Practice of Medical Pluralism in a Biomedical Institution: Experiences of Patients and Caregivers in a Rehabilitation Unit in Taiwan

Dr. Ling-Hui Chang
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Although literature has documented that medical pluralism characterizes popular health-seeking behaviors in Taiwan, very few discussed how patients and caregivers pursued alternative therapeutics within the constraints of staying in a biomedical institution and its significance to these patients with sudden physical disabilities. This presentation is to discuss the practice of medical pluralism in a rehabilitation unit in a biomedicine-dominated (western medicine, xi-yi) hospital in Taiwan from the patients’ and caregivers’ perspectives. In particular, how they managed to comply with a biomedicine-dominated rehabilitation ideology in the unit while at the same time maintaining their own beliefs of pluralistic illness explanations and healing practices. Data was collected during 4 months of ethnographic fieldwork in 2002 as part of the author’s dissertation project. Building upon the work of medical anthropologists on the narrative explanation of illness and medical pluralism, I suggest that, in the midst of losing control of their lives to karma, luck, and biomedicine, the patients and caregivers made use of the pluralistic illness explanations and treatments available in Taiwanese culture to make sense of their suffering in the context of their life stories and to reclaim control of healing. It also provided a sense of hope that rehabilitation professionals so deliberately avoided giving or relinquishing and opportunities to take full advantage of the healing resources at their disposal.

Spiritual healing, diet management, and herbal medication, were the most popular alternative therapeutics reported by the patients and caregivers, despite certain alternative practices, such as the use of herbal medication, which was censured by the rehabilitation staff. As a result, the patients and caregivers had to devise a variety of strategies to conceal its practice from the rehabilitation staff and thus turned it into an underground practice.

Keywords: Ethnography, Rehabilitation, Medical Pluralism
Stream: Anthropology, Archaeology, Cultural Studies, Humanities
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Dr. Ling-Hui Chang

Assistant Professor, School of Occupational Therapy, Chung-Shan Medical University
Taichung, Taiwan

Ref: I07P0179