Ethnomedicine has become a topic of intensive study in recent years due, in part, to the work of the World Health Organization and other groups attempting to facilitate cooperation between indigenous practitioners and those trained in Western allopathic biomedicine. This chapter describes two ethnomedical systems (the North American Navajo tradition and the South American Peruvian Pachakuti curanderismo) in terms of two different models, one designed by Siegler and Osmond (1974), and one designed by a task force of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Each of these indigenous systems are found to be comprehensive, covering each facet of the models, and pointing the way for possible collaboration between allopathic biomedicine and various indigenous systems of healing, a project that has accelerated due to public demand (Iljas, 2006, p. 190). The term “ethnomedicine” refers to the comparative study of indigenous (or traditional) medical systems. Typical ethnomedical topics include causes of sickness, medical practitioners and their roles, and specific treatments utilized. The explosion of ethnomedical literature has been stimulated by an increased awareness of the consequences of the forced displacement and/or acculturation of indigenous peoples, the recognition of indigenous health concepts as a means of maintaining ethnic identities, and the search for new medical treatments and technologies. In addition, Kleinman (1995) finds ethnographic studies an “appropriate means of representing pluralism...and of drawing upon those aspects of health and suffering to resist the positivism, the reductionism, and the naturalism that biomedicine and, regrettably, the wider society privilege”(p. 195).
In his exhaustive study of cross-cultural practices, Torrey (1986) concluded that effective treatment inevitably contains one or more of four fundamental principles: 1. A shared world view that makes the diagnosis or naming process possible; 2. Certain personal qualities of the practitioner that appear to facilitate the patient's recovery; 3. Positive patient expectations that assist recovery;
4. A sense of mastery that empowers the patient.
If a traditional medical system yields treatment outcomes that its society deems effective, it is worthy of consideration by allopathic biomedical investigators, especially those who are aware of the fact that less than 20 percent of the world’s population are serviced by allopathic biomedicine (Mahler, 1977; Freeman, 2004; O’Connor, 1995). However, what is considered to be “effective” varies from society to society (Krippner, 2002). Allopathic biomedicine places its emphasis upon “curing” (removing the symptoms of an ailment and restoring a patient to health), while traditional medicine focuses upon “healing” (attaining wholeness of body, mind, emotions, and/or spirit). Some patients might be incapable of being “cured” because their sickness is terminal. Yet those same patients could be “healed” mentally, emotionally, and/or spiritually as a result of the practitioner’s encouragement to review their life, to find meaning in it, and to become reconciled to death. Those who have been “cured,” on the other hand, may be taught procedures that will prevent a relapse or recurrence of their symptoms. An emphasis upon prevention is a standard aspect of traditional medicine, and is becoming an important part of biomedicine as well (Freeman, 2004; Krippner & Welch, 1992). A differentiation can also be made between “disease” and “illness.” From either the biomedical or the ethnomedical point of view, one can conceptualize “disease” as a mechanical difficulty of the body resulting from injury or infection, or from an organism’s imbalance with its environment. “Illness,” however, is a broader term implying dysfunctional behavior, mood disorders, or inappropriate thoughts and...