Diverse and changing perceptions of the body: communicating illness, health, and risk in an age of medical pluralism

Journal Article

By: R Agdal
Publication Name: J Altern Complement Med
Year: 2005

There has been a marked increase in the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in the West since the 1970s. However, biomedicine is still prevailing within public health services and health services covered by private insurance. Different therapies, conventional and CAM, represent different perceptions of the the body. Perceptions of the body are closely related to perceptions of illness, health, disease, and risk. The cultural models of the body are related to social organization and the development of technologies. In a study on spiritual healers and their clients in Norway, I found that clients adapted to a multitude of medical regimes by processes of recognition through cognitive models, learning, and socialization. I describe five models that are evident in communication between healers and clients; the model of the body as machine, plumbing system, energetic, programmable, and as wireless network. People hold diverse perceptions of health, illness, body, and risk, which influence attitudes and behavior. Changes in perceptions of body, health, and illness may be one factor enforcing that CAM is increasingly becoming a first-line intervention. Health authorities meet this challenge emphasizing the regulation of CAM to safeguard patients but could also choose to focus on what clients define as their needs. The shift in cultural understandings of the body, and how people cope with this diversity, ought to be an area for further investigation, as it may affect the choices citizens make and the legitimacy of health authorities.

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