Cordillera People Philippines

The Emerging Worldview of the Indigenous Peoples of


Selected Cordillera Provinces: Implications for Psychotherapy


Dr Janetius



Worldview is the living lens through which people perceive and understand human existence. Health concepts and healing practices are based on the beliefs and worldview of the individual and the community (Boyle & Andrews, 1995). Indigenous healing practices arise from the worldview that spiritual powers influence life, perceptions, values, and behaviors (Scott & Meyer, 1994). These traditional healings are slowly becoming popular to the extent that they can satisfy people's needs better than conventional bio-chemical therapies and considered holistic. Therefore, today there has been a growing interest in studying the spirituality and other indigenous traditional healing modalities (Anderson & Worthen, 1997). Most of the contemporary psychotherapies and therapeutic techniques are based on Euro-American worldview that lack cultural relativism. However, the indigenous approaches consider the spiritual and cultural beliefs of the clients, and many psychologists and psychotherapists adhere to this approach and recommend the need for integration of spiritual, cultural worldviews of the clients in therapeutic process.

In the Philippines, research findings show that the western models of psychotherapy are widely used by many psychotherapists and counselors. Though there is an expectation and call for indigenous psychotherapy models that can consider spiritual and cultural views of the people, no serious model has been prepared integrating the spiritual and other individuating beliefs of the people (Clemeña, 1993).

Cordillera native healing practices originate from the unique belief system of the peoples. These alternative, complementary healing practices in the Northern Luzon Island are often overlooked and ignored. Ibrahim (1985) points out that in therapy “lack of understanding of one’s own and one’s clients worldviews result in frustration and anxiety for both the helper and the client” (p. 629). Identifying the worldview, belief systems of health practices of the client would therefore enable therapists to be more effective in dealing with clients who come from varying religious and spiritual beliefs.

The history of medicine started with a fusion of facts, folklores, and superstitions. Psychotherapy evolved from ministrations of priests, shamans, magicians, soothsayers and witch doctors of the ancient world (Benor, 2001). Working with the same worldview and belief system, these traditional healers attempted to determine the causes of the person's physical and emotional distress. This is one of the reasons why traditional healers are successful.

Relief of pain, anxiety, and stress, as well as spiritual and emotional healing, are common occurrences in any shamanic and other traditional native healings. These healings are based on the belief that spiritual principles govern the life of people (Chrisman, 2001). Therefore, they believe that the condition of the soul must be addressed in order to have healing (Wurges, 2001). For example, three thousand years ago in India treatment for any illness included a consideration of the whole person including diet, yoga and meditation – a harmonious blending of body, mind and spirit.

Krippner (1988) sees some similarities between shamans and other traditional healers and modern western psychotherapy. He points out that behavior therapy, hypnotherapy, psychodrama, NLP and similar therapies are closely parallel to the traditional native healing methods. Conventional therapeutic approaches do focus to a certain extent on the belief systems of the clients and emphasize the importance of clients’ specific thoughts and feelings. However, they follow a very different methodology and different approach for the most part than do spiritual traditions and indigenous healers (Sollod, 1993). On the other hand, under the pretext of being very scientific in its approach, contemporary psychotherapy has evaded spiritual, religious or faith aspects that are inscribed in the minds of many people. Freud’s (1928) concept of religion as infantile neurosis played a major role in the shaping of contemporary psychotherapy, as it is still one of the often cited reasons among psychotherapists of the Western psychological tradition which view any mystical or spiritual experiences with suspicion.

Taking lead from Freud, contemporary psychotherapy attributes the causes and cures of psychological problems to biological malfunctioning, unconscious mechanisms, psychosomatic in nature; such an outlook may be detrimental to the growth of psychotherapy as an effective therapeutic means in diverse cultural settings. Freud conceptualized human beings as determined organisms acted upon by physical and biological laws. Even humanistic approach sees the human being as a subjective and arbitrary creation and overlooks, to some extent, any religious or spiritual dimensions of life (Tart, 1987). While directive counseling and psychotherapy give the notion that the therapist is a qualified professional who can dictate to the client what is right and wrong, non-directive approaches believe that the client has the potency to change by counsel or through the realization of their inner self. In contrast to these Western psychotherapeutic approaches the traditional native healers cling on to the belief system of the client and stress divine intervention and other religious, spiritual and mystical aspects in any healing process, a practice that is appealing to millions even today.

Native healing traditions evolved in unique ways, at different times of history based on specific worldview and belief system. Since the healing traditions are closely linked to the worldview and belief system of the community, they are patient-centered. These healing traditions have developed their unique places among their cultures in developed as well as in developing countries. They are often sought after even today as seen in the indigenous healers of Native America, the spiritual healers of Tibet and the Himalayas, and the traditional healers of Africa and India.

Psychological researchers are slowly becoming aware of the fact that people from different ethno-cultural groups do indeed have unique thinking, behavior and personality patterns, entirely different from what the generalized Euro-American psychological theories suggest (Trimble, 2000). Results from ethnic studies point out the possibility of new vistas in conceptualizing and administering unique psychological services, evaluations and measurements, understanding mental health issues, diagnoses, and treatment based on specific culture and tradition.

