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Cultural Healing and Belief SystemsReview - Cultural Healing and Belief Systems
by James D. Pappas, William E. Smythe and Angelina Baydala (Editors)
Detselig, 2007
Review by Rob Harle
Jan 6th 2009 (Volume 13, Issue 2)

This is an excellent book. It challenges the dominant and dangerous, allopathic only, Western approach to healing -- it is just a shame it was not published twenty years ago. Some time ago I reviewed a book Philosophical Counselling & The Unconscious, in that review I commented,

"I would have liked to have seen at least one essay from an indigenous/tribal healing perspective to give a little more balance to the overall approach. We have much to learn from these traditions (as well as the Chinese approach to holistic living) and I would encourage Peter Raabe to produce a follow-up volume which transcends the moribund, Eurocentric psychotherapeutic model completely and concentrates further on philosophical counseling methods together with at least an overview of indigenous or tribal philosophical healing systems" (Harle, Metapsychology Online Reviews Aug. 2007 vol.11 issue 34)).

The currently reviewed volume goes a long way towards fulfilling this lacuna, although I cannot claim this had nothing to do with my suggestion.  "It appears that the momentum is growing to reverse the recent trend from a managed care process, notorious for limiting treatments to those deemed medically necessary and non-experimental, toward a system that is more inclusive of mind, body, and spirit" (p. 260)

Cultural Healing & Belief Systems, whilst written in a scholarly and soundly researched manner, is equally accessible to the health professional and lay person alike. The contributors to this volume are all highly qualified in the disciplines of medicine, education or psychology and work either in research or clinical settings. Each of the fifteen essays are well written and many contain sections of general historical interest, personal stories, explanations of belief systems of many cultures other than that of Judeo-Christianity,  together with the scientifically based theories and methodologies used in this holistic approach to healing.

There is a list of contributing authors, an Introduction by the editors and fifteen chapters divided into four sections, however there is no Index? I find this quite remiss in a book of this scope and importance.

Section One, Theoretical Groundwork has two chapters which provide a clarification of the terms religious, spiritual and psychological constructs which we often use carelessly and incorrectly.

Section Two, Cultural Systems of Healing consists of five chapters dealing with the healing systems and associated belief systems of various non-Western cultures. We find that most approaches to healing outside the Western model are holistically based. That is, they do not just treat an organ or labeled illness, but treat the whole individual. The whole individual is both a physical, psychological and spiritual entity totally enmeshed within a cultural and social group. "The inclusion of religion and spirituality as important variables for mental health has been supported by scientific research. More studies are needed to explore the relationship between spiritual and religious variables from the cultural perspective in order to inform psychiatric practice". (p. 185).

Section Three, Religious Belief Systems and Healing has three chapters and as the title suggests looks at how religious belief is an important and significant aspect which must be included in cultural healing. Chapter Nine explains Islamic and Sufi approaches to healing, and Chapter Ten looks at how Christian belief is integrated into healing approaches.

Section Four, Clinical Issues in Cultural Healing has five chapters which deal particularly with cross-cultural approaches to healing. The first chapter (Ch. 11) discusses qualifications and standards for Indigenous Healers. The other chapters investigate how allopathic medical modes of healing might be successfully integrated with various other culturally significant forms of healing.

Despite the criticism of the Western allopathic medical model it must be understood that this system has many great attributes, it is more the imbalance or unholistic approach that is being criticized. This book is particularly at pains to show that a combination of healing methods in an holistic and balanced way is essential to providing the best possible healing for individuals from all cultures. As an example, if a person living in a different culture from their original one is seeing a psychiatrist and that psychiatrist fails to understand or include that individual's spiritual beliefs in the treatment, the chance of healing the individual as opposed to temporarily curing the symptoms of the illness are slim indeed. "…many cultures practice traditional healing methods that are derived from spiritual and religious roots indigenous and salient to their understanding of wellness. This factor challenges clinicians to take on new interpretations and explanations of human behavior and raises the issue of cultural competency" (p. 162).

The main thrust of this book is belief systems and cultural healing but it also addresses the importance and efficacy of creativity as a healing force. Richards' essay (Chapter 14) looks at creativity in a general sense, and Zausner's essay (Chapter 6) discusses specifically the power of artistic creativity as a healing process. Both these authors recognize the benefits of "transcending the ego" as a healing influence when engaged in creative pursuits. Richards' essay discusses the importance of Eastern thought, especially Buddhist notions of losing oneself in one's creations, and I must say this author has one of the most balanced approaches to holistic healing I have come across. She stresses the absolute importance of a balanced approach to healing which may include, medication, hospitalization, psychotherapy and of course culturally relevant methods specific to the individual.

I thoroughly recommend this book to everyone interested in healing in general and suggest that it should be compulsory reading for all student and qualified healers, whether highly experienced psychiatrists, general practitioners or clinical psychologists. Most global societies are becoming more multi-cultural and as such there is a growing need for the acceptance of cultural and spiritual factors in healing to be recognized and honored.

© 2008 Rob Harle

Rob Harle is an artist and writer, especially concerned with the nature of consciousness and high-body technologies. His current work explores the nature of the transition from human to posthuman, a phenomenon he calls the technoMetamorphosis of humanity. He has academic training in philosophy of mind, comparative religious studies, art and psychotherapy. Rob is an active member of the Leonardo Review Panel. For full biography and examples of art and writing work please visit his web site: http://www.robharle.com


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