© 2018Reda Šatūnienė

2018 — №2 (16)

Author info:

Reda Šatūnienė, Doctor in Ethnology and Folklore, is a Researcher at the Humanities Research Center of Siauliai University (Lithuania). Her scientific interests are identity change, alternative cultures & subcultures, contemporary non-conventional healing phenomenon, medical humanities, anthropology of consciousness, qualitative research methodology, ethnography


Abstract. This publication seeks to investigate the main reasons which encourage people to rely not on conventional medicine only, but on non-conventional one, too. It seeks to answer questions such as: Why do patients become disenchanted with conventional medicine? How is the concept of ‘health’ understood by patients, what does it mean to them? What are understandings of ‘alternative healing’, and are there any possible ways to ‘combine’ alternative and conventional medicine?

The article investigates the communicative aspect between doctors and patients, mutual trust and mistrust, in the search for possibilities towards a better understanding between them, as well as attempting to stress, and to study how anthropological, qualitative research data might mediate between different types of health knowledge.

The article is based on anthropological empiric research conducted in 2015–2017 (research ongoing). Eleven in-depth interviews were collected with representatives of alternative medicine, aged approximately 28–58, from different cities in Lithuania. Interviewees were chosen according to the ‘snowball method’ in regard to their involvement in alternative healing practices either formally or non-formally.

Qualitative (empirical) data results lead to the assumption that individuals, in certain fields of illness, experience a lack of satisfying methods in conventional medicine treatment. Furthermore, they sometimes perceive a lack of respect in medical doctors, which, added to a lack of mutual communication, alienates them from more self-aware health care. The conventional medical system still represents the authoritarian character of the formal medical system.

Indeed, empirical data shows that achieving good health is understood more as a concern for the individual and not the doctor only. Research participants declare that every individual should keep on his/her own path towards responsible personal health.

Key words: medical humanities, qualitative research, non-conventional medicine, applied anthropology, cultural construction of ‘health’, communication model


Medical anthropology is a broad and extremely topical sphere of study. It focuses on local traditions and understandings of healing and the epistemologies of ‘sickness’, and ‘wellness’. Applied anthropology investigates general systems and paradigms of health, treatment process organization, sick individuals’/patients’ social behavior (e.g., isolation from social life), the ways in which the norms of ‘sickness’ are constructed via formal legislations, family traditions, etc. (Winkelman 2009: 2-11, 11-13, 65, 74-79). It is of prime interest for those seeking good results from treatment how socio-cultural traditions change along with technological development. This article seeks to reveal why so called non-conventional [1] medicine is being revived and used practically in the Late Modern age.

Empirical research data, and outcomes might function as a mediator between ‘old’ and ‘new’ health knowledge via research into various medical treatment paradigms and their meanings for individuals. Just as ‘new’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘better’, so ‘old’ does not always mean ‘defunct’[2]. Ancient (traditional) healing methods are a topical object of research in medical humanities and anthropology, in the attempt to reach a better understanding of the nature of human illness, sickness and disease. It is important to underline two aspects of possible practical use in medical anthropology, namely in the communicative aspect of medical doctors and patients, including mutual (mis)trust as well as researching possibilities for improved mutual understanding between them, and in research analysis into what the main disadvantages of communication are between doctors and patients.

We should also focus on researching contemporary public knowledge, derived mostly from media information (TV, radio, newspapers), our parents and grandparents, etc., and individually constructed ‘health knowledge’. After the flow of such mixed information about health and facts about conventional and alternative healing methods, a conglomerate of kind of ‘contemporary (folk)’ ‘health knowledge’ is constructed, which represents a general understanding of health, sickness, or treatment / healing in contemporary society. This phenomenon requires some revision in order to clarify existing tendencies and ways of thinking about personal health within contemporary society.

Main terms and concepts used in article

Slight confusion has always existed between the terms ‘alternative’ (‘supplementary’) and ‘traditional’ medicine. The latter is usually employed to describe contemporary conventional biomedicine, while the former generally reflects all non-conventional healing methods which are not part of contemporary conventional biomedicine, nor state-financed because the healing methods are not formally recognized as ‘valid’.

