WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A SHAMAN AND A DOCTOR?

Norman W. Wilson, PhD.

 Quite often at talks on shamanic healing, I am asked what the difference between a shaman and a doctor is. My immediate instinct is to say ‘you’ve got to be kidding.’ Fortunately, better judgment grabbed me. The question deserves a respectful answer especially in that shamanism as well as other healing approaches have been described as “alternative medicine;” a term I personally detest.

 First, both the shaman and the medical doctor spend a great deal of time in training. For some, it is years. A modern medical doctor will need a four-year undergraduate degree, four years in medical school and then three to seven years in residency training before they are eligible for medical licensing. That’s about 40,000 hours of training. National statistics suggest that doctors in the United States retire at age 65.

On the other hand, a modern shamanic practitioner(certified) takes anywhere from three-weekend classes, to eight to ten lessons via the Internet, or a three-year program. Having never taken any of these programs I cannot attest to their effectiveness. Local Native American tribes have different expectations for their healers. (Note I did not call the shaman. That word does not exist in Native American languages. Some Native Americans resent the word shaman.) I use the word because it is not common language not dissimilar to Kleenex has become a household word for tissues. One of my former college students was in training to be a healer. His grandmother was the tribe’s healer. She began his training at age four. He told me, at age eighteen,that by the time he was 21, he would be accepted as a healer. That’s a lot of years by any standard.

Medical doctors have to learn body parts, symptoms of diseases, what medicines to prescribe, what technologies to call for (X-rays, C-scans, etc.). The shaman learns energy points, disease symptoms, herbal and essential oil use (healers of old did not call plant oils, essential oils), plants and their healing qualities, He or she understands when an illness is emotional or mental related. The modern doctor may recommend a psychologist and counseling to a client; whereas, a shaman will travel to the spirit world for help. Note both seek help elsewhere. Today, we speak of specialists.

Dylan Smeaton, CBP in an article titled “The Difference between a Shaman and a Doctor”[1]states “The difference between a shaman and a doctor is that while the doctor’s knowledge of the physiology of the human body has never been better, there is still an element of care a shaman understands that a doctor still does not yet: the role that consciousness plays in physical, mental and spiritual health and well-being.”

In my next article, I will expand on Smeaton’s statement by making a distinction between consciousness/soul, physical/mental, and spiritual/emotional from a shaman’s point of view.


[1] Smeaton, Dylan. OK In Health, July 2016.

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