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October 2021

J Fam Pract. 1980 Jan; 10(1): 55-61.

Navajo Indian medicine: implications for healing.

Coulehan JL.

Traditional medicine men coexist with physicians and hospitals on the 25,000 square mile Navajo Indian Reservation. Most seriously ill Navajos utilize both systems of health care. This natural experiment of coexistence emphasizes several general characteristics of all healing. Traditional ceremonies are successful because they are integrated into Navajo belief systems and meet needs of sick people not dealt with by the available Western medicine. Physicians and other healers simply remove obstacles to the body's restoration of homeostasis or, as the Navajo say, to harmony. Reductionism limits the spectrum of obstacles considered relevant (eg, causes of illness), but an alternate model might include emotional, social, or spiritual phenomena equally as significant to healing as are biochemical phenomena. In that context, nonmedical healers, as well as physicians, can potentially influence factors relevant to getting well.

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