According to practitioners of alternative medicine, the word ‘traditional’ should be used when speaking of old medicine, like Ayurveda or Chinese medicine – but not in case of conventional medicine because it has quite a short tradition, in comparison with older traditional healing systems. Alternative medicine sometimes might be called ethno-medicine, folk medicine, etc. These definitions usually refer to healing practices commonly used for distinguishing biomedicine from old, local traditional ways of healing.

Therefore in the article the term “non-conventional” medicine will be used, as the one holding the meanings both of alternative, complementary, and traditional (self)healing medicine (see also Харитонова 2014, 2018).

Methods and data of empiric research

During the empiric qualitative research, anthropological and ethnographic methods (Bernard 2006; Berg 2004) were employed such as in-depth interviews, observations, participant observations, gathering of visual data (photographs). Research has been conducted since winter 2015 and continues to the present day. To date, eleven in-depth interviews have been collected with representatives of non-conventional medicine aged approximately 28–58. The interviews were recorded in various cities in Lithuania, but primarily in the largest ones, Kaunas, and Vilnius. Interviewees were selected based on their involvement in alternative healing practices, usually as formal practitioners of non-conventional medicine themselves (professionally established), or non-formally (within their own family system and not curing patients as clients or for money). The main criteria for choosing informants were long-term involvement in alternative healing activities, and systematic practice in everyday life. For the majority of these respondents, involvement in non-conventional medicine generally dates back around 10–20 years[3]. Because of the reasons of research ethics, interviewees will be marked in coding numbers next to the quotations.

Socio-cultural characteristics of research participants. One part (approx. 70%) of interviewees consists of practitioners (aroma-therapists, Reiki healers, new psychotherapy methodologies, etc.), the other (approx. 30%) of active consumers of non-conventional medicine who often use aromatherapy, homeopathy, herbalism, particular types of massage, new methodologies based on psychotherapy, psychology (such as transessense[4], transpersonal psychology) and similar. It was also observed that non-conventional medicine practitioners’ support for a natural style of living is not restricted to cases of illness, but also extends to their everyday culture, including natural child birth (giving birth at home, etc.), eating ‘pure, ‘correct’ food (being vegan/vegetarian, not drinking alcohol, preferring home-made food/avoiding supermarket food), avoiding excess of medical drugs, and suchlike (but that is not a rule, of course).

It is important to note that all respondents are well educated academically – all have a Bachelor’s degree but the majority also hold a Master’s degree; some of the respondents are continuing studies, or have obtained more than one diploma. The professional activities of research participants vary from psychologists, medical doctors, computer specialists, educational specialists and sociologists to art critics, artists, designers etc. Thus, the sociological characteristics of supporters of non-conventional medicine (in this case) and its practitioners represent an intelligent, self-aware section of contemporary society.

Interconnections of culture and health: medicine as cultural system

Culture – traditions, beliefs, established norms, and values, acquire subjective experience during one’s life – they construct a particular way of thinking, as well as drawing patterns of health understanding and behavior. In a similar fashion a ‘health’ paradigm and ‘health knowledge’ are also constructed. Culture includes such everyday practices as personal hygiene norms, eating culture (vegan, etc.), sexual behavior, working conditions (and professions), practices for raising children, nurturing habits[5], housing traditions, place of living (urban or rural, poor or prestigious district of a city), etc., all of which in turn contribute to the shaping of general public health.

Is medicine disease-focused or holistic in nature, treating disease/illness/sickness more as a state of well-being? The answer lies mostly in historical context, local traditions, established and legitimized medical practices, learned patterns of behavior and inherited group (community, nation) behavior.

According to Winkelmann, culture impacts on health behavior and is intertwined with medicine in many ways: for example, there are cultural (and legitimate) agreements over what should be described as a disease and when, economic systems are created in order to support the functioning of specific medical systems – prescription of medical drugs, support from hospitals, education and maintenance of health professionals, etc. (Winkelmann 2009: 5-10). The formal medical system is also well established in the sense of a general state system – one must undergo obligatory health tests before school, army or job, and if a child is to be provided with a birth certificate, contact must be established with a hospital, and so on.

