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Healing EEs/EHEs/Healing Process
Record Type: Review   ID: 538

Ritual Healing in Suburban America

McGuire, Meredith B., with Kantor, Debra

McGuire, who is Professor of Sociology at Trinity University, takes a sociological approach to the use of alternative healing practices in the U.S. In interpreting the widespread use of these practices, she asks: "What does this suggest about society and the social location of these beliefs and practices: of what larger social phenomenon is this is this an example?" (pp. 4-5). She points out that many alternative approaches do not simply involve specific techniques "but rather entails an entire system of beliefs and practices" (p. 6). This book reports on a study of healing groups and healers in the suburban communities of Western Essex County, New Jersey. Over 130 different groups or healers were located, and some were studied by participant-observation for 10-18 months whereas others were only visited occasionally. In all, "255 group sessions in 31 different groups were observed and recorded in detail" (p. 9). A total of 313 one-three-hour interviews were also conducted with healers and others associated with alternative healing approaches. After an introductory chapter on "middle-class use of nonmedical healing," the second chapter describes the general qualities of five broad types of healing, giving a brief ethnographic description of a typical group of that type. Chapters 3-6 present detailed discussions of the four main healing types studied: Christian healing groups, traditional metaphysical movements, Eastern meditation and human potential groups, and psychic and occult healing. The seventh chapter describes the role of healers or healing groups, especially in regard to various patterns of the healer-patient relationship. The eighth chapter describes the attitudes and help-seeking patterns of those who use alternative healing approaches. Chapter nine is on "the special uses of metaphor, symbols, language, and ritual in alternative healing" (p. 16). The 10th chapter attempts to interpret alternative healing in the light of broader cultural and social structural issues, arguing "that these healing movements may be related to a new mode of individualism, a new form of connection between the individual and society" (p. 16). It also explores the "world images" of alternative healing adherents, "especially the significance of `holism' and the alternative notices of moral responsibility" (p. 16). McGuire also speculates that the healing rituals used in these groups are "collective but privately experienced enactments of self-transformation. Both the alternative world images and the healing rituals may represent a specifically middle-class assertion against the rationalization of several aspects of contemporary life" (p. 16). Appendix A gives a detailed description of the research methodology used and Appendix B contains the interview schedules used.

She concludes: "These data show that even the strangest, most difficult to understand healing beliefs and practices provide very important functions for their adherents: meaning, order, and a sense of personal empowerment in the face of upsetting or even traumatic experiences in life. Alternative healing systems are meeting some people's needs, which the dominant medical system does not address. Thus they highlight some of the limits of modern "scientific" medicine" (p. 14).

Publisher Information:New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1988. 324p. Chap. bibl: 293-322; 5 figs; Index: 323-324; 1 table
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