The Anthropology of Medicine: From Culture to Method

By Lola Romanucci-Ross; Daniel E. Moerman et al. | Go to book overview

PART III
EMBODIED MIND: METAPHORS OF PAIN, PLACEBO, AND SYMBOLIC HEALING

Lévi-Strauss ( 1967) describes in some detail how the shaman and the mythology shared by him and the patient alter physiological processes through the control of mental processes, dissolving the boundary between self and other and offering reintegration to the patient. The "shaman provides a language" (p. 198) and, like the psychoanalyst, allows the conscious and the unconscious to merge. He does this through a shared symbolic system and that is why a cured individual improves the mental health of the group. Because of this, the patient performs a very important social function; he provides a definition for normalcy and validates the system by calling into play the group's sentiments and symbolic representations to have them "become embodied in real experience" (pp. 180-82). For these healers, the mind, the body, and the experiential field are one.

The key to this social process is the relationship between the process and the consequences of healing, one of the great foci from which we have much to learn from non-Western medicine. Figure III.1 sketches a few of the paths of consequences in the healing process. The patient experiences something amiss: his stomach hurts, he feels lonely and depressed, he develops a sore on his lip or a pain in his head. These symptoms may well, by themselves, have a series of consequences for the patient (path 1) -- in the simplest case, they may frighten him and cause stress. In Figure III.1, this fear is a "conceptual consequence," and the stress is a "physiological consequence" of the fear (path 7). Stress, producing an experience itself (path 8), can compound fear, and therefore the system contains a feedback loop. The universal human response to such a situation is a kind of analysis we call diagnosis. Either alone or in consultation with family or therapist, the patient develops an explanation for his experience (path 2). Diagnosis has two types

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