People whose professions are connected with health, e. g., nurses, midwives, doctors, health professionals, researchers, health and social educators, social service providers etc., are almost obliged to be aware of cultural differences in patients. Cultural responsiveness is crucial for both workers of social (and medical) systems, and for clients (patients) themselves. In culturally diverse communities (not necessarily consisting of different nationalities, but also of different cultural backgrounds) there exist different beliefs about health, which do not conform with established local understandings. For example, in some culturally diverse communities, a prohibition may exist on blood transfusion, animal-derived food or medical drugs produced using animal parts (e. g. stomach enzymes).

Historically established cultural values and meanings construct legitimized healing processes (legislation). For example, if speaking about giving birth in Lithuanian hospitals in the first half of  the 20th century, there was a vivid tradition of local midwives[6], who assisted during labor, but this tradition was changed by shifting politics of medicine, and as a result midwifery practices were prohibited (Kiškūnė, Pociūtė 2005: 27-34), and the only legitimate way to give birth was in hospital, among what were for mothers unnatural and even stressful conditions (extraneous medical staff, controlled process of birth by medication, forced body poses (usually comfortable for the medic but not the mother in labor, etc.). By contrast, midwifery was not prohibited and still continues in the Netherlands[7] and Great Britain[8], where it is based on different local health policies.

Winkelmann stresses the “importance of emic perspectives for health” and states that different traditions of medicine can be treated as kinds of subculture (Winkelmann 2009: 7). Kleinman, Eisenberg, Good, (1978a) and Kleinman (1978b) also refer to medicine as a certain cultural system (subculture), determining individuals’ life meanings. Beliefs and social attitudes also make a cultural influence on health perception: a disease, for example, might be treated as a “punishment” (from God), carry a hint of shame or guilt (in the case of sexually transmitted diseases, for example), or in other ways be related to lifestyle, even lie on the borderline of legality, or the ethics, or a ‘social norm’ (like drug addiction, for example) (see also Winkelmann 2009: 83-163; Kleinman 1978a, 1978b; Larsson 2007). The medical doctor, in these instances, is treated as kind of social actor, and might be interpreted by regular patients as representative of a different culture.

According to Kleinman, a health care system is a cultural construction, where illness might be defined as a socially (and culturally) acquired experience (Kleinman 1978b: 87). Based on experiences, strategies of healing and treatment choices, the outcome of healing is also affected – all therapeutic interventions entail particular healing rituals, thus creating a ‘cultural healing’ (Kleinman 1978b: 87). Kleinman’s (1978b) study is still relevant because it tries to construct links between clinical medicine and anthropology for a better understanding of health care systems. Kleinman seeks to analyze how culture – including beliefs, value orientated choices, roles – acts in medical systems.

Culture, as a set of symbolic meanings, replete with subjective experiences, includes understanding of the causes of illnesses (epistemologies), illness behavior, perception of symptoms, articulation about illness/sickness (Kleinman 1978b: 86). Three levels of social arenas may be distinguished where sickness might be experienced – popular (media etc.), professional (medical doctors, professionals), and folk arenas (non-professional healers) (see Kleinman 1978b: 86). Kleinman suggests that one of the possible reasons for proper healing is successful ‘cultural healing’ – i. e. when a patient receives an explanation of his/her sickness which bears meaning for him/her (Kleinman 1978b: 87). This means that patient-doctor communication is of relevance in the treatment/healing process, and not solely medical procedures.

Communication within the health care system involves communication between a family, a patient, and a doctor system. These three components treat illness in different ‘clinical realities’, which are socio-culturally constructed, and vary according to society and area of the same health care system (Kleinman 1978b: 87). Based on the author’s empirical data, articulation about, and between, different clinical realities and the family–patient–doctor system, seems to be one of the most vital issues in the contemporary medical and health care system.

 Cultural ‘health knowledge’: explanatory models of ‘health’ and ‘illness’

There are many understandings of ‘health’, ‘wellness’, ‘wellbeing’, or ‘illness’, ‘disease’ and ‘sickness’. The term ‘disease’ is usually used in conventional biomedicine to imply a sort of disorder (Winkelman 2009: 14; Kleinman 1988: 3-6). ‘Sickness’ relates to social aspects, and ‘illness’ is understood as an ‘experience’ in cultural setting (Kleinman 1988: 4-5).

