Toronto Metropolitan University
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Traditional medicine in social work practice

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posted on 2021-05-23, 17:32 authored by Rachel Holoff
This partial grounded theory study explores the topic of Traditional medicine in social work practice in Toronto, Canada. Given the dearth of knowledge in this area, I wanted to explore the contrapuntal nature of two social workers’ practice who refer to Traditional Medicine, and to conceptualize further on this approach. Social work literature and practice has paid little attention to this topic despite the field’s purported commitment to equity and social justice. This is largely a reflection of how greatly we take for granted the bias towards Western medicine in our public health care system and in the social work referral system that is aligned with it. The World Health Organization defines Traditional medicine as: “Health practices, approaches, knowledge, and beliefs incorporating plant, animal, and mineral based medicines, spiritual therapies, manual techniques, and exercises, applied singularly or in combination to treat, diagnose, and prevent illnesses or maintain well-being” (Fokunang et al., 2011). Such approaches, which are based on Indigenous and non-Western ways of knowing are not covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP), and thus remain largely inaccessible to the most financially marginalized. This is a problem for those who cannot afford to pay out of pocket for their health care. It is a grave disservice to those whose culture does not align with Western medicine; those whose health conditions have not been helped by Western medicine; and those who require a combination of Western and Traditional approaches to bring them to full health. This research explores the knowledge, experience, and processes of two social workers in Toronto who refer clients to Traditional medicine in spite of the structural bias towards Western medicine and its approaches. Key Words: Traditional medicine, social work practice, contrapuntal approach, decolonization, the Medicine Wheel, Toronto





  • Master of Social Work


  • Social Work

Granting Institution

Ryerson University

LAC Thesis Type

  • MRP