soul wandering off or being captured.  When the Hmong refugees first came over they did not understand Western medicine, many of the practices being taboo, which led to many complications that could have easily been avoided.  By teaching the shamans about germ theory and having them perform different ceremonies for patients, outcomes have improved.  The doctors are better able to communicate with patients and vise versa.  The doctors have also seen differences improvements in patients because of the ceremonies and that has helped them to better understand the beliefs, although they have related this to the placebo effect.

The healers are the shamans and the doctors.  As Mr. Lee, a shaman, states, the disease is the responsibility of the doctor and the shamans the soul.  I would say that the shamans have a high social status, like healers in most societies.  The techniques they use in the hospital are calmer versions of the traditional ceremonies.  These ceremonies aren’t loud and must be approved by a patients roommate if necessary.  Of course, ceremonies done outside of the hospital are different.  The shamans will chant and use different objects as part of the ceremonies.  Sometimes leaving things in the patients room.

The shamans operate within the folk sector.  They are a traditional healer and treat the patients in traditional ways. They also operate within the a professional sector because they work within the hospital, under certain rules, and with licensed physicians.  The shamans care is delivered to the patient by performing a ceremony; in the hospital in Merced there are 9 ceremonies that have been approved.  In Hmong culture they believe that illness is a condition of the soul and the shamans job is to address those issues.



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

  1. The Shamans are very similar to the Clown Doctors of New York city because in a way they are both taking light to the emotional aspect of patients. The Shamans compare to biomedical doctors because they are healing of the soul not the disease. Their healing is spiritual and does not use medicine to cure illnesses. So this is also how they are different then how healthcare is delivered in the U.S. because the Shamans use none of the same techniques their approach is completely different with no scientific knowledge involved. For instance doctors do not use ceremonies to cure the soul. The Shamans are credible and legitimate because they are certified with embroidered jackets and official badges. They also have full access to patients given to clergy members. It is something that the Hmong believe in. So it is effective when combined with western medicine because the Hmong rely on their spiritual beliefs to get them through their illness they are getting treated for their disease and soul so they are happier and in their eyes fully getting healed. It is also helping more people because having the Shamans in hospitals is showing the Hmong people that they can still go get treated in a hospital and have their spiritual beliefs carried out there. Shamans do not replace the biomedical doctors but it is nice to see that our society is caring about the health of immigrants and accepting their ceremonies and different ways of living.

Leave a Reply