Faith Healing, Psychic Surgery, and Mediumship
The System of Healing Used by the Filipino Espiritistas
The Philippines are a part of the world that is rich in some of the most dynamic, intense, and effective forms of health treatments that have been practiced for many centuries. Some patients claim to have been healed of specific ailments that were not responding to conventional Western biomedical treatments. Some patients perceive their healing experiences to be nothing short of a so-called miracle or a paranormal intervention. The testimonies of these patients indicate that, perhaps, the Western biomedical model could find benefit from this ancient wisdom regarding these essential elements of healing practices. My contentions regarding the role of human consciousness in illness and healing are consistent with Kleinman (1988), Frank and Frank (1991), Torrey (1986) and other proponents of the systems of healing models. The system of healing used by the Filipino espiritistas fits with the parameters of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) (O’Connor et al., 1997) and other systems of healing models. Western patients who have been successfully treated by these alternative practitioners have a commonality in worldview with the indigenous Filipino healers. Both groups utilize viable healing systems that exist as alternatives to the Western biomedical model. In cultures where poverty is prominent, indigenous healing systems are available to the common people when Western biomedical care is not. Methods of mind/body medicine and other traditional healing methods often are used that utilize the essential elements of healing. In these cultures, healers “rely solely on their ability to manipulate the mind set and expectations of their patients in order to activate the healing processes that lie dormant within the patient” Martin, 1998, p. 162). In the West, we would refer to this as placebo effect/response. In underdeveloped countries, mind/body medicine is the ancient effective alternative to scientific medicine. “The understanding of what we call hypnosis and the placebo effect may have been the basis for the development of shamanic systems of healing ritual from the earliest stages of human existence” (p. 162). Furthermore, a Western subculture has existed with a parallel interest in alternatives to the scientific approach ever since the biomedical model emerged in the last few centuries. An explosion of interest in alternative healing systems took place from the 1960s to the 1990s and captured the interest of many curiosity seekers, psychical investigators, and patients who had been failed by the biomedical model. Many of the curious and interested who were in search of a cure traveled to the Philippines to experience the indigenous healing modalities. Accounts of personal experiences suggest that many of those who lacked faith in the biomedical model and preferred to utilize alternative or indigenous healing systems were more likely to benefit from the use of these systems. The systems of healing models apply well to most indigenous healing systems. The essential elements of healing can be identified within most illness and healing experiences all over the world. The roles of human consciousness and meaning both play important roles in the activation both of illness and healing. The Filipino espiritistas are masters at applying the essential elements of healing within their own cultural context. Filipinos and many other indigenous peoples are likely to accept healing methods based on their faith and belief, and they respond to them positively in ways that are reported as nothing short of remarkable. Filipino indigenous medicine and faith healing has been largely neglected by scientific and academic communities because the phenomenon of psychic surgery appears to defy the laws of medical science and exceeds the belief systems of most serious researchers. The most publicized investigations of the practice of psychic surgery took place from the 1960s to the 1970s, from within the narrow framework of the Western biomedical model, or were performed by psychical researchers and curiosity seeking laypersons from outside the mainstream scientific and academic communities. These written accounts were published in popular books and magazines of minimal credibility. The narrow frameworks utilized by the investigations most often resulted in one of two possible outcomes: either the psychic surgeons were miracle workers, defying the laws of science, or they were masters of sleight-of-hand and, therefore, perceived as frauds. Secondly, the lack of serious research of Filipino indigenous healing practices has also been due to the absence of an adequate paradigm by which to examine the phenomenon, and this absence has resulted in many misconceptions. Although numerous local Filipinos and alternative-seeking Westerners continued to report positive outcomes and remarkable cures as a result of treatments from these indigenous practitioners, debunkers have persisted in their attempts to expose them as frauds and to discourage ill persons from seeking their services. The critical attacks on the practice came from Westerners or Western-influenced Filipinos, proponents of the dominant biomedical model who perceived the practice from the biomedical perspective only. In the late 1960s, at the same time the practice of psychic surgery was exposed to the Western world, psychologists and anthropologists were developing new systems of healing models by which to view indigenous healing practices (Frank, 1974; Siegler & Osmond, 1974; Torrey, 1986), and social medicine emerged as a formal discipline. Some anthropologists researched the indigenous healing practices in the Philippines, most notably, Richard Lieban (1967) in Cebu and Philip Singer (1990), who documented a clinical study of psychic surgery in the United States. In the last several decades, complementary and alternative medicine has become more acceptable, partly due to the many Westerners who resisted the growth of the managed care insurance industry that dominated the already limited scope of Western medical practices. The Filipino espiritistas’ therapeutic interventions are dynamic, and this quality may contribute to positive healing outcomes. They utilize many forms of healing dating back to ancient times, such as magnetic healing, or energy medicine, spirit-directed medicine (incorporating faith and belief), herbal remedies, traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic techniques, and the use of therapeutic sleight-of-hand. These time-tested practices of mind/body medicine had been negated for use in Western cultures prior to any serious investigations by proponents of the biomedical model; hence, only scant information about these alternative practices is available. Complementary and alternative medicine, systems of healing frameworks, and social medicine have become more acceptable in recent decades. New research may well expand the knowledge base regarding the human condition and, particularly, the role of psychological factors in illness and healing experiences. As the misconceptions and the stigmatization of the Filipino espiritistas are reduced through studies using new paradigms, more serious research regarding the healing methods used in the Philippines can increase, before further Westernization, industrialization, or politics rob scientists of the opportunity.