Theories of Health and Illness

Theories of Health and Illness

Personalistic belief system Naturalistic theories of disease
Humoral system Ayurvedic system Vitalistic system Biomedical (allopathic) medicine Germ theory Holistic medicine

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Learning Objectives

After reading this chapter, you should be able to:

1. Explain three overarching theories of the causes of illness and provide examples of each.

2. Explain the differences between the biomedical and holistic systems of care.

3. Explain two models of cultural competence.

“ Being cold will give you a cold,” “ cracking your knuckles will give you arthritis,” and “ feed a fever, starve a cold” are three of many commonly held beliefs by the dominant culture in the United States about how illness can occur and be cured. People from different cultures hold their own beliefs about the causes and cures of illness, and these beliefs influence their behavior and where and when they decide to seek care. Many others factors also affect our health care experience, such as how we communicate about health, whether we believe we have control over our own health, and how health care decisions are made. These factors can be so deeply ingrained that they are almost invisible. Because of this invisibility, health care professionals can overlook these key differences and forget that not all people who reside within the United States have the same beliefs about health and illness. Therefore, it is essential to bring these issues to light, which is the purpose of this chapter.

This chapter begins with a discussion of theories about how illness occurs and then presents models of care for when illness does occur. The chapter ends with a focus on cultural competence and ways to improve cultural competence.

Theories of Health and Illness Theories about health and illness address the beliefs people hold about how to maintain health and the causes of illness. These ideas, beliefs, and attitudes are socially constructed and are deeply ingrained in people’s cultural experience, and they can have a profound effect on medical care. Where people seek care and when are rooted in their cultural belief system (Carteret, 2011). Their beliefs influence prevention efforts, delay or prevent medical care, and complicate the care given (Carteret, 2011).

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