A Doctor For Disease, A Shaman For The Soul

In this New York Times article, it discusses the country’s first medical center which has incorporated shamans into it’s healing staff, due to the large population of Hmong people that come to their hospital. The hospital is the first in the country that “formally recognizes the cultural role of traditional healers…” The article explains that Hmong people believe strongly in the healing powers of the soul, and shamans are responsible for protecting the soul. They have incorporated the policy as well as a training program to help shamans become more familiar with Western medicine. The california hospital is doing this as part of a “national movement to consider patients’ cultural beliefs and values when deciding their medical treatment,” and this program has spread across the country to many other areas with high immigrant, refugee, and ethnic-minority populations. According to the article, certified shamans wear embroidered jackets and have the same unrestricted access to patients that is given to clergy members. Also, shamans don’t take insurance or other payment. Merced has taken part in this program to strengthen the trust between doctors and the Hmong community, due to their past history of misunderstanding which stemmed from the destruction of the Hmong’s living area in the mountains of Laos. A problem arose when Western doctors and nurses found that it was very difficult to explain their reasoning and treatment options to very ill Hmong people due to their misunderstanding and therefore lack of trust of Western doctors. The shamans have various techniques that they use to protect the soul, which they believe “are capable of wandering off or being captured by malevolent spirits, causing illness.” One shaman, Mr. Lee, performed a spiritual inoculation, which is a 10-15 minute ritual that must be accepted by the patients’ roommates in the hospital. However, shamans perform these at people’s houses as well, where they go into trances for several hours to “negotiate” with spirits. Much of the ceremony must be cleared by the hospital, but they are still successfully performed.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Rolando Barajas says:

    There are like biomedical doctor in the sense that they seek out to help the ill patients in the hospital. They are trusted not by just the people with illness but as well from the doctors and hospital staff. They systematically view the patient and the disease and then decide the best course of action or treatment for the patient. Although many (western medicine oriented) people might see the shamans as legitimate healers mainly because it is a foreign culture that they do not have any experience in thus are skeptical. Many of the people pertaining to the shaman culture truly believe in the abilities in the shamans healing methods. They believe so much in the effectiveness of these shaman methods that it is notable. To prove this point you have people of the Hmong culture who are getting diseases like diabetes and rely on the biomedical science of western medicine to achieve a normal “health” but also incorporate the healing methods of Mr. Lee to achieve a type of “culture healing” that aids in the overall health of said patient. Leading to sort of credibility that one cannot ignore. Leading to a modern western medicine hospitals (so far one at this point) to adapt the ideology and healing methods of the shaman’s culture and its people.

  2. Mary Normand says:

    Natasha reflected on the shamans who have now been working at Mercy Hospital in California because of their large population of people from the country of Laos. These healers feel that many of people’s medical problems are due to “runaway souls.” The shamans are responsible for the soul just like medical doctors are responsible for the body. The healers are not brought to replace doctors. They are there to aid in the spiritual said of the patient. The beliefs of the Hmong are very strong and ingrained in their culture. I feel that the shamans are effective because they allow for a mix of spiritual and physical healing. Western medicine usually just heals the body and ignores the human as being a social and spiritual being. The shamans heal the soul. When people are socially and spiritually happy, it’s easier for them to heal. Although shamans are not the type of medical care we are used to and they don’t necessarily cure a person of an illness, they are helpful to the individual’s mental state. The combination of western medicine and Hmong shamans make it possible for the patients to heal quicker and for them to be more comfortable in the hospital.

  3. Alisyn Korpela says:

    I chose this post to comment on because I was interested in learning about the incorporation of shamans into the healing staff of hospitals. I was not aware of anything of this nature existing, though it does seem like a beneficial practice for such a growingly diverse country like to the United States. When comparing shamans described in this post with biomedical doctors in the United States, there are some similarities and some differences.
    First off, shamans and doctors are similar in that they all have the intention of treating the sick and providing patients with a service in order to help them return to a state of good health. On the other hand, shamans do not accept insurance or other payment, where as many doctors in the U.S. do accept insurance as a form of payment for their various services. Biomedical doctors use science and technology as a form of treatment for a disease, while shamans tend to use rituals and spiritual techniques to treat their patients souls. Shamans can perform their practices of healthcare in their patient’s homes, while majority of doctor practices are done in a medical office or at a hospital.
    I think that I do not have enough information or experience with shamans to judge them as credible or legitimate. I can say that I have heard and read stories about the successful practices of shaman healers around the world. I would classify these spiritual healers as effective in terms of treating particular patient’s illnesses.

  4. Taylor Smith says:

    I think that biomedical doctors differ greatly from the Shamans described in the article. However, they differ so greatly that I find it hard to compare between the two. Both doctors and Shamans are healers, but in different ways. Doctor’s methods are rooted in science and physiology, whereas Shaman’s methods are completely spiritual, and to those in the scientific community may seem crazy or illegitimate. I think that it is important to include the spiritual ideologies of the patient into their healing process. Just as many patients prefer to have clergy visit and pray for them during their stay, Shamans perform rituals in hopes that the patient will be healed and recovered.
    Personally I do not think that some of these rituals seem very effective, or how sacrificing an animal will bring good health, but I also recognize that some may believe that me praying to a God that they don’t believe exists will not bring good health either. As far as the healing power in a medical setting, biomedical doctors are much more credible and legitimate, and at least in the US, that is the popular belief. Biomedical doctors are also bound by law and regulated much more than a Shaman for all of the procedures that they perform, which makes most people feel that they are safe and getting good care.

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