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Healing Traditions

Alternative Medicine and the Health Professions

By Bonnie Blair O'Connor

Publication Year: 1995

The popularity and practice of alternative medicine continues to expand at astonishing rates. In Healing Traditions, Bonnie Blair O'Connor considers the conflicts that arise between the values and assumptions of Western, scientific medicine and those of unconventional health systems. Providing in-depth examples of the importance and benefits of alternative health practices—including the extraordinarily extensive and sophisticated HIV/AIDS alternative therapies movement—O'Connor identifies ways to integrate alternative strategies with orthodox medical treatments in order to ensure the best possible care for patients.

In spite of the long-standing prediction that, as science and medicine progressed—and education became more generally available—unconventional systems would die out, they have persisted with undiminished vitality. They have, in fact, experienced a reinvigoration and expansion during the last fifteen to twenty years. In the United States, this renewal is fueled by people representing a wide cross-section of American society, and most of them also use conventional medicine. This eclecticism can result in conflicts between the values and assumptions of Western, scientific medicine and those of unconventional health systems.

O'Connor demonstrates the importance of understanding how various belief systems interact and how this interaction affects health care. She argues that through neutral observation and thorough description of health belief systems it is possible to gain an understanding of those systems, to identify likely points of conflict among systems—especially conflicts that may occur in conventional care settings—and to intervene in ways that ensure the best possible care for patients.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


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pp. vii-

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-

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pp. xi-xiii

Suppose a book appears, as this one does, under the name of a single author. This curious selective recognition of one person who happened to put together a number of ideas and write them down in a certain way obscures the efforts and contributions of many others. It conjures images of the lone scholar diligently producing "a work." But,...

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pp. xv-xxiii

In addition to conventional Western medicine, there are a great number and variety of systems of health belief and practice active in the United States today. Far from dying out in the face of advances in scientific medicine, many nonbiomedical health belief systems are growing in popularity. Included among these are both long-standing...

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1. Denning and Understanding Health Belief Systems

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pp. 1-34

Throughout this century and even before, there has been a general assumption—even a conviction—in the health professions and in academia that folk and popular systems of health beliefs and practices would inevitably decline in modern and industrialized societies, falling away before the forces of modernization and progress to be replaced...

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2. Critical Approaches to Literature and Theories

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pp. 35-79

To arrive at any sort of comprehensive understanding of vernacular health belief systems it is necessary to be able to connect them with a theoretical understanding of belief in general, as well as with an understanding of culture and the cultural frameworks with which all belief systems are interconnected. Belief and behavior are strongly culturally...

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3. Hmong Cultural Values, Biomedicine, and Chronic Liver Disease

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pp. 80-109

In the past decade, scholars of many disciplines concerned with healthcare in complex societies have paid increasing attention to the importance of matters of culture and worldview in health care delivery. The education and training of health professionals in the United States, however, does not yet incorporate much of this information or ...

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4. Vernacular Health Care Responses to HIV and AIDS

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pp. 109-160

Sicknesses that do not respond well to conventional medical care, or for which few conventional treatment options exist, frequently motivate people to develop purposive self-care routines and to explore a range of forms of potential treatment. Serious illnesses with poor prognoses may especially quickly lead people to expand their health...

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5. Implications for the Health Professions

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pp. 161-195

The immediate message of the foregoing chapters is that nonbiomedical health belief systems are alive and well; that they are in very common use by all kinds of people; and that health professionals should ask patients about them and expect to find them among their patients' healing resources. The larger message this phenomenon evokes is that...

Appendix: Practical Tools

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pp. 197-223


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pp. 225-234


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pp. 235-279


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pp. 281-287

E-ISBN-13: 9780812200539
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812213980

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 1995

Series Title: Studies in Health, Illness, and Caregiving