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Ehrenwald, J. (1969). Ethno-Psychiatry: Kiev, Ari: Curanderismo: Mexican-American Folk Psychiatry. New York: The Free Press, 1968, 207 pp.. Am. Imago, 26(1):84-85.

(1969). American Imago, 26(1):84-85

Ethno-Psychiatry: Kiev, Ari: Curanderismo: Mexican-American Folk Psychiatry. New York: The Free Press, 1968, 207 pp.

Review by:
Jan Ehrenwald, M.D.

This is a solid anthropological study of Mexican-American folk psychiatry by the editor of a previous anthology, Magic, Faith and Healing, which deals with a broader spectrum of crosscultural ethnopsychiatric studies.

Dr. Kiev's focus is on the distinctive cultural characteristics of some two million Mexican-Americans living in or around the over-crowded urban slums of San Antonio, Texas. Their culture is largely derived from the Spanish colonial tradition, and the few surviving traces of their original Indian background. As an economically deprived and culturally uprooted minority, they have preserved many features of their traditional beliefs, customs and values, including an elaborate system of healing practices provided by their curanderos. The curandero's approach is a mixture of primitive magic, religious devotion, ancient herbalist lore and down to earth pragmatic experience. All this is admirably related to the corresponding tribal system of beliefs in witches or bruhas; in mal ojo, the evil eye; in the nefarious effects of envidia or envy, and of susto, the dreaded “loss of soul.”

Based on a detailed study of four curanderos, several clinical case histories and on conversations with native informants, Dr. Kiev offers wide ranging psychoanalytic interpretations of both the therapists' and patients' personalities, viewed against the background of their shared cultural heritage. Among the major problems encountered in the male is the conflict of dependence versus independence, due in part to his machismo complex: the overrating of virility and the dilemma of cultural assimilation versus continued adherence to the Mexican tradition. Another, wellnigh ubiquitous, conflict is the fear of losing control over instinctual drives, shared by both men and women. Among the hierarchy of defenses used is the tendency to denial, reaction formation, escape into ritualistic, formalized behavior and paranoid projection. Belief in ghosts and spirits, in witchcraft and the evil eye are readily available rationalization along these lines.


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