Saturday, May 22, 2010

Culture & Medicine

A recent article in the New York Times got me thinking about the role of cultural beliefs in medicine. Although I am a Western practitioner of an Eastern medicine I became familiar with certain cultural aspects of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) from years of living in Taiwan which helped prepare me for studying TCM. Now in my clinical practice I encourage clients to take an active interest in their health and treatments. In order to do that one needs to understand the medicine they are receiving, therefore TCM concepts are often "translated" into a Western medical model that makes sense to my clientele, which is why I began the series of TCM terminology.

Often people need some way to link their beliefs and new concepts. The article A Doctor for Disease, a Shaman for the Soul looks at how one hospital in Merced California is trying to bridge the gap between Western medicine treatments and the traditional beliefs of the Hmong people. It is an interesting article for me as it is a continuation of a book I read a few years ago called The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman. The book chronicles the medical treatment of a Hmong child with epilepsy and how cultural differences led to conflicts in her treatment.

Now at the Merced hospital shamans are allowed to perform certain rituals to help in the healing process. They are also educated in Western-style medical treatments in order to better bridge the cultural gap. People's belief and support systems are important factors in healing as demonstrated by the following excerpt from the NYT article
A turning point in the skepticism of staff members occurred a decade ago, when a major Hmong clan leader was hospitalized here with a gangrenous bowel. Dr. Jim McDiarmid, a clinical psychologist and director of the residency program, said that in deference hundreds of well-wishers, a shaman was allowed to perform rituals, including placing a long sword at the door to ward off evil spirits. The man miraculously recovered. “That made a big impression, especially on the residents,” Dr. McDiarmid said.
For those of us accustomed to allopathic medicine often it is the placebo effect and not our belief in shamans which will play a part in recovery. The placebo effect has been studied with regard to cancer treatment and the use of anti-depressants. In both cases researchers felt belief in the medicine, whether it was a sugar pill or prescribed pharmaceutical, had an impact on the effectiveness of treatment. On BBC2 alternative health program the placebo effect is examined with regards to complementary and alternative medicine. Many Therefore I believe incorporating rituals that are an important part of a person's belief system can only have beneficial results.

1 comment:

Eran Even said...

Great post Angela!
I love the idea of the TCM terminology section.

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