Society for Medical Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Substance use disorders, usually shortened to addictions, often connotes a materially-driven etiology in in mental health research, indicative of a living epistemological force of positivism in Western scientism. Although anthropologists have mounted criticism on the positivist foundation of mental illness by examining the role of culture, including dismantling the nature-culture divide itself, the use of autoethnography paired with indigenous epistemology is an untapped source of innovative conceptualization into the dimensions of addiction and its healing process. Across indigenous cultural healing practices, spiritual relationality is the foundation to good medicine. This is materially different from current mental health treatment based in a social, emotional and biological lens, termed the “biopsychosocial” approach. This paper will use anecdotes from the author’s own experience of healing within the Shipibo’s (An Amazonian Indigenous people) Vegetalismo tradition to discuss spiritual relationality. Employing indigenous methodologies, the author will offer a counter-narrative to one being offered via the current buzz terms, “cultural intervention”, “biopsychosocial approach” and “addiction” which frame the discussion of Indigenous peoples’ addiction treatment research. Grounded in what anthropologists’ call indigenous animism, this paper examines the role of spirit in the creation of sound medicine (or treatment) and challenges Western helpers to consider their relationship to the medicine offered to their clients.
Key words: autoethnography, indigenous methodologies and epistemologies, addictions, addiction recovery, spiritual healing, cultural interventions, and Shipibo healers.