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Translating “Mind-in-Body”: Two Models of Patient Experience Underlying a Randomized Controlled Trial of Qigong
Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry
Format: Journal Article
Publication Year: n/a
Pages: 419-447
Source ID: shanti-sources-22965
Zotero Collections: Contexts of Contemplation Project
Abstract: This study explores two conflictingmodels of how patients experience mind-bodytherapies; these models frame the design of aclinical trial examining the effects of qigong (a traditional Chinese movementtherapy) on the immune systems of former cancerpatients. Data consist of ethnographic researchand in-depth interviews conducted at the Bostonteaching hospital where the trial is to takeplace. These interviews, with biomedicalresearchers who designed the trial and with theqigong master responsible for the qigong arm of the trial, reveal twofundamentally different understandings of howqigong is experienced and how thatexperience may be beneficial. The biomedicalteam sees qigong as a non-specifictherapy which combines relaxation and exercise. The qigong master, on the other hand,sees qigong as using specific movementsand visualizations to direct mental attentionto specific areas of the body. Thus while thebiomedical team frames qigong as a“mind-body” practice, the qigong masterframes it as a “mind-in-body” practice. This research suggests that the biomedicalnotion that mind-body therapies work byeliciting mental relaxation is only one way ofthinking about how patients experiencemodalities like qigong: indeed,characterizations of mind-body therapies whichemphasize a mental sense of relaxation may bespecific to biomedicine and the cultures whichsurround it. More broadly, the paper arguesthat gaps in understanding between researchersand practitioners may be hindering scientificefforts to assess therapies like qigong.It concludes by proposing that clinical trialsof traditional and alternative therapies buildethnographic inquiry about practitionerexperience into the design process.