Shamanism as a healing paradigm for complementary therapy

Author: Money M
Centre for Health, Healing and Human Development, Liverpool John Moores University, UK
Conference/Journal: Complement Ther Nurs Midwifery
Date published: 2001
Other: Volume ID: 7 , Issue ID: 3 , Pages: 126-31 , Word Count: 363

Any healing process--whether recovery from infection, physical trauma, or psychological distress--must entail the stimulation and direction of the body's own restorative functions. In former times these functions were called the vis mediatrix naturae. Arguably best articulated within traditional Chinese medicine (e.g. Reid 1993), many complementary therapies have identified this principle. The immune system is implicated in the operation of these healing processes, and immune system functions are modulated by both internal and external variables. External variables include the nature of the infection or trauma. Internal variables include the meaning of the illness to the patient or the patient's imagery surrounding the illness. It follows that any modulation of internal variables that increases immune function will therefore be highly beneficial in the healing process. Sometimes such modulation happens spontaneously, when it may be referred to as the placebo effect, or a good bedside manner, or spontaneous remission. Sometimes such modulation may be brought about intentionally either by the patient or by a therapist or healer. One body of technique for such modulation is shamanism, which pays particular attention to bridging the internal world of the patient to the external world where the problem originates. Shamanic practice is specifically focused on this healing task, and has its own toolkit of techniques for the modification of consciousness, the manipulation of imagery and meaning, and the generation of a healing milieu and therapeutic images from its mythic content. Early concerns about the mental health of shamanic practitioners are now thoroughly resolved (e.g. Stephen & Suryani 2000). Indeed, the relevance of shamanism to positive mental health is currently being explored (e.g. Money 1994, Singh 1999). Its relevance to social work (Voss et al. 1999) and to the near death experience (Green 1998) are also subjects of academic inquiry. The shamanic corpus exemplifies a healing paradigm that may also be used to understand the essential elements of healing, which underpin some established complementary therapies and some other healing modalities such as spiritual healing,'psychic' healing, spontaneous remission, and the placebo effect. The comparatively recent psychoneuroimmunological perspective appears to be congruent with and also to validate ancient shamanic healing technique. Both may share essential principles with complementary therapies and illuminate their essential healing processes.