According to explanatory models of an illness (Kleinmann 1978a, 1978b[9]), components such as an understanding of the origins of disease, diagnostic criteria, and choice of healing/treatment strategy are vital in any understanding of human wellbeing in the context of health (Kleinmann 1978a , 1978b, 87-88).  Explanatory models can become a real challenge in the process of treatment – if patients, family members and medical staff describe these models differently, miscommunication issues may ensue, thus impeding the chances of swift and suitable healing.

‘Health’, in a wider sense, is understood not only as the optimal functioning of the physical body, but also as an individual psychological inner sense which permits active participation in social life (Winkelmann 2009: 14). Etymologically, all words stem as they are from everyday social, and cultural contexts. To describe non-wellness, words such as ‘sick’, ‘ill’ are being used, and they are accordingly connected with the meanings of ‘suffering’, ‘bad’, while the terms ‘heal’ and ‘cure’, to put it short, correspond with the meaning of ‘restoration of health’ (Winkelmann 2009: 14). The concept of ‘healing’ also implies, in varying degrees, wellness as being ‘the whole’ in a broad sense of meaning (Winkelmann 2009: 14). Latter theoretical implications were affirmed by research participants for whom concepts such as ‘health’ or ‘healthy’ were experienced in quite a similar way to that described, i.e. a kind of wholeness, balance or equilibrium:

I don’t remember well, where it was, but about this healthy/non-healthy’, it was a kind of ‘philosophical’ mathematics. What is a ‘whole’ number and what a ‘non-whole’ number? So, accordingly,‘healthy’ is when it is ‘whole’. Not a half, not two and a half, and so on. So, a  whole’. So, if the human body, soul and all these physical feelings, emotional, calmness, if all those are OK –it means you are healthy. A whole[10]. […] One might not say: “Here I‘m good“, but “It is a little bad there”. In this case – you are not ‘whole’. [2].

Meanwhile illness was taken as misbalance, disharmony and disorder:

Illness – it’s all that doesn’t fit into the definition of ‘healthy’. Norm, balance. It’s broken balance. In your body, broken balance. Body, emotions – it’s all connected. […] It’s also connected with cultural matters. Otherwise, about the body – how you can feel it? One works so hard, that, you know [respondent means that people are rarely conscious of their own physical exhaustion, if they are overworked, author], that’s what allopathic medicine is made for. One might go and get a blood test, to see if it is within the norm’. To check your heart, muscles. […] There are also psychological tests, but in fact, meditation has to be used for that – so that you could feel, listen to yourself. When an individual lives with that, sohe/she feels. But usually people do not find time for it. And they pay attention [to the body, author] only when it’s already out of balance, ill at ease… [1].

It is noticed that health knowledge and practices are interconnected. Healing methods or point of view regarding illness are vivid processes, related to socio-cultural constructs of ‘healthy’ or ‘sick/ill’. A socio-cultural definition of ‘illness’ or ‘health’ is an individual construct, based on subjective values, beliefs and knowledge. This includes the sensation of physical comfort and, likewise, a good psycho-emotional feeling. Moreover, bad emotional or psychological feeling is sometimes taken as a forerunner of impending physical illness[11]. For this reason, it is important to be conscious enough of individual psychological, emotional, and physical bodies.

Personal pathways towards individual health

Research participants stressed that achieving health, or keeping healthy is an individual matter, based by necessary on a personal perception of health and on individual practices leading to enhanced personal wellness. Today, there exist a variety of medical treatment methods and approaches, and the question remains open as to which methods are most suitable. Therefore one must not be detached from an active lifestyle, but remain conscious in health choices:

I’m convinced that every man/woman finds his/her own path; his/her relationship with information [about heath, author]takes place at the right time, when he/she’s ready for that kind of information. If, for example, you are telling someone about chakras, and he/she is smiling to you [i.e. is skeptical about the existence of such elements, author], so stop telling him about chakras. Maybe he’ll find a meridian?, or a church; or maybe he’ll find nothing, because it is not the right time for him, you know. Each of those systems, they echo each other[…]. There are just different cultures and different people, who find their own way of perception. You choose the path you feel most sense about, most capable of understanding. The same is with religion. And the same could be said about living with God – the Dalai Lama says that you must cultivate the way which is culturally closest, close to the place where you live. This way of life is comprehensible for you, it is best adapted to where you live; even seasonality matters. Nutrition, all that stuff. [2].

