Expanding the concept of therapeutic encounters

Expanding the concept of therapeutic encounters



Biomedicine fosters particular styles of interaction and behaviors, with the therapeutic relationship seen as occurring between a doctor and patient. In contrast, where alternative modalities of healing are practiced, relationships go beyond a dyadic interaction and include wider social networks. In this article, we propose the existence of a ‘therapeutic unit’ in Maya healing practices in Guatemala that binds healer, wellness seeker, family, and community members, along with the spiritual and natural realms, into a coherent system requiring all of these elements to achieve success. Drawing on interviews with 67 Maya healers, we describe healers’ understanding of raxnaq’il nuk’aslemal (well-being), and show how these interactions activate wider networks that play crucial roles during treatments. We highlight how holism is expressed in relationships typical of indigenous healing systems, and how an appreciation of this is important for developing culturally appropriate health care provision systems.


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