Rethinking the Role of Diagnosis in Navajo Religious Healing

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Abstract

Diagnosis plays a central, primary role in the therapeutic process across cultures. In this article, the authors examine the role of diagnosis in two Navajo religious healing traditions, the Traditional Navajo religion and the Native American Church (NAC), and examine a case study of a diagnostic encounter between an NAC diagnostician and a Traditional patient. The authors assert that, for Navajos, diagnosis is not merely a prescriptive rite that passively initiates the therapeutic process (as it has been seen in the Navajo literature) but can itself constitute a cure. Claims made about the similarity between Western psychotherapy and religious healing both by scholars and by the healer and patient in this case study are investigated. The authors conclude that such an analogy must be seen against the backdrop of Navajo beliefs about thought, speech, and health. Viewing diagnosis as a “talking cure” and an example of Good’s concept of “narrativizing” illness (things it shares with Western psychotherapy) suggests why the analogy is appealing for Navajos themselves.