Individual behavior also influences ones abilities to remain healthy or to recover. It derives from an individual responsibility for personal health – how much one is doing in order to maintain a healthy body and mind, or one can rely only on external factors, such as doctors, nurses or natural processes (aging, genetics etc.), and remain passive as regards personal health.

I have my own examples: one of my relatives had a stroke. And, it is claimed that much depends on how much that person trains [physically, author] during the first year after the stroke happened, because the body is recovering. […] So, there’s one woman, she has difficulties in moving, but she walks with a stick and mows the grass, and then there’s another person who lies in bed because he’s waiting for a miracle pill’. [2].

Almost every research participant emphasized the need to take individual care of health throughout life as the main guarantor for wellness, and to become self-aware and conscious instead of relying only on a doctor. Individuals have to be self-conscious, interested in their own health, and monitoring their physical and psycho-emotional sensations. Achieving good health has to be a continuous, not a fragmentary, process.

Doctor-patient relationships

The author’s observations and empirical research (statements from respondents) allow the assumption that some doctors were described as mistreating patients, disregarding patients’ knowledge and their additional interest in their own cases, by not explaining their reasons for prescribing one or more medicines and suchlike. Value differences between doctors, and patients was also noted by other researchers, like for example Winkelmann (2009: 15). This also referred to the attitude towards mothers of newborns, babies, and young children, where patients felt they were considered incapable of treating their own children, as current empirical data showed.

During empiric research, it was stated that medical doctors sometimes tend to over-prescribe hard medical drugs (e. g. antibiotics) just to assure themselves that no complication will arise in the disease – ‘just in case’. This kind of behavior seems to alienate patients, or their representatives, from the treatment/healing process, and establishes the “doctor as the only one with a right to treat a patient” treatment model, the only one with the ‘know-how’[12]. The patient then becomes dependent on the doctor (must follow instructions without questioning medical decisions). This pattern stands in contrast to the patients’ opinions discussed above, i. e. that the individual has to be an active participant in achieving health and conscious in health choices, etc.

Research data suggest that the contemporary medicine system tends to remove the initiative from patients (comments such as “Read Google less”) in order to remain the only agent competent enough to cure patients – initiative of a patient seems to be treated as an undesirable feature.

I would like them [medical doctors, author] to be seen as advisers, […] who specialize in a particular area. Or they should admit, that sometimes they are incapable [of treating illness, author], something like that. But they shouldn’t ignore patients or sneer at them. Because you do, and you are doing you best [e.g. in healing illness, author], according to your knowledge at that moment […]. But you receive a sneer. And this is not even that such behavior depreciates your efforts, no! Such behavior is like an attempt to say that you’re irresponsible. Something like, “We’ll be the only ones to take care of that”. [2].

This last quotation reflects miscommunication, and value differences between doctors and patients. Mothers, as representatives of their children, interested in various non-conventional treatment methods (such as homeopathy, herbalism, aromatherapy, etc.) seek to avoid chemical drugs as much as possible in order to keep her children healthier and more immune. Meanwhile empiric research indicates a deep abyss between the mother, directing questions to the doctor (that arise naturally because every new illness in a child is also new to the mother), in her desire and attempt to do the best for her child, but meeting in response cold, ignorant answers from the doctor, whose responses imply that the questions are dull and consume too much valuable clinic time. Such attitudes made research participant feel humiliated and undervalued as a mother, and also prompted to resort to medical doctors in the private sector, who usually devote more time (according to the interviewees) for communication with a patient.

It has become clear with reference to the contemporary conventional medical system how the medical system in general shapes the doctor – patient relationship, and methods for treating illnesses (based on illness codes, models of financing of medical drugs, number of patients the doctor has to see per day, etc.). Public doctors seem to have less time for deeper communication with patients in the context of a particular case, and, as a consequence, patients do not receive the service they really require, or expect. Especially disappointed are those with self-awareness, who have purposely educated themselves[13] on the issue and are ready to go more deeply into their case in order to seek to discover the causes for an illness, but in return receive rather ignorant and formal responses from doctors.

The patient – doctor relationship has been discussed by Christine Larson (2009), where she stated that doctors should serve as ‘guides’ for patients, not as those who know everything (Larson 2009: 19). She also claims that in the early 1950s, the relationship between physician and patient was one of adult and child, and that this has now become an adult – adult relationship (Larson: 2007, 51). These relationship variations illustrate the role model which manifested, according to research data, in the contemporary conventional Lithuanian medical system, too.

