W2 Reflection: a Doctor for Disease, a Shaman for the Soul

The article, “A Doctor for Disease, a Shaman for the Soul” talks about a hospital in California that permits additional treatment by shamans for patients who request their services. This is a combination of traditional and biomedical medicine and can provide comfort, community, reassurance, and other approaches to healing for patients. It began in efforts to repair the hospital’s relationship with the local Hmong population and improve the treatment of patients who hold deep, spiritual beliefs that can be a deterrent for Western treatment of ailments. By combining the two methods, a more rounded approach which addresses both the spiritual and physical well-being of people is found. The healers in this article are “Certified shamans, with their embroidered jackets and official badges, have the same unrestricted access to patients given to clergy members.” They interact with their patients by using traditional sometimes holistic medicine to help combat illness. The slideshow that accompanies the article shows different methods used by shaman to bring health and wellness to people.

In this case, the Shamans are working within the American health system. This article, published in 2009, describes this as being the first hospital to allow this additional form of treatment and unrestricted access for shamans. However, the Hmong culture has elaborate rituals that “are tame versions of elaborate rituals that abound in Merced, especially on weekends, when suburban living rooms and garages are transformed into sacred spaces and crowded by over a hundred friends and family members.” They believe that people become ill when the soul has wandered off and bring in shamans to help return their soul to them and eventually restore their good health. Unlike Western medicine, the Hmong people attempt to restore spiritual balance.

I truly enjoyed reading about the exchange of trust between shaman and Western doctors. By improving their relationship and adding additional methods of treatment, they are providing a stronger and more well-rounded treatment base for the patients and expanding their own knowledge in the process. Though it is not without its pitfalls, this system is a good step towards cross-cultural communication.

4 thoughts on “W2 Reflection: a Doctor for Disease, a Shaman for the Soul

  1. I too read “A Doctor for Disease, a Shaman for the Soul”, with great interest. I’m glad that there is a program like this to help strengthen the relationship between western doctors and members of the Hmong. We have similar programs at the hospital that I work at to have religious leaders present to help our patients. To me it their work is reminiscent of that of the Catholic Priests or an Islamic Imam. That is, they can provide spiritual reassurance to those with deep spiritual beliefs. In cases like these, the Shaman can also fill another roll as a sort of liaison between doctor and patient. A Hmong person may be apprehensive towards a treatment indicated by their doctor. But perhaps after a healing ritual and the advice from the Shaman, the patient may reconsider and go through with the treatment. As far as credibility goes, that’s tough to say. Unexplained miracles do happen every day. Obviously in many cases they can’t replace the scientific western approach to medicine. But it can help round out a patient’s care in terms of the balance of mind, body, and spirit. And for many at a hospital, they need that sort of support more than anything.

  2. This was a really interesting article to read, it exposed me to a side of healing that I didn’t know much about. I thought that your comparison of the Shamans to western doctors was spot on. It seems to me that by integrating traditional forms of medicine, such as the practices of the shamans, more people will find comfort in the medical system. It is easy to assume that all patients think healing is only a physical task, but by remembering these traditional methods more patients find peace. I think that they are credible options for types of healers. Just because something is different than what we are used to, doesn’t mean that it isn’t legitimate. The peace of mind that they seem to bring to their patients is a huge factor in healing, and this alone should be reason enough to allow them into hospital settings. By accepting that healthcare involves much more than just the physical body, it seems only natural to incorporate forms of medicine that involve treating one’s mental state. Just as we now have western style therapy and a general consensus that mental health is important, patients from others cultures believe in the rituals performed by the shamans.

  3. This was a very interesting review of the article “A Doctor for Disease, A Shaman for the Soul.” The shamans in this article do not compare to western doctors in their methods of healing and treating patients. Western doctors generally prescribe medicine, the biomedical system, whereas the shamans instead use traditional and spiritual methods to heal patients. The shamans fall under the folk sector.
    However, as another student has mentioned in a previous comment, I do not believe this difference affects the credibility or legitimacy of the shamans. If their methods have proven to be successful, then I do not see a reason why that should not be offered more commonly as a form of treatment.
    With that being said, of course the decision is left up to the patient. I do not think that the traditional style of the shamans can be the primary form of treatment given, especially to those patients who prefer modern, western medicine. Shamans should however be allowed to work in hospitals, as they were in the California hospital described in this article. Patients who prefer treatment from shamans should not be deprived of these methods in the western world. Typical western doctors should not take offense to patients choosing shamans over them, since everyone is entitled to choose their own medical plans.

  4. Hi Linsey–please categorize this under the correct week next time. I belatedly noticed that you miscategorized it, but I will get back into the grade book and give both you and those who left you comments credit.

Leave a Reply