W3 Reflection: A doctor for disease, a Shaman for the soul


I chose to reflect on the New York Times article, A Doctor for Disease, a Shaman for the Soul. This article really spoke to me, because it shows the increase in the importance of cultural competency in the medical field.  The article discussed how the Hmong population often fears Western medicine, so many hospitals are adopting the practice of including Shaman healers in the treatment of their patients. The Shaman healers, in turn, are trained on basic medical knowledge, such as on the existence of germs. This not only puts the patients at ease at the hospital, but this also makes it so certain practices of Western medicine are not rejected or feared.  It creates accountability and trust with the physicians.

The Hmong settled in California after the Vietnam war, many of them were refugees. Surgery, anesthesia and blood transfusions are not permitted in Hmong culture, which is why building trust with the population is important for Western doctors.  The morbidity of the Hmong population was growing, because they were avoiding medical interventions necessary for diseases such as cancer and diabetes.  Shamans have a special connection to the spirit world.  Shamans focus on healing the soul which in turn heals the physical body. They engage in many spiritual rituals to protect the soul of the person from wandering off or being stolen from bad spirits, which they believe is the source of illness and disease. These rituals include sacrifices, gongs and negotiations with the spirit world on part of the Shaman. Which components of the rituals are permitted vary depending on the  hospital.

The hospital believes that ‘social support’ can help in the healing process of patients. They used the placebo affect as an example of this. If a person feels more relaxed due to their culture and religious beliefs in a setting like the hospital, they are more likely to make a recovery.





2 thoughts on “W3 Reflection: A doctor for disease, a Shaman for the soul

  1. The Shaman healers in this case can’t entirely be compared to biomedical doctors because here, they are working with the biomedical doctors in order to deliver the best possible treatment to the patient. I believe that these healers do seem credible and definitely more effective in this case than the alternative, which would have been to do nothing. If the Hmong people refused to go to biomedical doctors, then something needed to be fixed and I think this was an excellent suggestion. With the Shamans helping to deliver both treatments that the Hmong people were comfortable with, and teach them about some essential tips to stay healthy, like the basics about germs and avoiding getting sick, I think this is a very healthy balance so that the Hmong people can stay healthy. As mentioned in Imaan’s reflection above, this is not unlike the placebo effect which is used in basically every medical study out there. When a person feels better about the entire process, when they feel like they are being taken care of in both their body and soul, it can lift their spirits and make them happier, which in turn can make them healthier. A positive attitude and a happier person has also been proven to help someone get healthier faster.

  2. Thanks for the great post Imaan! This is a very serious problems that medical professionals are having in cultures that reject modern medical practices. Establishing a strong relationship with locals and people of the culture is essential to making any headway in being able to use modern medicine, the other important part is to educate the locals. These two things will reduce the fear and mystery behind what are to them foreign practices. I think it is a great idea to educate some of the shaman in some basic medical and biological principles in the hopes of forming trust, and eventually use modern medicine. This must be difficult to get the shaman to agree to the education, let alone believe it. Shaman stand for everything opposite modern medicine does, which makes me wonder how they have managed to get the shaman to comply with the program. I think this would be the most difficult part of the program but if they were to work around it they could see amazing results. Combining culture and science is often very difficult, especially when they contradict each other. Regular western doctors often cannot help because they do not have the built up trust, or understand the cultural practices and beliefs. Educating someone who is already aware of the difficulties a culture might present would be better equipped to find a way around them.

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