Healers and Patients : The Decision to Seek Unorthodox Health Care

Robert McLellan

This is an Open Access Thesis.


Healers and their middle and upper class patients were studied in an exploratory investigation of the decision to seek unorthodox care. Field research consisted of three parts. First, the spectrum of healers in a metropolitan area were identified. Second, five healers representative of this spectrum were chosen for detailed interview and observation. Third, a total of twenty-five patients, five from each of the subject healers' practices, were interviewed. The results question the assumption that the utilization of healers is restricted to the desperate, the medically indigent or unsophisticated, or to the non-medically oriented. Virtually all patients used both orthodox and unorthodox care during their present illness. Factors associated with the choice of an unorthodox source of health care were found in six areas of the patient data: past illness experiences and behavior, medical skepticism, social context, illness and healing beliefs, aspects of the healer-patient interaction, and aspects of the present illness experience. On the basis of suggestive findings, recommendations for further research are made.