Alternative Health Practices in Ethnically Diverse Rural Areas: A Collaborative Research Project

Article excerpt

Concern is growing about the nationwide increase in diabetes and in stress, obesity, and hypertension, which have been cited as contributing factors. In addition, it is believed that stress plays a significant role in all illness. Skillful touch, long overlooked by health care practitioners, has been documented by several research institutions as promoting the healing process (Eidelman, 1990).

Poor diabetic health status among poor populations and people of color has been attributed to three factors (Auslander, Anderson, Bubb, Jung, & Santiago, 1990). First, little preventive care is available. Second, there is little knowledge of proper management among those with the disease. Third, few support networks are available for individuals with diabetes and their families.

This article describes a study of the impact of alternative medicine and health practices on the physical symptoms of people with diabetes and their families. Traditional medical treatment, as well as holistic health approaches including acupressure, breathing techniques, and lifestyle training, were provided to the target group and their families.

METHOD

Setting

An innovative and collaborative health project was implemented by a university social work health promotion team and a rural medical clinic in response to the high incidence of diabetes among Mexican Americans in southern New Mexico. This clinic is one of four facilities in a private, nonprofit health corporation partially funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and located in southern New Mexico less than 50 miles from the Mexican border. The organization's mission is to promote the health and well-being of people in rural communities through the cost-effective use of available resources to provide comprehensive, family-centered, culturally appropriate health and human services in partnership with the community served (La Clinica de Familia, 1992).

At the time of the study (1994), there were 10,000 registered consumers in the corporation's service area, and 75 percent were of Mexican descent. New Mexico is one of the most culturally diverse states in the nation; 50 percent of the population is white, 9 percent is Native American, 2 percent is African American, and 38 percent is Hispanic American (Williams, 1986). The southern New Mexico county served by the health clinic where this research was carried out is similarly diverse. In addition to being only a few miles from Mexico, 52 percent of the county's population is Hispanic (Williams, 1986). Five hundred low-income Hispanic consumers are diagnosed with diabetes. Many of these individuals suffer from stress and hypertension, which greatly increase the risk of gradual damage to small blood vessels, resulting in impaired circulation. Drugs are helpful only to a limited degree. Research indicates that certain relaxation techniques increase the blood's circulation. Meeting the needs of this group is the motivating factor for the clinic's interest in researching alternative methods for controlling this disease.

Research Design

This exploratory study used a pre-experimental one-group, pretest-posttest design (Cook & Campbell, 1979). The study was designed to answer the question, In what ways does the alternative health practice known as the "15-Minute Stressout Program" (Vest, 1995) affect people diagnosed with diabetes?

Two social work students, one graduate level and one bachelor's level, were chosen to jointly conduct this pilot research study at health clinics in San Miguel, New Mexico. To initiate this research project, holistic health practices were introduced to staff and consumers from the various clinics. Education provided to the staff and consumers included skillful and respectful touch, instruction in the art of acupressure and breathing techniques, and lifestyle training including stress management.

Independent Variable: The 15-Minute Stressout Program. …