The Adoption of Shamanic Healing into the Biomedical Health Care System in the United States
Lori Thayer, Ph.D. University of Massachusetts at Amherst May 2009
AIM This study examines how the adoption of a healing paradigm borne out of indigenous cultures oriented toward communal living and subsistence economies is adapted to a western culture steeped in individualism, commercialization, and commodification by investigating the cultural adaptation of shamanic healing as it becomes incorporated into western medicine in the United States.
Key Questions * How has western medicine adopted and altered the practice of traditional shamanism(s)? * How has the adoption of shamanic ideologies and its practices influenced the practice of western medicine (and western culture beyond)?
OBJECTIVES 1. To survey and interview U.S. medical practitioners as to why and how they are trained in shamanic healing techniques and how they incorporate this modality into their healing protocols. 2. To conduct an ethnographic analysis of a U.S. health care center that collaboratively offers both allopathic medicine and shamanic healing.
OBJECTIVES 3. To assess ways in which shamanic ideologies may cause and/or reflect shifts in existing Western notions of body, health, illness, and healing with respect to both the individual and the environment. 4. To explore controversies regarding the neo-shamanic movement and identity concerns of what it means to be a shaman; as well as impacts of a Western culture’s adoption of shamanic healing techniques on donor indigenous communities.
From the Tungusic word saman originating in Siberia and Central Asia Presumed usage dates back to the Upper Paleolithic, ranging from 10,000 - 40,000 y.a. A practice in which the shaman mediates between the human world and the other-than human world.
Functions of a Shaman Contact spirits and supernatural entities Heal the sick Control the movements and lives of animals Change the weather J.D. Lewis-Williams (2003)
Definitions “ Shamans are a motley class of persons found in every savage community” shamanism is a “technique of ecstasy” “ Shamanism is about performance” “ The term ‘shaman’ is a made-up, modern, Western category” Shamanism describes specific practices of Siberia Shamanic trance is not learned from particular cultural traditions, but is part of our human evolutionary development, and therefore universal over time and space
Biomedicine Dominant form of medicine practiced in U.S. and globally Emphasizes individual healing focusing primarily on physiology, reducing disease to biology Ignores social and environmental concerns Primary tools include high-tech diagnostics, surgery, and pharmaceuticals Asks “What?”
Traditional Shamanism An individual’s illness is perceived to be the consequence of a societal and/or ecological imbalance The illness is perceived as a disorder in the energy flow rather than a malfunction of an individual’s biology Personal healing is secondary to the shaman’s effort to cure the social imbalance Asks “Why?”
Alternative Medicine in the United States Alternative/unconventional; complementary; CAM Growing demand Medical school training Insurance coverage
Research Design Data Collection: 1) surveys 2) interviews 3) ethnographic research 4) participatory fieldwork 5) literature review
Research Design Comparative Models The Individual Model The Collaborative Model
The Individual Model 27 Interviews: * M.D. * D.O. * D.D.S. * P.A. * R.N. * R.Ph.
Beginnings Paranormal experiences at an early age Personal interest in alternative healing Personal trauma or illness leading to alternative perspectives and approaches to healing Recommendation from someone Epiphenominal experiences while working with a patient
Integration “My path is that being so steeped in the western model, I feel a calling to help bring the two practices together. I feel drawn to be by the patient’s side, to stay in an ICU [Intensive Care Unit] and help bring shamanism to this environment. I’ve developed a reputation with the doctors and hospital and gained their respect. I sometimes wonder if my job is to bring something so ‘woo-woo’ into something so linear.” (Critical Care Nurse)
Integration “I’ve been working with a 50-year old man who is cognitively intact, but severely physically impaired by a stroke. I’ve been working with him using power animals and journeying, and working up to soul retrieval. I’m helping him regain a sense of power and a sense that he can control something in his life; and helping him deal with his fear of dying.” (MS Nurse practitioner)
Bureaucratic/Legal Limitations “I practice shamanism in a general way, but not in a specific, overt way. I try to use the principles of shamanism, and try to affect my practice by being who I am. But not in a specific way. My examination is very specific, and there are boundaries that CAN NOT ever be crossed, partly because my work is medical, legal stuff. And at times I’m called to testify in cases.” (RN, certified sexual assault examiner)
Institutional/Cultural Limitations “ I’ve had patients come in who would be carrying on a conversation and their aide would tell me not to interrupt them, that they’re not seeing anybody, but they like to talk to themselves. Well, when I look at them, I can see them talking to somebody. But I’m not in a position to say that because I’m a dentist. For the hospital that I’m working for, that would be viewed as encouraging their disease.” (D.D.S. working with psychiatric patients and the criminally insane)
Challenges of Integrating Shamanic Healing Overt vs. covert practice Colleague/administrative responses Patient responses Logistics Time Insurance Malpractice Personal feelings of separateness Cultural barriers
Mercy Hospital Holistic Council “ We already had all the weird people, you know, we WERE the fringe people, so when the shamans showed up, it was like, ‘oh wow, we just got some more weird people, it’s ok.’”
Allie and Evie’s Concept of Healing “reconnection with spirit: a partnership with spirit for both the practitioner and the client” “Most people are displaced or disconnected from the larger whole. Healing is ‘one person at a time,’ guiding them closer to that greater whole. Sometimes we do a piece, sometimes we walk with them the whole way. This is when the miracles start to happen. They start to get excited about life.”
True North Collaborative Healing “ Take two power animals and call me in the morning.” (Evelyn Rysdyk, True North Shamanic Healer)
True North Challenges Insurance patient/client demographics public perception time commitment of staff Circle Process financial sustainability changing healthcare in a capitalist society
Conclusions The Collaborative Model more readily and openly supports shamanic healing. Medical practitioners have experienced personal and professional benefits; but also limitations: Legal/institutional Financial Status and reputation Collegial and patient/client acceptance
Conclusions Medical practitioners most commonly use shamanic techniques for emotional support, diagnostics, and issues around death and dying. Medical practitioners tend to continue to depend primarily on allopathic skills to address physiological concerns. The practice of shamanism in medicine is a result of interest in personal healing, with concerns for community and environmental healing a possible outgrowth.