A Doctor for Disease, a Shaman for the Soul

This week I’m summarizing the New York Times Article, “A Doctor for Disease, a Shaman for the Soul”. The story is based in a California hospital which treats a relatively high number of patients from the country of Laos—those who had moved to the United States in refuge after the Vietnam War. These immigrants still hold dear the culture they had left behind in their home country. Their religious practices and (most importantly for this course) their beliefs on sickness and healing remain an integral part of their worldview. For this reason, the Mercy Medical Center in Merced, CA has adopted new policies in order to better treat this patient demographic; specifically in using techniques that extend beyond those learned in Western medical schools that comprise our bio-centric medical systems. In supplement to pharmaceuticals and other Western treatments, healing shamans have been granted access to hospital wards and allowed to perform a variety of hospital-sanctioned spiritual healing procedures at the bedsides of ailing Laos immigrants (procedures such as animal sacrifice, while essential to such spiritual healing, must be performed elsewhere). These healers’ presence in the hospital serves multiple purposes. It is important to note that the social status of these individuals much closer resembles that of the patients they are treating. Unlike their MD-wielding counterparts, Laos shamans are granted a more personal knowledge of the afflictions of their patients. Moreover, treated patients are more trusting of this form of treatment, and by extension the hospital that allows it, because of this intimacy. Perhaps most importantly, this policy reflects a growing acceptance within the standard system of Biomedicine of other forms of healing that originate outside of ethnocentric beliefs. In this case, the healing that Laos patients receive is two-pronged: medicine for the body, and spirituality for the soul. Ultimately, this coordination is intended to improve the standard of care for a diverse patient population, and in some circumstances to treat conditions either ethnomedical system alone might not be able to remedy.

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  1. AnnMarie Maniaci says:

    I found your view on the healing shamans in New York City hospitals very interesting to read. I agree with you that the shaman’s methods of healing can be very beneficial to the patient. It would be very hard and terrifying to be a refugee in the first place, so I think it is great of this hospital in California to take in so many of the Laos refugees as patients. Considering how hard the transition would be, the work of the shamans would be very important in uplifting the morale of the patients. People find comfort and healing in religion, so being able to perform traditional rituals and to be able to be a part of the spiritual healing would most likely make the refugees feel safe and protected. It is interesting to compare the spiritual work of shamans to the usual biomedical treatment from a MD or DO we see when we go to the doctor. These are very different types of treatment, targeting different areas of the illness. I think both are very important to a patient’s recovery. A positive attitude and a healthy mind are key factors to getting better when suffering an illness, and the shaman help and guide their patients to attain both of these elements.

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