I am summarizing this article about Shamans at Mercy Medical Center in Merced, California. They work along with physicians and other health care professionals as part of the team. The Shaman believes he has the responsibility for the sick person’s soul. It is believed that social support and a person’s belief system have a lot to do with their recovery from chronic illness. The Shamans at Mercy Medical undergo a seven week course, which gives them an explanation of Western medicine, germ theory and healing techniques. A lot of the patients there have come originally from Laos and are refugees from the Vietnam war. They helped fight the Communists and were forced to leave there and come here to be safe.
The healers are Shamans and their social status is very high and the patients look up to them and follow their word. They want their spirits exorcised before they want treatment. They interact with their patients in a variety of ways–they come to the hospital and treat them and also perform ceremonies at their home. These ceremonies are now being performed at the hospital with the consent of the patient’s roommate. The Hmong use things such as finger bells and gongs and go into trances during the ceremony. The Shaman is not paid with money but sometimes a barter item such as a chicken might be given. In this culture the Shaman is first and foremost and now recently the physician can work along with him. The Hmong do not believe in surgery, anesthesia or blood transfusions and physician’s need to work around these contraints. The symptoms are treated by “releasing” the evil spirits, then the body can be treated medically within the realm of their belief system following the restrictions and limitation that are put upon the physician. A majority of the time the patients recover with the social support they receive.
A Doctor for Disease, a Shaman for the Soul