A Shaman for the Soul

Brown’s article titled “A Doctor for Disease, a Shaman for the Soul” is the article that I chose to summarize. This article is about the Hmong holistic culture and it shows how they treat illness at the Mercy Medical Center in Merced, California. The article focuses on Va Meng Lee and he is a Hmong Shaman at the Mercy Medical Center. The Hmong holistic program at the Mercy Medical Center is especially important to the Hmong because many of them swear by and believe in their spiritual beliefs to help them recover from their illness.

The Hmong Shaman are the healers in this article. The Hmong Shaman social status appears to be significant within the Hmong culture. The Hmong Shaman social status is equal to that of a doctor in our culture and in some aspects exceeds the role and power of the doctor in our culture. The Hmong people have a very high respect for the Hmong Shaman because they are considered the “traditional healers” of the Hmong culture (Brown 2009). Hmong people believe that the only way they can be healed is by Hmong Shaman and modern medicine and practice is considered taboo to their culture. As far as techniques, in the article when Mr. Lee was treating a patient his main objective in treating his sick patients is to summon the patient’s “runaway soul” (Brown 2009). When it comes to interaction between Hmong Shaman and their patients there is a very personal and social trust that exists between the patient and the Shaman. The interaction between the patient and the Shaman resembles a call and response holistic practice in which the Shaman uses certain techniques to summon the patient’s soul. The interaction is a very spiritual and there is a direct approach when Hmong Shaman interacts with their patients. The Hmong Shaman summons the patient’s soul by using the technique of “soul calling” and by using their voice to chant softly to their patient (Brown 2009).

The sector and culture that the Hmong Shaman operates in is the Folk sector. The folk sector represents the Shamans because they take a holistic approach and they believe in spirits. They also believe that the shaman is scared. Hospitals like Mercy are creating Shaman training programs. It seems like healthcare in this system is delivered in the traditional and domestic sense. Hmong Shaman do not accept any form of money or insurance from their patient. However, I find it very interesting and unusual that in the past they have accepted a chicken that was still alive. Perhaps, the Shaman accepted the live chicken to use it as a future sacrifice since they use live animal like pigs and chickens to ward and transfer evil spirits and illness from the patient to the animal. Thanks to Mercy’s new Hmong Shaman policy the Shaman are able to practice at least 9 ceremonies that were approved by the hospital. The body and symptoms are understood and treated in this culture by the Shaman placing a main focus on the soul of an individual. For the Hmong the soul is the root and main source in treating and restoring health to an individual. In the article it stated, “the soul is the shaman’s responsibility.” The Shamans believe that through the soul they can ward off evil spirits and treat a patient’s illness more effectively than modern medicine. This statement means that the Hmong people do not trust or believe in any type of healing accept for the Shaman’s treatment.



Brown, Patricia Leigh. “A Doctor for Disease, a Shaman for the Soul” New York Times. Sept. 2009




2 thoughts on “A Shaman for the Soul

  1. I found the article and your post very interesting. I find that a lot of what the Hmong Shaman do to help their people and patients is valuable and in accordance with their culture. Many of the Hmong people will refuse modern medicine and opt for the ceremonies performed by the shaman. I have actually had shaman give us a blessing with many different herbs and certain smokes waved over our bodies. I was in Dominican Republic and we were going to hike through some caves. He was the local shaman and gave us a blessing for our journey. I believe that portion is beneficial in our medical system because using herbs and trying to heal the soul and mind is important. That really takes into account the patients well-being and not just physical symptoms of illness and disease. I part i do not agree with is collecting feathers of certain animals and finding an animal for sacrifice. I think that crosses the line and should not be allowed in our hospitals. I like the respect for the shamans and their use in certain circumstances, but ultimately our western style of medicine should be the main course of treatment and the other blessings, herbs, and chants should be supplemental. The hardest part is gaining a patients trust and if the shaman provides the trust of a family then that also could be most beneficial in treatment. I think if a patient is not of board with a treatment plan then success could be difficult.

  2. The primary difference between Hmong Shamans and biomedical doctors extends simply to what is being treated in the patient. In the case of Shaman care systems, they work to treat the soul whereas biomedical systems in the US work to treat the body. Shaman work with a holistic approach, attempting to call or summon the patient’s soul in order to heal it, and in turn, heal the person of their ailment. The US biomedical system attempts to treat the body through medicines and procedures and largely ignores the mind and spirit of the patient. I believe that Shaman healers should be considered legitimate, despite contrasting greatly from the biomedical system in the US. Although their medical benefits are debated in a biomedical world, the fact is that they are culturally significant and therefore should be respected in their practice. Just as other cultural practices are respected in western culture, Hmong practices should not be disregarded because they are not native to America. Recognizing the distrust of Hmong patients toward biomedical practices, US medical systems are beginning to allow the incorporation of Shaman rituals in hospital health care. I feel that this is particularly important for the inclusion of other cultures in our country. As Hmong Shamans are considered equal to doctors in our society, they should be treated as such.

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