Medicine and Spirituality

One of my favorite things I’ve been able to do this year, is help medical teams with their projects at Espwa. In the past four months, we’ve had: three groups of nurses, two doctors and a dental group visit. Each team tackles different challenges: public health education, oral hygiene education, dental operations and cleanings, and treatment of ailments. Every time they visit, I find myself drawn to their vast medical knowledge and impressed by their global perspectives.


This month we have another doctor visiting who is hoping to treat ringworm of the scalp on our kids. He has traveled all over the world and treated people with various illnesses in countries and circumstances across the globe. I could listen to him talk all day about those incredible trips and extraordinary people, but what got me thinking the most was our discussion of medicine and spirituality. For this doctor, it’s a no brainer that they are symbiotic.

“Some people will see a doctor but they also have to go to see their healer before they will really feel better,” he said. “My mother did that. She would see the doctor and then go see the priest. They just go together.”

This is nowhere more true than in Haiti. Already, there have been a handful of occasions when young people have come to the guest house asking for money to see a witch doctor (a Haitian healer). When asked if they have gone to the clinic already, they often say no. After some encouragement, they agree to see the doctor in the clinic, if also given the money to see a healer afterwards. One only makes sense to them in conjunction with the other. That’s how it’s been historically worldwide and how it will continue to be for a long time–I think.

When a girl came into the clinic the other day,shouting and seizing on the floor, everyone said she had been possessed by an evil voodoo spirit. Although there are a number of medical explanations for her behavior, who’s to say Haitian voodoo and spirituality don’t also play a role? She can get treated for seizures or stress in our clinic, but if she hasn’t made peace with whatever “spirit” she’s grappling with, it will do no good.


In addition to physical healing, a big part of the process, is mental, emotional and spiritual. It makes sense. In the most holistic sense, all of those things in balance make up our good health, not just the physical. When one element is off, there’s still healing to be done. It’s been so refreshing to hear a doctor say these things this week. It can often be difficult for Americans to recognize that there are different ways of looking at things, different approaches to be taken, in Haiti. Many stubbornly commit to whatever their experience in America has told them works, even when it clashes with Haitians and their experiences.

When someone can not only look at how to approach good health differently, but he can also apply that holistic idea of health to our global society, it’s exciting. Sitting around and chatting about that a few nights ago, it all clicked for me. It’s kind of like liberal arts education…liberal arts healing intentionally involves as many of our senses as possible to address the problem the most thoroughly. We’re not different in these different places. Our ways of spiritually addressing our problems may look different but we’re all getting at the same thing. When we pray for ailments to be alleviated it’s the same as when we see a witch doctor for herbs and spices and spiritual advice, or when we talk to our religious leaders to discuss our physical struggles. It’s all valid, and from the brief internet search I ran on medicine and spirituality, it seems that many medical programs are now drawing that into their curriculum in specific classes that address the union between the two: medicine and spirituality.

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