Hmong Shamans in Merced, California

The article called, “A Doctor for Disease, a Shaman for the Soul”, discusses the importance of Hmong shamans in healing for the Hmong community in Merced, California.  Mercy Medical Center is the first hospital in the US to introduce a shaman policy that recognizes the cultural role of the traditional healers. Providing adequate medical care has become increasingly difficult across the nation as there are many patients with different cultural backgrounds. Policies are being introduced to better cater to the cultural beliefs of various patients when deciding on medical treatments. Many Hmong rely on spiritual beliefs to get them through illness so it makes sense that these beliefs should be incorporated into their treatment program.  This policy is also an attempt to strengthen the trust both ways.

The shamans went through a seven-week training program in which they were introduced to Western medicine in order to reduce the fear they have towards western medical practices. The shamans are certified, have embroidered jackets, official badges, and have the same unrestricted access to patients as other religious figures, such as clergy members. Shamans are highly regarded and respected among the Hmong people because of their healing abilities.  Shamans are considered to be part of the folk sector and use traditional, sacred healing methods to help the Hmong people overcome illness. The shamans interact closely with the patients when they perform approved ceremonies.  These ceremonies include 10-15 minute “life vista” ceremonies, “soul calling” ceremonies, and many more elaborate ceremonies performed over weekends.  Ceremonies must be cleared with patient’s roommates, and ceremonies involving live animals are not permitted.

The Hmong people do not believe in medical procedures like surgery, blood transfusions, and anesthesia. The Hmong believe that the soul is capable of wandering off and being captured by malevolent spirits, which manifest as an illness. The shaman policy helps to decrease cultural misunderstandings between patients and doctors. Often, the shamans are able to relay information to patients in a way that can be culturally understood and accepted. Also, the policy allows spiritual elements to be incorporated into the healing process, which will hopefully result in faster healing times for the Hmong people.

I find this article really interesting because it shows great progress in incorporating cultural aspects into the healing process. I think that it is great that this hospital is working towards a collaborative team that is geared towards prevention.


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