Spiritual Healing vs. Western Medicine – Complementary&Alternative Therapies Example

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"Spiritual Healing vs. Western Medicine" is an outstanding example of a paper on complementary and alternative therapies.   For most of us in the modern developed areas in the world that assume when you are sick, injured, or afflicted in some way the correct and desirable thing to do is seek a hospital, the epicentres of modern western medicine. The physicians there will treat injuries, defeat infections, cure diseases, and, of course, alleviate our pains. However, that is not the outlook of everyone, including here in the United States. The Native Americans that reside throughout North America, often, disregard western medicine and seek out the traditional native healers and traditional approaches.

This is often, most true of the elders within Native American communities. There are a number of reasons that Native American elders prefer traditionally practised rituals and healing techniques practised by their ancestors for generations; including, unavailability and, therefore,   an unfamiliarity with modern medicine, economic deficiencies in native communities, spiritual beliefs that supersede scientific medicine, and, an overall, distrust of western medicines, influences,   and physicians. Given the historical relationship with the European settlers, it is not, at all, surprising. In order to understand this issue better, it is necessary to review the experience of Native American peoples, their traditions, ideologies, and perspectives on healing which help to better grasp why relying on traditional healing rituals over the western medicines are such a commonality.

Most people today are well aware that Native Americans were once predominate on this continent. They prospered physically and socially for generations. However, when European settlers came, and all those that came after them, that would come to an end, ultimately, resulting in the near, destruction of the tribes of North America, decimating the populations and taking from them their ancestral lands; through a number of policies, acts, and governmental interventions which, eventually, allowed the Native Americans to reside, essentially, on autonomous reservation lands.

("Clinician’ s guide working, " 2002) However, these lands were tiny parcels compared to the freedom that their people once enjoyed. Today, the conditions on most reservations and Native American communities are struggling economically and, often, the people rely heavily on monies provided by their local tribal or, as in the United States, federal government to “ stay afloat” financially.

("American Indian & ," 2010) The economic issues, faced by Native Americans, contribute greatly to the many health conditions that they have and continue to suffer from ever-increasing numbers. Many Native Americans, particularly, the elders, simply, cannot afford to travel long distances to seek western medicine, leaving them more dependent upon traditional methods. With this limited access to such treatment and overall lack of knowledge could make them resistant to seeking it. Also, economics also contribute directly to their poor health.

Limited incomes have led to less healthy eating habits and more sedentary lifestyles, causing, ever-increasing, instances of obesity among the young and old. (Story, Evans, Fabsitz, Clay, Rock & Broussard, 1999) Obesity is a huge contributor to a number of serious conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and many forms of cancer. ("American Indian & ," 2010) However, with limited access to modern healthcare, traditional methods become the only feasible options. The different spiritual beliefs that are celebrated within the many tribes of the Native American people in North America have certain elements in common.

All approach healing multi-dimensionally, meaning they treat the “ soul” and the mind, along with the body. A disease may not be just an illness, but a lesson that the person may need to learn from the experience. Native Americans believe that all of nature, including mankind, shares a connectedness with all things; it is necessary to find what is out of balance and restore it. (Hendrix) Modern western medicine is a wholly scientific discipline. It is, also, often cold, unemotional, and absolute in its conclusions about what causes sickness and how to eliminate it.

Physicians do not place a correlation between the development of diseases and the “ spiritual” intentions of that affliction. The two ideologies in many ways are antithetical concepts in totality. It is no wonder that the two cannot find common ground. For this reason, many elderly Native Americans are resistant to seek out western medicine. Their beliefs see little value in treating only the physical ailment, it requires a spiritual element that western medicine, simply, cannot offer. (Hendrix) It is fair to say, however, that the herbal approach and natural medicines, often used in the healing rituals are not without merit.

These practices have been used throughout many generations of Native Americans and have proven to involve ingredients that have genuine healing properties; many of which are currently drawing scientific attention. Lastly, one of the prominent reasons that many Native American elders are resistant to modern medical practices is due to a genuine distrust of western medicine and western physicians. ("Clinician’ s guide working, " 2002) Given the general relationship between Native Americans and the European settlers throughout history, it is hardly surprising that that distrust exists.

