Shaman for the soul in Merced, CA

The article I chose to post about was “A Doctor for Disease, a Shaman for the Soul”, which discusses the combined practices of both western medicine and Hmong traditions to care for patients. The main healer in this story is Va Meng Lee who is a Hmong Shaman and works along side doctors to cure patients of the Hmong culture by caring for the patient’s soul. In the Hmong culture it is believed that a person can become ill because their soul wanders off or is captured by a malevolent spirit; so they rely on Shaman, such as Va Meng Lee, to bring their spirit back or prevent it from being taken. Lee interacts with his patients by visiting them in the hospital (specifically the Mercy Medical Center in Merced) and then performing various “soul calling” techniques. One technique described in the article was the process of looping a coiled thread around a patients wrist to call back his soul which had wandered off. Shamans also have preventative techniques as well, such as drawing a circle in the air around the patient in order to create an imaginary shield to protect the patient’s soul from wandering or being captured. Lee and other Shaman are allowed to visit and treat patients due to the Hmong Shaman policy which allows the Shaman to treat patients once they have completed a 7 week training program where they learn basic elements of western medicine, such as the germ theory, and as long as their treatments comply with hospital rules such as no loud noises or anything that could potentially cause infection. This program is greatly beneficially to both the Hmong people and the doctors in Merced because it builds trust and diffuses fear harbored in the Hmong community against western medicine. This new found sense of trust allows for more timely medical care because doctors are not having to wait while Hmong families debate important medical surgeries and also their Shaman can visit them during their hospital stay which also influences their decision to go to the hospital sooner rather than later. Also the combination of both medical treatments greatly helps the patient because as stated by Dr. McDiarmid “social support and beliefs affect a patients ability to rebound from an illness” so having both of these treatments offered in the same place helps to creates an ideal healing environment.

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  1. Haley Macko says:

    Hmong shamans and biomedical doctors are profoundly different. The article best explicates this distinction; shamans guard the soul where biomedical doctors treat disease. The Hmong shamans incorporate Hmong cultural beliefs to relieve suffering and provide solace to the sick individual and their families. Unique to shaman healers, to deliver healthcare shamans directly visit the patients whereas the sick person must admit himself or herself into the hospital before they receive treatment by biomedical doctors. Moreover, biomedical doctors apply principles of biology and physiology to medicine to diagnosis and treat illness and preserve health discounting cultural aspects that influence illness. Personally, I feel that assimilating shamans or other unconventional methods to relieve illness symptoms or to offer hope of attaining good health should be supplemented in addition to biomedicine, as desired by the patient. Additionally, integrating both these practices may provide a better illness experience and increase well-being of the sick individual. I perceive shaman healers to be effective for Hmong people. The Hmong believe so strongly in their cultural beliefs, that the soul is the source for disease, that being visited by a spiritual healer or shaman can only reinforce their prospect of good health by stimulating their faith. So in the very least, if the rituals themselves aren’t effective, their Hmong cultural beliefs act as a placebo. For individuals that don’t identify themselves with the Hmong culture, shamans aren’t given much credibility. The practices of Shamans are unconventional in the United States because biomedicine is the dominant practice; only biologic factors are considered when recognizing a medical illness. So because shamans heal on the spiritual level and not on a physical level their treatment is regarded as unsuccessful.

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