Hmong Shamans in Merced, CA

The New York Times article, “A Doctor for Disease, a Shaman for the Soul,” is describing the increasing accommodation of culturally diverse patients’ preference of treatment in hospitals across the US. An example of this is the formal certification of the use of a Hmong shaman in a hospital in Merced, CA. This formality includes a badge worn by the shaman, and unlimited access to his patient. This formal relationship between the folk sector of healthcare and the professional sector of healthcare will hopefully aid in diminishing the distrust between diverse cultures, such as the Hmong, and the hospital that they are being treated in. This distrust stems from that fact that the Hmong view illness as a matter of the soul whereas medical doctors take a much different approach which is mostly biologically based. This distrust was illustrated in the article by a situation in which the disconnection in communication between Hmong parents and the medical doctors who were treating their child for epilepsy resulted in her death.

The healers in this article are the Hmong shamans. The healthcare sector that these Hmong shamans belong to is the folk sector, although they are operating within the means of the hospital which is known as the professional sector. Within the Hmong culture, shamans are viewed as sacred. However, the shamans share the same cultural ideology/beliefs as the patient they are treating; thus they share the same social status. This equality in social status also contributes to the trust that is built between the patient and the shaman, and ultimately this relationship can aid in the treatment of the patient.

As stated in the article, the primary concern of the Hmong shaman is the condition of the patient’s soul. This concern is based on the fact that the Hmong believe illness is associated with the running away of an individual’s soul; therefore in order to alleviate the individuals’ illness the shaman performs rituals or ceremonies that can also be referred to as “soul calling.” More specifically, in the article the shaman, Va Meng Lee, believed that Chang Teng Thao’s diabetes and hypertension were due to an attempt by Thao’s late wife to kidnap his soul. The “soul calling” ceremony performed by Lee consisted of soft chanting and the formation of a protective shield via hand gesture around Chang Teng Thao. Other techniques used in rituals performed by Hmong shamans can consist of gongs and finger bells which must be approved by the hospital in order to assure that the noise does not disrupt other patients.


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

1 thought on “Hmong Shamans in Merced, CA

  1. The identified healers in this reflection are the Hmong shaman, who are traditional, non- Western healers. These healers began to work in hospitals, such as that in Merced, California in order to bring trust between patients and doctors and to have some sort of sense of alternative medicine. Instead of focusing on the patient’s body, or using biology, as a way to heal (like in Western medicine), the shaman focus on the soul. The shaman believe that people get ill when their souls run away, and must perform rituals in order to get the soul to come back. Although I consider myself a spiritual person, I do not consider the shaman medically credible for curing disease. I do, however, consider them effective in healing, or allieviating illness. Illness being defined as an individual’s experience with disease, or a person’s state of mind about their condition. Those involved in this culture may find comfort in the shaman, and believe themselves to be getting better; which most likely helps them in doing so. Finally, being a citizen of the United States where there are many different traditions and beliefs, I believe that it is important to incorporate culture into many aspects of life, as long as it does not interfere with necessary treatments and professionals doing their jobs.

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