Medical Care And Health Practices

As is the case among other Asian immigrant groups, there is considerable intra-cultural diversity among Filipinos with regard to health beliefs and health practices. Centuries of colonialism and the Americanization of Pilipino culture have obviously infused the science of Western medicine and contributed to the training of thousands of Pilipino health care professionals. However, just as the larger contemporary Pilipino culture is a composite of foreign and indigenous elements, health orientations and healing practices also may incorporate traditional Pilipino folk medicine. The various aspects of such folk medicine warrant review.

Health Practices

Studies of health practices among Pilipino Americans suggest that people originally from rural areas in the Philippines are more knowledgeable regarding home remedies, traditional healing techniques, and supernatural ailments, whereas those from urban areas rely more on Western medical intervention and over-the-counter drugs. However, in both rural and urban areas, a variety of indigenous folk practices and modern health care systems are utilized simultaneously (Montepio, 1986/1987; Vance, 1991).

Among the more traditional forms of self medication are certain Chinese oils or ointments, which serve as cure alls in relaxing, heating, and comforting the muscles or providing relief for dizziness, colds, headaches, sore throats, and so forth. Other self medication may include the use of folk healing techniques consistent with the Chinese hot/cold classification system of diseases and the concept of wind illnesses (see Chapter 8). For example, a technique called ventosa is used for treating joint pains believed to be caused by the presence of bad air. This technique consists of wrapping a coin with cotton, wetting the tip with alcohol, lighting it, and placing the coin on the aching joint area, then immediately covering it with a small glass or cup. The fire is extinguished as soon as it is covered, creating a vacuum that will suck the bad air out of the joint (Montepio, 1986/1987).

Beyond such home remedies, more serious illnesses typically warrant seeking the help of a local healer who may utilize a variety of treatments including the use of herbs and roots (McKenzie and Chrisman, 1977)although healers are presumed to possess a God given gift, their relative popularity and prestige in the community depends a great deal on their interpersonal relationships with their patients. People in rural areas are accustomed to friendly and accommodating folk healers and expect the same treatment from physicians. If these expectations are not met, they avoid Western health centers or switch doctors. Moreover, when healers are viewed with trust and respect, they often are expected to perform instantaneous healing. If there is no immediate improvement in an illness or related symptoms, individuals may change doctors (Montepio, 1986/1987).

The various types of healers common throughout the Philippines include midwives, masseurs, and specialists for supernaturally caused ailments. Although these types of healers each have native labels, there is no traditional word for faith healers, the newest and increasingly popular genre of Philippine folk healers. In fact, there are as many as 15,000 faith healers found in the Philippines, and most are devout Christians (Harper and Fullerton, 1994). Faith healers do not attempt to identify or diagnose a disease, which is in contrast to the traditional concern for identifying the cause of illness (which could presumably be supernatural). Their orientation is holistic and uniform and incorporates the belief in concurrent physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. Regardless of the individual's specific affliction, the same techniques are employed (Montepio, 1986/1987).

In a regular session, the faith healer's techniques include blessing the body with holy water, laying on of the hands, and anointing with oil. The technique of laying on of the hands is a very important aspect of faith healing and is practiced by several other groups such as the Pentecostal Charismatics and the Cuban-American santeros. In laying on hands, it appears as though the healer is attempting to transfer the healing energy from his or her hands to the individual's body through the forehead. The healer also anoints the individual by wetting his or her fingers with consecrated oil and making the sign of the cross on the forehead, on each eye, and on the chin of the person. If certain body parts need healing, they will be directly anointed. The person, in turn, typically attests to the sense of warmth or flow of energy that seems to enter his or her body and provides instant well-being (Montepio, 1986/1987).

These healing techniques are enhanced by ritualized prayer, chanting, and the creation of an atmosphere that reinforces the individual's faith. During healing sessions, the faith healer, for example, typically wears a white dress of soft, flowing material, creating an ,ephemeral quality; white (worn by the Virgin Mary) is the symbol of purity and is associated with environmental ghosts and spirits (Montepio, 1986/1987).

One of the most dramatic forms of faith healing that has attracted significant international attention is psychic surgery. It involves the painless insertion of the healer's fingers into the individual's body, removal of tissues, tumors, growths, or foreign matter, and closing the incision without a scar (Harper and Fullerton, 1994, p. 62). Numerous Western scientists have investigated tales of miracle cures produced by psychic surgeons and found evidence of fakery; however, they also have reportedly witnessed incredible feats of healing (Harper and Fullerton, 1994).

Whether in the Philippines (considered the world's faith healing center) or the United States, faith healing and more traditional folk healing practices typically are utilized simultaneously with modern medicine. In fact, The healer never advises against going to doctors or hospitals. In several cases, spiritual healing is used only after these doctors have diagnosed a disease as incurable. Even after a patient feels that he has been healed by [traditional healers], he still goes back to his doctor to establish that he is actually cured. Western medicine is thus used to validate the efficacy of spiritual healing. (Montepio, 1986/1987,pp.159-160).

Folk healers may serve as indigenous allies whose work can complement modern health practitioners and who can provide the psychological, emotional, and spiritual well being necessary to the healing process.