The paper aims to present specifics of treatment and needs of families with different ethnic backgrounds. The chosen families are Cuban, Russian, and Japanese descents (first or second-generation immigrants). Using the obtained data, the author analyzed how this heritage could be applied in health maintenance, health protection, and health restoration to ensure that needs of these families are met.
Common Health Traditions
The first family is second-generation Cuban immigrants; it consists of a 40-year old woman, a 42-year old man, and their 16-year old child. Common health practices in this family include heavily limited or restricted tobacco and alcohol use as such behavior is prohibited by religious beliefs of the family (the family’s religion is Santería, a synthesis of the Yoruba and Roman Catholicism). Another common practice is the healing by Santería healers, individuals who practice folk healing and view physical and mental health as a whole and thus approach it from a holistic point of view (Rosario & De La Rosa, 2014). Santería is also used by patients as a substitute for practices that target individuals’ mental health or as spiritual guidance (for example, in end-of-life care). This family used Santería as a supporting spiritual practice to cope with physical illnesses. The family confessed that they were active members of the religious institution (they often visited a Catholic church located in the neighborhood), as well as celebrated religious holidays, prayed, and read the Bible. Their native language is Spanish.
The second family is from Russia; they are first-generation immigrants. The family consists of two members, a 31-year old man, and a 28-year old woman. Their parents grew up in Russia and did not immigrate with them. Their religious preference is Orthodox Christianity (also known as Orthodox Catholic Church). They belong to a religious institution but rarely visit it. However, they actively practice religion at home (e.g., pray, read the Bible, and celebrate religious holidays). Health practices in this family include specific dieting that emphasizes organic food and enough nutrition, especially when a member is sick.
If one of the members has a serious condition (such as a broken leg, an inflammation that requires surgical involvement, etc.), religious practices are used actively (individuals pray and bring along religious icons to the hospital room). Furthermore, the support of the family and friends is considered as a crucial part in the healing process, and friends and relatives might visit the patient during his or her stay at the hospital (“End-of-life care”, n.d.). According to the interviewed individuals, religion often serves as a substitute for mental health care, and spiritual practices are performed to improve a patient’s psychological well-being.
The third family is of Japanese descent (first-generation immigrants). There are four members in the family: a 50-yeard old man, a 47-year old woman, a 20-year old son, and an 18-year old daughter. The family stated that they were not religious, although they did follow some Shinto rituals, as well as utilized various health practices derived from other cultures and religions (e.g., Chinese culture or Buddhism). Such practices include Japanese herbal medicine, also known as Kampo. Kampo is based on the belief that illnesses are caused by disruptions in the flow of Qi (Carteret, n.d.). Japanese acupuncture is also used, where parts of the mugwort plant are burnt before the procedure to warm the patient’s skin. Acupuncture is believed to help restore the flow of Qi and mitigate symptoms of illnesses.
Mental illnesses are a complex subject as the discussion of them is tabooed. Folk practices such as herbal healing can be utilized to help the individual who has psychological issues. In serious cases, religious and spiritual practices, together with traditional medicine, are also used.
In Santería, the maintenance of health is achieved through the service to one’s Orisha; these mystic and spiritual relationships with a medium can help mitigate health issues. This emphasis on individual involvement in one’s health can be used by clinicians to teach individuals with Cuban ethnic background to be attentive to their health and disease prevention practices, just as they value their relationship with Orisha. Compared to other ethnic beliefs discussed in this paper, Santería emphasizes self-reliance (McNeill & Cervantes, 2011). The Russian culture tends to place a high value on the doctor’s orders, making discussion on equal terms and questioning unlikely (“End-of-life care”, n.d.). Religion plays an integral part in the healing process, and the clinician should not intervene in religious practices. He or she can utilize them to stress the importance of connection and communication both with the family and the medical personnel for a person’s well-being, for example when the patient is unwilling or refusing to be educated about a health problem or does not understand the importance of self-management of chronic disease.
With Japanese individuals, clinicians can utilize a different approach: advise additional health practices (dieting, physical activity, etc.), together with acupuncture sessions, as helpful interventions. The clinician can emphasize the importance of physical activity and its positive influence on the overall well-being or the Qi energy of the person. It is essential to integrate cultural beliefs and rituals into the treatment plan or health maintenance plan to support the patient and encourage them to follow advised practices.
Botanicas, shops that sell folk medicine, and santeros, professionals who are licensed to provide medical counseling in Cuba can serve as mediators who can support the health protection of their clients. While individuals can mistrust traditional medicine for various reasons, santeros can emphasize the importance of healthy living and the use of medicine (e.g., vaccines) among their clients. Furthermore, santeros can be spiritual guides, who can help patients overcome minor psychological issues such as temporary stress or advise spiritual practices that patients can use as a “mental floss”.
A similar approach can be applied to individuals of Russian and Japanese origin, where providers of folk medicine can be integrated into the more traditional means of health protection. Furthermore, the emphasis on healthy nutrition in Russian culture is a good belief that physicians and nurses can use to promote healthy eating habits and evidence-based nutrition practices for patients with various chronic conditions. Japanese acupuncturists often use palpation and other techniques to identify the disruption of the energy in a person, and their contribution to health protection and detection of illnesses can be significant, especially if the patient respects their authority.
Spiritual practices and guidance are most frequently used in health restoration, as these procedures emphasize the importance of a healthy mind, body, and soul, and can often rely on religious practices if the patient prefers them. Moreover, illness can be perceived by patients as an opportunity to grow spiritually, see the problem as a chance rather than a barrier. It seems that the inclusion of spiritual practices, such as counseling by santeros, priests (in Russian Orthodox Church), or bhikkhus (priests in Buddhism) should be incorporated into the daily routine of hospitals. Additionally, clinicians should not prevent patients from using religious rituals in the hospital room if they do not contradict safety policies. In some hospitals, spiritual counseling by nurses and religious representatives is being implemented, which should provide more support for religious patients.
Carteret, M. (n.d.). Traditional Asian health beliefs & healing practices. Web.
End-of-life care: The Russian culture. (n.d.). Web.
McNeill, B., & Cervantes, J. M. (2011). Latina/o healing practices: Mestizo and indigenous perspectives. New York, NY: Routledge.
Rosario, A. M., & De La Rosa, M. (2014). Santería as informal mental health support among US Latinos with cancer. Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work: Social Thought, 33(1), 4-18.