Cambodian refugee use of indigenous and western healers to prevent or alleviate mental illness

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Cambodian refugee use of indigenous and western healers to prevent or alleviate mental illness

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Title: Cambodian refugee use of indigenous and western healers to prevent or alleviate mental illness
Author: Duncan, Julianne Smith
Abstract: In this dissertation Cambodian refugee use of traditional and Western healing systems to prevent or alleviate mental illness are examined. Chrisman's (1977) Health Seeking Process model is used as a guide for data collection and analysis. The usefulness of the model for analysis of a rapidly changing population is then examined.Cambodian refugees in the United States have survived extremely stressful wartime and migration experiences and, as a result, currently exhibit more symptoms of depression and other mental illness than other refugee and migrant groups.Most members of ten Cambodian extended families in Pierce County, Washington were interviewed in depth to determine how they prevent or solve mental health problems. Additionally, healing activities of some families were observed and Buddhist monks, kru khmer, and other traditional healers were interviewed. Descriptions of the families are set within the context of an extensive ethnographic description of the Pierce County Cambodian refugee community.Cambodians in Pierce County attribute current mental illness primarily to weakness of spirit caused by death of or separation from family members. Spirit weakness leaves an individual susceptible to possession by demons or other harmful spirits and also vulnerable to witchcraft. Healing activities include strengthening family relationships, use of Buddhist religion to restore tranquility, exorcism of harmful spirits, and magical protection against demons and witches. Western therapists have been consulted but have been found to be less effective than traditional healers by the study population.The Health Seeking Process model proved useful for analysis of the refugee population with a few modifications. By determining the unit of analysis to be the family rather than the individual and by adding examination of well behavior and chronic ill health a greater range of health seeking behavior was elicited. A sixth step, Reformulation, was added to the model to analyze change which occurred in health beliefs and practices as a result of health seeking activities. Because refugees are experiencing rapid social and cultural change, specific analysis of reformulation has shed light on the changing ethnic identity of the Cambodian community.
Description: Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Washington, 1987

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