Health Belief Systems: Traditional Medicine

Health Belief Systems: Traditional Medicine

It is fair to say that people’s perceptions of health, illness, and treatment may differ significantly. These variations are often defined by belief systems, which are the sets of attitudes, assumptions, and behaviors connected to health. These systems are culturally determined; they include a wide range of practices and have a profound influence on community health. Therefore, health beliefs and their effect have always been at the center of medical research. This paper aims to discuss the role of traditional medicine as a widespread health system and how it can be implemented in nursing settings.

The origins of the traditional health system lie, by definition, in the history of a particular nation. According to Sun (2019), “traditional health practitioners are commonly found in the rural areas of developing countries,” since it allows them to be closer to local communities (p. 98). Their methods originate from indigenous practices and teachings and are often connected to religion and spirituality. Healers have a solid reputation in the community; they are respected and generally have a significant experience of practicing traditional medicine (Sun, 2019). Their services are considered cheaper than clinical treatment, which explains their widespread occurrence, especially in third-world cultures.

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Traditional medicine includes knowledge of local and tribal healthcare practices. The main assumption of this health belief system is that illnesses can be classified as natural and unnatural (Townsend, 2017). The supporters of folk medicine believe that natural events happen according to God’s intentions, while unnatural diseases result from disrupting the balance of nature. Treatment methods are widely practiced by shamans, herbalists, and acupuncturists. The most common traditional health beliefs include Native Americans, Chinese, and African. For example, according to Chinese philosophy, yin and yang are the two opposing, but at the same time, complementary elements of existence (Micozzi, 2018, p. 489). Preventive practices and herbal treatment are essential in Chinese culture (Micozzi, 2018). Therefore, it is possible to see that folk healthcare incorporates spirituality, religious assumptions, and traditional methods of treatment.

There have been long-lasting disagreements between modern and folk healthcare practitioners, and the effectiveness of traditional healthcare systems has not been clearly defined yet. The major doubts of scientific societies are connected with the lack of proper control over traditional health practices (Bodeker & Graz, 2019). This treatment is usually home-based, which creates difficulties in regulating the quality of medical services. However, in certain regions, such as China and Vietnam, governmental control over the indigenous medicine sector is rather developed (Bodeker & Graz, 2019). The compliance to safety standards ensures the community’s well-being and makes folk medicine more reliable.

Another important implementation of folk health beliefs is connected with the increasing spread of herbal treatment. Even though the effectiveness of herbal medicine has been confirmed, the lack of drug quality control may lead to adverse effects (Bodeker & Graz, 2019). Moreover, indigenous healing may incorporate religious rituals, some of which are considered dangerous (Townsend, 2017). At the same time, other clinical studies confirm that traditional methods of treatment can be the best solution for particular medical cases. For example, Chinese practitioners developed a non-surgical method of treating trachoma. It is not only simple in implementation but can also be compared to surgical intervention in its effectiveness (Bodeker & Graz, 2019). These controversies make traditional treatment and beliefs doubtful in certain cases.

Due to the effectiveness of particular practices and assumptions, alternative methods of treatment can be implemented in modern nursing. For example, Townsend (2017) underlines that some antibiotics became less effective over time, and herbs can be an appropriate solution. Today, lavender is widely used for relieving muscular and joint pain. Peppermint oil is also common in hospital settings, as it allows reducing nausea (Townsend, 2017). Therefore, in nursing practice, careful and controlled use of herbs can be appropriate in the case of patients’ intolerance to modern drugs or their ineffectiveness.

Finally, not only certain methods of treatment but also the ideas and assumptions of a particular health belief system can be applied in nursing practices. As it was previously mentioned, unnatural events are often perceived as the result of the lack of harmony between humans and the environment (Townsend, 2017). Therefore, healthy habits and active lifestyles are common preventive practices and the core of a human’s well-being both in modern and traditional beliefs. In nursing practice, it is possible to promote a balanced diet, the consumption of diverse products and vitamins, and regular exercise since they have proved to be effective regardless of patients’ culture and beliefs.

In conclusion, it is possible to say that among various health systems, traditional medicine is one of the most widespread. Some of its assumptions and principles are considered safe, while others can be harmful and ineffective. Today, certain traditional methods have become more accepted and can be used in combination with biomedical treatment. A nurse’s responsibility is to evaluate the possible consequences of integrating folk health beliefs into modern care. If treatment is controlled and safe, following the principles of the traditional health system can significantly contribute to patients’ well-being and the overall development of nursing.


Bodeker, G., & Graz, B. (2019). Traditional medicine. In E.T. Ryan et al. (Eds.), Hunter’s tropical medicine and emerging infectious diseases (10th ed., pp. 194-199). Elsevier Health Sciences.

Micozzi, M.S. (2018). Fundamentals of complementary, alternative, and integrative medicine (6th ed.). Elsevier Health Sciences.

Sun, X. (2019). World health systems. John Wiley & Sons.

Townsend, K. (2017). Fundamental concepts and skills for the patient care technician. Elsevier Health Sciences.


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