“Shaman for the Soul”

The article I am reviewing is “A Doctor for Disease, a Shaman for the Soul.” This article describes the integration of traditional Hmong healing practices into the western medical system. The article specifically focuses on the Mercy Medical Center in Merced, CA. The medical center is located in an area with a large Hmong population and in the past clashing cultures has made providing adequate medical care very difficult (as demonstrated by Fadiman’s “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down”). Due to these difficulties, Mercy has made policy changes allowing traditional Hmong shamans to participate medical treatment.

The Shamans are allowed the same patient access and interaction that is allotted to other religious figures in hospitals. They consult patients and perform the rituals of their culture such as chants and “soul callings,” though often times the rituals must be modified in order to respect other patients. Also, practices involving animals, either as sacrifices, or as bodies to accept “spirits,” are not performed for sanitary reasons. Importantly, the Shamans are provided some education in western medical theory and practice so that they may aid in reducing resistance to even basic medical treatment such as blood transfusions. The Shamans can then convey this information to patients in a way that is more easily digested.

What I find particularly encouraging about this article is that it appears to be a nice blending of cultures that results in a more effective medical system overall. The Shamans perform their rituals which can have a strong effect (placebo, or otherwise depending on your beliefs), and they also facilitate a more trusting relationship between Hmong patients and doctors. Though the Hmong system is based in spirituality and the western system is biologically based, this is an example of the two working together synergistically to benefit the patient. The idea of integrating the culture of the people near the hospital seems to be a relatively simple way of providing a more pleasant and effective medical system.

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  1. Adam Feuerstein says:

    Hey Ben, I enjoyed reading your take on the Shaman people for your reflection. I think the shaman people can be a big help to medical doctors for people that believe in the spiritual world. For many doctors it may be hard to explain why simply procedure, such as you mentioned with blood transfusions, is necessary for patients and that it will not harm them. They have beliefs rooted through practice and if someone of their belief can assure them no hard will be done it is very beneficial to medical practitioners. So, although I do not personally believe the Shaman do anything to actually cure people of their disease through rituals or sacrifices, I think they aid in patient comfort. Patients have their personal belief and should have a right to practice them so the fact that the hospital is allowing them to do this is great. Shamans are hardly any different than the priest and other ministers that are allow into hospitals so I think they deserve the same rights. I do not think they are very legitimate in their practices, but I think they have a great effect. Mentally being able to fight a disease is almost just as valuable as being physically able to do so. With the help of spiritual guiders people are more inclined to think they can beat a disease so then medical doctors can preform all the tasks they need with patient compliance at a maximum level.

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