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Māori keen for doctors and healers to work together

Monday, 18 April 2016

Study shows Māori keen for doctors and healers to work together

Latest research shows that Māori are keen for traditional rongoā Māori healers and doctors to work together on managing their health, however, many seriously doubt that doctors would be open to such an arrangement.

Dr Glenis Mark (Ngāpuhi, Ngāi Tahu) has explored the views of Māori on rongoā Māori healers in primary health care as part of a Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) Māori health postdoctoral fellowship through Whakauae Research Services.

She interviewed Māori who use both rongoā Māori healers and doctors in mainstream primary health care, and Māori who use doctors only.

Rongoā Māori is a traditional Māori healing system that has been passed down the generations and is embedded in Māori cultural traditions and beliefs.

Dr Mark says the majority of the study’s participants wanted the option to receive treatment from both rongoā Māori healers and doctors. And although the general consensus was that these two forms of treatment should be conducted separately, there was strong support for healers and doctors collaborating on a patient’s health care outside of the treatment sessions.

“Most participants believed that rongoā healing and mainstream health care both have their strengths and weaknesses, and that they would receive better health care than they do currently if healers and doctors talked with each other about the treatments they were offering,” says Dr Mark.

Participants saw the relationship between the healers and doctors as the greatest barrier to integrating the two different forms of treatment.

“Their main concern was how doctors would react to rongoā Māori healers,” says Dr Mark.

“There was a strong suspicion about the lack of willingness of doctors to collaborate. The participants didn’t believe that doctors would be able to accept rongoā Māori or be open to understanding a traditional healing system.”

Currently, the two treatment systems operate separately. Dr Mark says that many Māori patients already visit both rongoā Māori healers and doctors, often without telling either one about visiting the other. Which treatment they opt for depends on how they categorise their illness. If their illness is more psychosocial or spiritual in nature, they will tend to go to a Māori healer, whereas if it is directly medical, such as a broken leg, they will go to their doctor.

“Many of the participants wouldn’t tell their doctor that they were also going to a healer for fear of criticism or ridicule. In cases like these, the opportunity for collaborative treatment, which could provide the best of both worlds in terms of health and healing treatment for patients, is lost,” says Dr Mark.

There are doctors who are working with healers – and working well – but Dr Mark says she’s found that these doctors often come from South Africa where they are trained to work with traditional healers.

Whakauae Research Services Associate Director Dr Amohia Boulton says that Dr Mark’s findings have significant implications both at a policy level and for health professionals.

“Dr Mark’s work clearly indicates that many Māori are making a conscious decision to be treated using rongoā Māori; wanting to receive a form of care and healing into which government invests only minimal funding.”

Dr Boulton says that despite recent recommendations that the Crown has a responsibility to provide better support for rongoā Māori, participants in Dr Mark’s study did not necessarily use “formal”, funded services as so few exist.

“An exciting finding from the research is that Māori are taking responsibility for their total wellbeing, in seeking out the expertise of both healers and doctors. This should be of interest to health professionals and policymakers alike, as rongoā Māori is clearly seen as one of a suite of health care services that consumers are choosing to use,” says Dr Boulton.

Dr Mark says that with greater collaboration between healers and doctors, health care delivery could benefit from the inclusion of rongoā Māori as a culturally appropriate form of treatment for all New Zealanders.

She says the practicalities of how this collaboration might work does pose some interesting challenges though.

“Healers can sometimes be travelling up and down the country 24/7 or sitting with their patients for days at a time if that’s what the patient needs. That’s not a reality in the doctors’ world, where they have to push through patients every 15 minutes. There are also other issues to consider, such as healers’ concerns over the intellectual property of their sacred cultural knowledge.”

Following on from this research, Dr Mark plans to gauge the views of doctors on alternative treatments and working with rongoā Māori healers.


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