Conventional vs. non-conventional medicine: differences and possibilities?

Empirical research analyzed how research participants, i. e. patients, interested and actively involved in non-conventional medicine practice, perceive the relationship between so-called ‘conventional’, and ‘alternative’ medicine. The insiders (emic[14]) position seeks to reveal the causes for the prevalent opposition between conventional and non-conventional medicine[15].

Non-conventional medicine in society at large is often understood as a kind of non-effective, not ‘really helpful’ medicine, whilst conventional (bio)medicine is taken as genuine. In relation to surgery, effective vaccines, treatment of physical traumas, infections, etc., biomedicine has evident advantages. Alternative healing, including holistic medicine, aromatherapy, Reiki healing, are more widely practiced in cases of chronic, long-term illnesses/diseases, when merely restoring the physical body is not enough (Larson 2007: 16-17).

It was stated, by research participants, that contemporary medical treatment is mostly focused on eliminating the symptoms and repairing the physical body:

Conventional medicine usually alters body form and all those other things. Now all attitudes tend to transfer to those holistic things, the individual’s psychological status.  Now it is fashionable to speak of wide-spread stress in society. This means that a patient should not only be offered a blood test but also an appointment with a psychologist… or with a priest, if a psychologist is not acceptable. The individual must seek a variety of ways of self-healing, because it usually means that there’s a problem with something else – not your body.

Everything is connected. Each system you are facing, Silva method, or Sinelnikov[16] method, it’s all interconnected […]. Even any kind of emotion [negative emotions, author], if it’s hidden somewhere, it isn’t incorporated (understood) in the right way, even after 20 years, it might respond through a particular sickness, illness or such. One has to be conscious of these things. There’s really a lot of information about hygiene of thoughts and emotions – not only of the body. And all of that is important in maintaining health. [1].

Not one of the research participants denied the importance of the achievements of contemporary medicine, and the necessity for it. Even the need for collaboration between the two was stressed in that patients could benefit from a fusion of different treatment/healing systems, because they are not mutually exclusive but may actually supplement each other.

In general, these two types of medicine might collaborate. […]. For the so-called traditional individual’ it all works. But they should not compete. Contemporary medicine is based on commerce. And this is the main principle on which they do compete. [2].

The conventional health system (medicine, drug industry) has its weak sides – the interest in profit, or business interests, instead of focusing solely on treating the patient’s illness/disease, interviewees declare:

Now it’s the pharmacy business, trade, – after war and food it’s in third place. […] So, what does all that mean? That people don’t think how to remain a healthy individual, how to do this… – and this is all represented in lifestyle. Our culture is one of immense consumerism. [1].

Empirical data permit the assumption that a changing socio-economic context has a crucial influence on the emergence of different types of medical treatment systems. Different times require certain cures and methods of treatment. As times change, so medical needs also change, as in the intense public debate over obligatory child vaccinations. When change occurs in the conditions for keeping society healthy, methods of healing / treatment should also be changed, interviewees believe.

Q – What is the main difference between conventional and alternative medicine?

A – I‘ll put it like this, what I think of medicine. I think this is one of those institutes that arose of necessity, depending on certain circumstances, and they had to be temporary. But, as it happens – people have simply got used to it. And so those ‘temporary’ things became non-temporary. […] Probably that [the conventional type of medicine, author] was very important at the time. Antibiotics, for example. The discovery of antibiotics was very relevant in the context of controlling processes such as viruses, plagues etc. – that was important. But after the critical conditions passed, a rethink was necessary along the lines of ‘How much do we really need this?’. [1].

It seems that sometimes the ‘rightness’ of conventional medicine lies in its legitimate position because biomedicine is an institutionalized (official) state medical and health care provider. This fact in itself raises many rhetorical questions concerning the ‘non-rightness’ of non-conventional e medicine, as well as allowing us to think of medicine and health care, as legally established paradigm. According to Kleinman (1978b), local healers are much more skilled in healing the ‘experience’ of illness body (Kleinman 1978b: 88-89), meanwhile conventional medicine seem to be more specialized on the treatment of malfunction in the physical parameters of the human.

