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October 2021

Arch Fam Med. 1998 Mar-Apr; 7(2): 182-5.

Use of Native American healers among Native American patients in an urban Native American health center.

Marbella AM, Harris MC, Diehr S, Ignace G, Ignace G.

Department of Family and Community Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee 53226, USA.

To gain an understanding of the prevalence, utilization patterns, and practice implications of the use of Native American healers together with the use of physicians, we conducted semistructured interviews at an urban Indian Health Service clinic in Milwaukee, Wisc, of a convenience sample of 150 patients at least 18 years old. The mean age of patients was 40 years, and the sex distribution was 68.7% women and 31.3% men. Thirty tribal affiliations were represented, the largest groups being Ojibwa (20.7%), Oneida (20.0%), Chippewa (11.3%), and Menominee (8.0%). We measured the number of patients seeing healers and gathered information on the types of healers, the ceremonies used for healing, the reasons for seeing healers, and whether patients discuss with their physicians their use of healers. We found that 38.0% of the patients see a healer, and of those who do not, 86.0% would consider seeing one in the future. Most patients report seeing a healer for spiritual reasons. The most frequently visited healers were herbalists, spiritual healers, and medicine men. Sweat lodge ceremonies, spiritual healing, and herbal remedies were the most common treatments. More than a third of the patients seeing healers received different advice from their physicians and healers. The patients rate their healer's advice higher than their physician's advice 61.4% of the time. Only 14.8% of the patients seeing healers tell their physician about their use. We conclude that physicians should be aware that their Native American patients may be using alternative forms of treatment, and they should open a respectful and culturally sensitive dialogue about this use with their patients.

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