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Multiple Truths: Week in Amatlan

The students and I  were able to spend a wonderful week in Amatlán de Quetzalcoatl. Through living in homestays, visiting local organizations, listening to the experiences of local people, and participating in natural healing and spiritual ceremonies, we were able to learn more about aspects of rural life in Mexico. The one thing that I purposefully kept in mind through the whole week was the concept of “multiple truths.” That is, I wanted to engage in every experience by not looking for what was “wrong” or “right,” or not judging or thinking which ideas or beliefs were more “logical” through my lens and perspectives. Instead, I hoped to realize that there are many truths, cultures, and beliefs, so that I could truly appreciate someone’s story. I cannot compare someone’s story, culture, and beliefs to mine or discredit them based on my different beliefs. I personally think that, as social workers and future social workers, we need to engage with clients while acknowledging that there is no “right” or “wrong” when it comes to beliefs, ideas, and actions – just different truths.

The students and I experienced a clash of beliefs when we visited a primary school in Amatlán. One of these experiences was meeting the special needs teacher of the school. She expressed to us that part of her job was debunking the “myths” these children had been culturally and traditionally taught. These “myths” included being healed with a traditional healing ceremony called a “limpia” and the belief in fairies. According to her, people could not be healed with a traditional healing ceremony called a “limpia” and fairies could not exist because one cannot touch them. Her thought was, “what you cannot touch, does not exist.” She went on to state that it is important to debunk these “myths” because if she did not, the children would then need to see a psychiatrist once they got to adulthood. Her statements left me with the following questions and thoughts. When is it – if ever – our role as social workers to debunk someone’s traditions and beliefs?  Can you respect someone’s beliefs while not truly thinking that they could be real or work? For example, if a client comes to us with signs of depression, but believes that this depression could be caused from negative energy or bad spirits, and therefore believes that it could be healed with natural or traditional ways of healing,  is it my responsibility to believe  that their means of healing may result in curing the depression? Or, is it my responsibility as a social worker to go with my western way of thought and schooling and refer them to a mental health provider?

Readers, do you have thoughts on these questions?  Please post in the comments on our Facebook page.