In counseling and psychotherapy, culture is understood to pose a barrier to quality therapy (Santos, 1998). Therefore, an effective therapist should work in harmony with background influences of human nature, specifically the traditional culturally learned beliefs and worldview, environmental and geographic conditions of the clients.

There is a difference between cultural psychology and cross-cultural psychology. Cultural psychology considers culture as the birthplace for psychological processes and considers culture as an essential tool in therapy. On the other hand, cross-cultural psychology views culture simply as a site of variations for human behavior. Therefore, psychologists and psychotherapists are becoming aware of the need for cultural relativism in psychotherapy and focus increasingly on cultural contextualization in understanding and answering human behavior and mental health issues (Cole, 1996). It is a satisfactory move to replace universal psychology with indigenous therapies. In this context, the study of indigenous cultures plays a vital role in understanding and helping clients from different socio-cultural background.

Filipinos are known for their deep-rooted religious and spiritual beliefs (Calpotura, 2000). They strongly believe in the influence of spirits in day-to-day life; belief in God, spirits and forces beyond self and a strong belief in extrasensory realities form part of their strong worldview and philosophy of life (Bulatao, 1992). Although Spanish and American philosophical and religious influence made a strong impact in the Filipino psyche, the present day Filipino psyche is not free from pre-Spanish transpersonal worldview (Bulatao, 1992). Together with their Christian vision of life, Filipinos’ adherence to the traditional beliefs in the spirits, such as anitos, nunos, aswangs, lamang lupa, etc., even today (Calpotura, 2000).

In the Philippines, Babaylan and other religious and spiritual functionaries are often seen as traditional native healers (Fox, 1978). The Babaylan, a kind of shaman, in the pre-Spanish Philippines, was a mainly woman, who was central personality in the society in matters of culture, religion, medicine and any phenomenon of nature (Salazar, 1996). Healing is one of the important functions of Babaylans and they were believed to be endowed with powers to predict the auspicious time of events, to effect healings of different nature and to undertake performing rites for the dying. Today the Babaylan tradition is vanishing. However, there are numerous other traditional native healers who use complex pattern of diverse rites, techniques like drums, dance and music to heal people (Veneracion, 1991). Albularyo (herbolario, village healer) traditions are seen in many parts of the Philippines even today.  They heal by herbal concoctions and prayer-based folkloric therapies. Of all these traditional healers in the Philippines, many psychic and faith healers are often proven as fake and cheats (Raposas, 1999). However, the native traditional healing among Indigenous Cordilleran people in the Northern Luzon Island is acclaimed and respected as providing alternative healing because their healing is based on their philosophy of life (Stuart, 2002).

Indigenous Cordilleran people, generally known as Igorots, are an independent and traditional people who resisted the colonizing Spanish and American cultural influence and retain their identity even today. They live in accordance with their individuating beliefs, unique worldview and mores of their sacred ancestors. Their social and cultural practices are based on ancestor worship, animism and magical power (Angelo & Reyes, 1987). Their concept of health is intertwined with a religious belief that the gods and spirits are quick to anger and if ignored or treated badly can quickly become ill-tempered, demanding tyrants capable of causing misfortune and injury (Lacanaria, 1999). Just like any other world religion, they, too, believe that the gods and other spiritual beings are approachable and can be influenced to gain material benefits and physical and mental health by proper rites and rituals.

In the Philippines, developing an indigenous psychology and psychotherapy has been the focal point of discussion for the past few decades (Sevilla, 1995). Due to this pressing need of the time, there has been an increasing interest in the recent years to study indigenous psychology (Enriquez, 1977). Clemeña (1993) points out that many steps have been taken in the last decade to identify the Filipino philosophy of life and worldview to formulate appropriate indigenous counseling programs. Instead of trying some indigenous therapeutic techniques, Filipino counselors prefer test interpretation as the most diagnostic technique (Villar, 1997). This suggests a strong need for indigenous cultures of the Philippines to be studied and integrated into the psychotherapeutic processes.

In spite of today’s strong awareness and focus on cultural psychology, Euro-American counseling and therapeutic techniques that lack cultural relativism are widely used by counselors all over the world (Ruiz, 2000). Taking into consideration this present need for culture based indigenous psychotherapy models, this study is focused on the emerging worldview-in relation to health beliefs and healing practices-of the indigenous people of selected Cordillera Provinces. Out of six provinces in Cordillera region, the study is limited to three provinces due to its similarities in their cultural practices and their origin in the Malay race (Mata, 1952), also the proximity. The study did not focus on all the cultural practices of Cordillera people, which would be a Herculean task. It is limited to their healing practices and the present worldview relevant to it. Since the researcher is not familiar with the language of the people being studied, assistance was sought from a total number of nine research assistants who are familiar with both local dialect and culture and English.

Specific implications are drawn from the study that are profitable to culture-based psychotherapy and counseling models in the Philippines in particular and psychotherapy in general. This research also enables the researcher as a counselor and psychotherapist to be culture-sensitive and integrate indigenous modalities of therapy into mainstream counseling and psychotherapy in the future


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