Settlers were, and are still, in some cases perceived, as prone to lying, conducting themselves dishonestly, having a history of mistreating Native peoples, and the instances of tribal displacement and forced missionary assimilation schools, have left a negative perception in the minds of many Native Americans, They, simply, may believe that they will not receive proper treatment, will be mistreated, and their cultural affiliations will not be respected. Ultimately, they lack “ faith” in the nature of and, the potential, success of western medicine. However, times do change, and solutions are being attempted to alter the Native American’ s experiences with modern medicine.

The government has created scholarly incentive, grants, and scholarships, intended to encourage more Native Americans entering into the modern medical fields. Their presence within the clinics and hospitals offering western medical options can pair Native American patients with Native American healthcare professionals. This will create a comfort level and help bridge the gap between the traditional and the modern. (Fonseca & Clark, 2010)  Also, many healthcare professionals are being presented with guides to help care-givers be socially sensitive to the unique needs of different cultures, beliefs, and ideologies of a diversified world, including Native Americans.

Finally, some of the change stems from Native Americans themselves. Although, the traditional healing herbs and rituals are effective in treating the concerns historically experienced by their ancestors, however, they do have some limitations with many of the modern diseases and conditions they now experience. ("Clinician’ s guide working, " 2002)  Many Native Americans consider these to be a product of the European settlers and the modern society that they have built.

They are seeing now that it may be necessary to seek out “ white man’ s medicine” to cure “ white man’ s diseases. (Hendrix) For this reason, clinics with the high populations of Native Americans within its vicinity, are attempting to blend treatments. By combining, both, the spiritual elements of traditional Native American practices and the modern treatments, therapies, and medications of western medicine, they are able to better meet their needs. The health epidemics facing today’ s Native American population is very serious, but in many cases, it is treatable and preventable with modern medical interventions.

It is imperative that continuing efforts are made to encourage a new trust of modern medicine to develop, while allowing the dignity of their traditional beliefs and practices to, always, be honoured. (Fonseca & Clark, 2010) In the end, it is easy to see why the perception of Native American elders would be influenced by the negative history that their ancestors had with European settlers and their descendants. However, it does bring hope to the situation to see that both sides are willing to try, make compromises, and find a new balance that will be beneficial to the health of those involved.

The instances presently of increasing numbers of Native Americans entering the healthcare fields need continuous encouragement. This can only allow for a greater understanding of their culture, beliefs, and practices of their people that will only improve the likelihood of elder Native Americans being less reticent and able to build a greater trust in the western medicinal approaches. Also, the potential to then bring those services more readily available to tribal members is highly advisable.

Bringing western medicine and knowledge together will help establish its presence in Native American communities and become intertwined within the traditional rituals, ideally improving the, overall, the health of all Native Americans in North America.


Fonseca, F. & Clark, H. (2010, September 16). Native American doctors blend modern care, medicine men. USA Today, 1. Retrieved from http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/2010-04-22-native-american-doctors_N.htm

Hendrix, L. R. The Utah Department of Health, (n.d.). Health care of american indian elders . Retrieved from The Center for Multicultrual Health website:


Story, M., Evans, M., Fabsitz, R. R., Clay, T. E., Rock, B. H., & Broussard, B. (1999). The epidemic of obesity in american indian communities and the need for childhood obesity-prevention programs. The American Journal of Clinical

Nutrition, 69(4), 1. Retrieved from http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/69/4/747S.full

Health Resources and & Service Administration, United States Department of Health &Human Services. (2002). Clinician’s guide working with native americans living

with hiv . Retrieved from National Native American AIDS Prevention Center website: http://www.ihs.gov/hivaids/docs/Cliniciansguide.pdf

Office of Minority Health & Health Desparitites, (2010). American indian & alaska native (ai/an) populations. Retrieved from Centers for disease Control and Prevention

website: http://www.cdc.gov/omhd/populations/aian/aian.htm

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