5. Analyze the role of culture and power in mediating relationship quality, including that of the
health care professional and patient.

8. Apply the concept of ‘witnessing' to the healer's role reflect on the difference between engagement and detachment.

Section 2 Exercise 4 The healer's role

Overview. In this exercise, you will be exploring the healer's role as witness. Here is a working definition of witnessing: observing or being part of an event or situation without actively interfering to change its course. Even though healers are generally thought of as active doers--they hang IV's, write prescriptions, teach behavioral techniques, pin broken bones and give suppositories--there is a sizeable component of healing that requires just 'listening' or 'being there.' If this seemingly passive stance were simple to accomplish, there would no need to teach the 'softer' side of medicine. Patients would be happier and litigation would be rare. But listening effectively is often an acquired art. This exercise looks at some meanings of witnessing.

Link to the Pulitzer-prize winning photograph by Kevin Carter of a Sudanese child. http://flatrock.org.nz/topics/odds_and_oddities/ultimate_in_unfair.htm. Although this does not depict a strictly medical relationship, the photograph is about suffering. The photographer, by taking the picture, is implicated in this suffering. By reflecting on the photographer's obligations, and by comparing the type of witnessing performed by the photographer with the healer's act of witnessing, this exercise encourages you to better understand and articulate the healer's role. After looking at the photograph, answer the discussion questions on the next page.


In this photograph, we do not see the photographer, but his presence is implicit. We shall soon see how important this presence turns out to be. You might be able to anticipate the public reaction to the publication of this photograph ( which we will encounter below) by reflecting on the invisible photographer.

1. What is his purpose in taking pictures such as this one?

2. Think about his background, education and socioeconomic status. What are the power imbalances between the photographer and the depicted child? Compare your answer by clicking here.

3. Can you now anticipate the public response the photographer faced when this photograph was published? To read about the background and reception of this photograph, read the following insert. This information accompanies the photograph in the Newseum's collection. About The Photographer What in your view justifies the public's accusations of this photographer? What arguments can you make to defend him?

4. What are the similarities and differences between the healer and the photographer?