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October 2021

Sante. 1997 Sep-Oct; 7(5): 330-4.

[Mental health and cultural issues: the return of Khmers from France to Cambodia for healing purposes]

Bertrand D.

Centre d'anthropologie Chine du Sud et péninsule Indochinoise, CNRS, Paris, France.

There are many kinds of traditional healers in Cambodia, mostly in the rural areas. People often seek advice from monks at the pagoda, traditional doctors (kru khmer) or mediums when they are ill, and consult medical practitioners only as a last resort. Each of these healers provides a different solution and form of care. Traditional healers are difficult to find in France and they often work in secret. Monks teach meditation rather than magic, brahmanism and superstition. There are now Khmer in Cambodia who have returned after long and complex treatments in general and psychiatric hospitals in France, seeking a release from suffering in their motherland. They seek an alternative understanding of their problems and a different kind of care, based largely on witchcraft and spiritual possession, which is not available in France. Returning to Cambodia is important because they are allowed to live according to their beliefs without being seen as insane. However, this return also involves confrontation with the lost country and the past, with war and the Killing Fields, in the same place as the trauma itself occurred. Several cases illustrate the healing nature of the return and emphasize the importance of a culturally sensitive interpretation of the patient's symptoms, which may express cultural bereavement and do not fit easily into international psychiatric categories. This requires much careful attention and listening to the patient.

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