Culturally defined healers operate in most of the world, and to various degrees, blend traditional healing practices with those of the dominant religion in the region. They practice more or less openly and more or less in conjunction with science-based health professionals. Nonindigenous peoples are seeking out these healers more often, especially for conditions that carry dire prognoses, such as cancer, and usually after science-based medicine has failed. Little is known about the medical outcomes of people who seek Native North American healing, which is thought by its practitioners to work largely through spiritual means.
This study explored the narratives produced through interviews and writings of people working with traditional Aboriginal healers in Canada to assess the degree of spiritual transformation and to determine whether a relationship might exist between that transformation and subsequent changes in medical outcome.
Before and after participation in traditional healing practices, participants were interviewed within a narrative inquiry framework and also wrote stories about their lives, their experiences of working with traditional healers, and the changes that the interactions produced. The current study used a variety of traditional healers who lived in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.
Urban and Rural Reserves of the Canadian Prairie Provinces.
One hundred fifty non-Native individuals requested help from Dr Mehl-Madrona in finding traditional Aboriginal healing and spiritual practitioners and agreed to participate in this study of the effects of their work with the healers.
The healers used methods derived from their specific cultural traditions, though all commonly used storytelling, These methods included traditional Aboriginal ceremonies and sweat lodge ceremonies, as well as other diagnosing ceremonies, such as the shaking tent among the Ojibway or the yuwipi ceremony of the Dakota, Nakota, and Lakota, and sacred-pipe-related practices.
The research team used a combination of grounded theory modified from a critical constructivist point of view and narrative analysis to rate the degree of spiritual transformation experienced. Medical outcome was measured by a 5-point Likert scale and was confirmed with medical practitioners and other family members.
A 5-year follow-up revealed that 44 of the reports were assessed as showing profound levels of persistent spiritual transformation, defined as a sudden and powerful improvement in the spiritual dimension of their lives. The level of spiritual transformation achieved through interaction with healers was associated in a doseresponse relationship with subsequent improvement in medical illness in 134 of 155 people (P