Where Western Psychology and Curanderismo Meet

Story by: Itzel Garcia

AUSTIN—Along the Arizona-Mexico border, Alicia Enciso Litschi grew up listening to the word “curanderismo,” a traditional healing practice of Mexican indigenous roots, as part of her Mexican-American culture and upbringing.

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Photo Courtesy of Enciso Litschi

Much later, after earning a PhD in counseling psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, Litschi began implementing traditional curanderismo practices to her profession until she reached a balance between western psychology and curanderismo where both methods of healing worked with each other.

“Curanderismo includes a holistic perspective, it includes the body, the mind, the soul and spirit. If a person is sick, then it is because there’s something wrong with any of these. There’s an imbalance,” Litschi said. “This is something very new to western psychology but beginning to be implemented.”

Both, a curandera and a psychologist, Litschi practices psychotheraphy, or what she calls, “Con alma” or “With soul” therapy. Litschi mainly treats patients with depression, anxiety, social anxiety and imposter syndrome. She also focuses on personal, spiritual and career growth.

The history of curanderismo dates back to indigenous practices before the colonization of Latin America and has developed mainly around Mexican and Mexican-American culture, but Litschi’s approach is inclusive to all ethnicities.

“[If]clients have an open mind to spiritual connections, and if I think it’s something they would appreciate, I tend to use curanderismo to bring a connection with the spirit and earth,” Litschi said.

One of the main curanderismo rituals Litschi implements are “limpias” or spiritual cleansings, in which a person is caressed and rubbed with specific plants. Sometimes, an egg is used to transfer the energy from the body of the patient to the egg. Often, limpias are used to diagnose patients.

“I’ve done limpias with my clients, but also have taught them how to do it themselves because I think that’s also important,” Litschi said.

However, though curanderismo is practiced in professional spaces like in Litschi’s case, it isn’t generally legitimized by western methods of healing.

Curanderismo for the most part is not a certified approach to counseling, Dr. Rachel Gonzalez-Martin said, associate professor in the Mexican American and Latino Studies (MALS) program at UT-Austin.

“Curanderos tend to learn as apprentices –but they aren’t certified like midwives who work in hospitals,” Gonzalez-Martin said. “I think there are informal social networks of training and apprenticing that are more valued than others, also many may also be registered nurses or (have) PhD’s in related health fields.”

Since curanderismo is not certified, specific empirical evidence is difficult to come across of. But there are surveys that record how many U.S. citizens take a holistic approach to mental health.

According to data from the National Center for Health Statistics, in 2002, 75 percent of adults in the US have used some form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). In 2009, 10 percent of children with special health care needs used alternative medicine.

In fact, the recognition of curanderismo by Western psychology is one of Litschi’s main passions that continues to shape her work and her future.

“Curanderismo is it’s own expression of science and needs to be taken seriously,” Litschi said.

Meanwhile, curanderismo remains relevant to cultural practices, specifically with Mexican and Mexican American youth and families.

“There’s been an emphasis in trying to reclaim that which was not lost but which was in hiding.” Litschi said. “It happens a lot within academic spaces, especially when speaking to Mexican American students.”

Celia Valles, a Biochemistry senior at UT Austin, who completed a student thesis about curanderismo, remembers the hands of her aunt rubbing her face, arms and stomach with an egg to release a headache, or an emotional ailing, or what is known as “mal de ojo.”

“I went to a school where most students came from Mexican descent, where the idea of mal de ojo and rubbing yourself with an egg was really common,” Valles said.“Like sometimes, whenever my mom thinks I’m giving too much attitude, she says to me: you need to go get a limpia. Right now.”

 

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