The empirical data gathered affirms that contemporary conventional medicine is necessary and topical.  Criticism mainly concerned contemporary’s medicine’s focus on the physical body over the psycho-emotional condition of a patient. Another topical side of medicine, indeed of our lives, is the consumerist lifestyle. This refers both to medicine (especially the pharmaceutical industry), interested in doing business from medical products and treatment, and patients who get hooked on a ‘wonder pill’ and seek treatment methods based more on the ‘pay money – become healthy’ model, rather than the ‘take care of yourself constantly – be healthy’ model.


The empirical data would indicate that people perceive a lack of variety in treatment methods, and that conventional medicine is far from sufficient. The interviewees stress self-responsibility and self-awareness as active components towards the maintenance of health and wellbeing, instead of a reliance on outside factors such as the effectiveness of medical drugs or advice from health professionals only.  From this, the conclusion can be drawn that achieving good health depend on a personal character features, too – such as responsibility, for example.

Special focus is placed on the patient – doctor relationship. It is one which is unsatisfactory from the patients’ perspective as they tend to feel disrespected by medical doctors sometimes, because of the brief time period dedicated to communication on the patient’s illness or the treatment/healing methods chosen. It is suggested that the doctor’s communication model should be changed, i. e. more attention should be paid to the patient in respect of time, quality of information shared, and of openness towards different attitudes on illness/diseases and healing/treatment methods. The lack of communication was seen as a process which deliberately alienates the patient from his/her own illness and from the ability to be active participant in the self-healing process.

Despite people’s search for an alternative healing method outside the parameters of the conventional medical system, a parallel process of support for the coexistence of conventional and alternative healing methods by patients was observed.

In contemporary global society, there exists a variety of individual beliefs, and experiences corresponding with the practices of healing. Research data let us declare that each individual would prefer to be considered with regard to his/her unique context – values, expectations from treatment, etc. The latter manifest in the process of mutual communication between doctor, and patient.

Here, we should admit the important role of medical humanities, medical anthropology, and ethnology studies – empirical research, theories on a view towards health, illness and care as a particular system and / or paradigm.

[1] Also known as ‘alternative’, ‘supplementary’, ‘traditional’, etc.

[2] History shows that ‘new’  does not always equate with ‘better’. There are examples of new medical drugs or treatment methods believed to be remedial, for example, the lobotomy in the 1930s for treating psychological disorders, in fact, proved to have detrimental consequences ( (02. 08. 2017).

[3] Based on research data.

[4] Transessence technique ( (15. 05. 2017).

[5] For example, whether or not breastfeeding is popular.

[6] Without formal medical training, but experienced in assisting at giving birth (Kiškūnė, Pociūtė, 2005: 27-33).

[7] Sutcliffe, A. The Place of Birth: The Dutch Midwifery System ( (11. 05. 2017).

[8] Where to give birth: the options (11.05.2017).

[9] Kleinman’s Explanatory Model of Illness, 1978a ( (05. 06. 2017);  Kleinmann, A. (1978b) “Concepts of a Model for Comparison of Medical Systems as Cultural Systems, Social Science and Medicine”.  Social Science & Medicine Part B Medical Anthropology, Vol. 12 (2B): 85-93.

[10] Word(s) underlined indicate that respondents stressed these words during interviews.

[11] Based on current empirical data.

[12] Of course we should understand that the role of a patient as well has it’s rational limits: for example, patient can not make a decision on methods of biomedical treatment, because (when) he/she is not a professional / an expert of that area.

[13] Like, for example, went to aromatherpay courses.

[14] In anthropological / qualitative research, the term ‘emic’ defines the scientific view, as the insider’s  (i. e. healer’s, non-conventional / alternative / traditional medicine practitioner, or the one who uses non-conventional medicine for his/her healing) view, on the issue in question.

[15] During empiric research, it was very often pointed out by the respondents that the medicine we are used to calling ‘traditional’, is rather young and what we now tend to define as ‘non-traditional’, or ‘alternative’ are actually traditional, since they go back further than contemporary allopathic medicine, e.g. Ayurveda or Chinese medicine.

[16] Valerij Sineдnikov, a well-known personality in the field of therapy and personality development etc.. (


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