Cultural Considerations of Natural Healing

James R. Coffey By James R. Coffey, 13th Nov 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Health>Alternative Medicine

While the field of natural curatives seems to be getting more attention than at any time in the past fifty years, it is essential to recognize that although the general creed of those of us who advocate natural curatives is that nature provides cures for whatever ailments humankind may suffer, cultural sensibilities can render certain approaches quite ineffective--and quite inappropriate.

Cultural sensibilities

While the art of natural healing and the science of psychology seldom have cause to cross paths (especially considering that psychology doesn’t recognize many of the conditions an herbalist typically treats, and attributes many it does to psychological not physiological causes), psychology does provide invaluable insight into cultural differences that can greatly influence the effectiveness of an herbalist setting out to treat someone not of his or her own ethnicity or cultural background. Insight without which herbalists--no matter how practiced or skilled--will find themselves quite ineffective.

As broad-sweeping, cross-cultural studies have shown, the effectiveness of treatment--whether psychological, emotional, spiritual, or medicinal--is very much connected to cultural sensibilities, and is often only as effective as that modality is perceived within a given belief system. Quite simply, if an individual of a particular culture truly believes a curative cannot work, there is a good chance that it won’t--or its affect greatly diminished. This isn’t to suggest that the effectiveness of natural curatives is purely a matter of belief, only that we all have the ability to mentally and physiologically work against the curative process, unconsciously setting our bodies up for failure. An herbalist must therefore remember that the human mind is a very powerful part of the success or failure of any cure, manmade or natural.

Cultural taboos

For example. In many parts of Africa, religious beliefs make many plants and animals forbidden. Culturally taboo. In this setting, even if you were able to convince an individual to use a curative known to treat a particular ailment (as certain varieties of milkweed have had a long history of curing dysentery), their African sensibilities would cause them to divert needed energy to resisting the curative powers of the milkweed. Thus, in treating an individual from that part of the world, an American herbalist would have to know their beliefs and cultural sensibilities to be effective.

Similarly, methods that herbalists commonly use in their own culture to match symptom to cure--a fundamental part of the art of herbology--may be quite inappropriate in another setting. For example. While it’s common practice for an American or English herbalist to check for particular physical signs such as low energy levels (as can be seen by the appearance of tiny ridges on the sides of the tongue), blocked heat, (that can be physically felt by placing an open hand on the patient’s abdomen), or evidence of extreme stress, (that is palpable by placing a hand on the small of a patient’s back), these hands-on methods would be highly inappropriate for many women of Mexican heritage. (Few traditional Mexican women would be willing to show a practitioner of natural arts a part of her body considered as sensual as her tongue.)

While the Mexican counterpart, the curandero/curandera, may use herbal remedies very much in keeping with what an American herbalist would prescribe, they most often do so with no physical contact whatsoever, often by using a “symptom” doll, a small stuffed rag doll commonly used in many parts of Mexico on which the patient points to areas of discomfort. Thus, an American herbalist planning to offer his or her knowledge in an Hispanic neighborhood, must develop an alternate methodology, often a series of specific questions aimed at deducing the answers they seek. But even when using the “symptom” doll, questions concerning toilet habits, sexual practices, or parts of the anatomy considered private--though considered normal in American herbalism--are considered strictly taboo and will result in a distrust that will ultimately negate the effectiveness of any cure you may then propose.

Cross-cultural comparisons

An herbalist must also recognize that while the field of psychology has come to play a major role in assessing illness in the West, is has had far less impact in the East. For example, childhood bed-wetting, a common, cross-cultural condition affecting countless children of all around the world, is considered largely a physical malady in India, but by and large, an emotional condition in the United States. (This is what I was taught during my internship in psychology.) This cultural distinction means that when an American herbalist is dealing with this sensitive issue as regards an Indian seeking herbal relief (as their sensibilities prescribe), he or she must attempt to approach it from an herbal perspective despite the fact that Americans would rarely seek an herbalist for this condition, thinking it a matter for psychological counseling. (While several commonly used curatives can be suggested to either increase or decrease the frequency of urination, no widely accepted herbal of the Western World even lists “bed wetting” as a condition.)

The use of curatives

While the field of natural curatives seems to be getting more attention than at any time in the past fifty years (at least judging by the number of herb-related articles appearing on the Internet), in that the Net is a world-wide resource tool, it is not only essential for writers and researchers to supply accurate information regarding natural curatives, it is equally important for those using and prescribing them to keep in mind that not only do all curatives not work for all people, some are quite inappropriate in certain cultural settings altogether. Additionally, it is essential to recognize that although the general creed of those of us who advocate natural curatives is that nature provides cures for whatever ailments humankind may suffer, as psychology clearly shows, cultural sensibilities can render certain approaches quite ineffective.

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African Culture, American Culture, American Herbalism, American Herbalist, American Sensibilities, Cultural Sensibilities, Cultural Settings, Curandera, Curandero, Eastern World, Mexican Culture, Natural Curatives, Natural Cures, Natural Healing, Natural Medicine, Natural Remedies, The Psychology Of Natural Healing, Western World

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author avatar James R. Coffey
I am founder and head writer for James R. Coffey Writing Services and Resource Center @ where I offer a variety of writing and research services including article composition, ghostwriting, editing...(more)

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author avatar Jerry Walch
14th Nov 2010 (#)

Nice work, my friend.

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author avatar James R. Coffey
14th Nov 2010 (#)

Thanks, Jerry.

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author avatar Denise O
27th Nov 2010 (#)

I will be honest and admit.
I have never even took into consideration peoples culture, when it comes to herbs or even psychology.
I will now.
Thank you for sharing.:)

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