At no other time have we had access to more amazing technology that is designed to make our lives easier, well-informed and efficient. We have made incredible steps forward in medicine to save and improve lives mainly because of these technological advances. We can replace body parts, grow new cells, restart hearts and target cancerous tumors with laser-like precision. However, even with all of these advances in technology and health care, we have more chronic illness and mental health challenges today—including cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, immune disorders, anxiety and depression—than we ever have before.

Given that, it is no wonder that with our ongoing societal decline in physical and mental health, many health care practitioners and concerned consumers are looking outside of conventional medicine and returning to the roots of healing. Over the last two to three decades, we have seen increasing interest in all areas of holistic health, including nutrition, yoga, chiropractic, massage, and energy medicine and Eastern techniques such as meditation, acupuncture, Reiki and the ancient spiritually-based practice of shamanism. Hospitals, schools, corporations, medical clinics, psychotherapy centers, rehabilitation centers, Veterans Administration programs and prisons are offering an array of holistic and integrative health programs to help heal, transform and empower an unwell and over-stressed population.

Shamanism—one of the oldest known spiritual and healing arts practice in the world—has offered remedies, ceremonies, hands-on healing, divination and working with spirits on behalf of communities for over 50,000 years. These ancient practices form the foundation of many contemporary complementary and alternative healing modalities and cross over all parts of the globe. The term, “shamanism”, traditionally comes from the earth-honoring spiritual traditions of Siberia; however, “shamanism” and “shamanic practitioner” are now used as general terms to acknowledge those practicing some form of contemporary or indigenous practices that include working directly with helping spirits—such as angels, spirit guides, spirit teachers, ancestors and animal guides—to facilitate healing for themselves, clients and communities. The traditional title of “shaman” is one that is typically reserved as a title of respect for those who come from ancient lineages of medicine people and/or who have practiced traditional shamanic techniques successfully for many years to support their communities.

Both in contemporary and indigenous cultures, those called to the shamanic path have often gone through some sort of profound healing from illness or injury, loss, transformation or trauma that has served as a catalyst to reignite their connection to their soul and their spiritual journey. This path of the “wounded healer” can involve many years of self-healing, therapy and treatment; it is followed by training with one or more mentors, teachers or guides to provide the practitioner with more self-awareness, personal responsibility and integrity in following their call to the shamanic way of life. For the shamanic practitioner to provide their services to others effectively for the long term, they must truly “walk their talk” and continue with continuous self-healing and training. This dedication to practice and learning also supports the humility that is necessary on this difficult path of service.

Contemporary shamanic practitioners, when properly trained, practice in a way that supports and empowers each individual client’s own spiritual path, connection and healing journey. Shamanic practitioners are not gurus, but rather teach and guide their clients and students to become their own best advocate and authority on their personal connection to spirit and their team of spiritual helpers to guide and support them in their health, well-being and everyday lives.

Shamanic practitioners work in conjunction with conventional medicine and other holistic health care practitioners to support a safe, integrative approach to healing for their clients. Depending on the practitioner and their background, knowledge and training, their work often focuses on bridging the metaphysical and the physical to support their clients’ healing from challenges. They might perform healing practices such as: soul retrieval, which restores vital energy that can be lost after traumatic events; shamanic extraction, which removes energy blocks that can interfere with physical, mental and emotional health and vitality; psychopomp work to assist souls crossing over to the other side; and/or home, land and space clearings and blessings to restore harmony and balance to physical locations by working in partnership with the nature spirits, ancient ancestors, animal spirits and spirits of the land residing there.

Today, shamanic practitioners work in integrative healing arts centers, schools, businesses, medical offices, private practice, large clinics and in their own backyards. They might be trained practitioners of other healing arts—such as nurses, doctors, massage therapists, physical therapists, Reiki practitioners, yoga teachers—and/or those seeking a more holistic, earth-honoring and spiritually based approach to healing. Practitioners can seek training with local teachers, indigenous medicine people and larger established schools such as the Foundation for Shamanic Studies. Some organizations also offer trips abroad to study and work with indigenous tribes to learn their healing arts and practices in a traditional setting. Those seeking to learn shamanic healing practices are encouraged to seek formal training before attempting to provide this work on behalf of others.

Shamanic practices are thousands of years old. They can provide deep powerful healing to the body and soul of people, land and communities. Now seems to be the time when many are seeking to restore their relationship with nature and spirit to help create a world where dissatisfaction, disease and illness decreases and health, vitality and spiritual fulfillment increases for the benefit of all.

Deana Paqua is a teacher of spiritual and holistic health, shamanic practitioner and teacher, licensed massage therapist, Reiki master and adjunct professor at Western Connecticut State University (WCSU) in Danbury. She has a private practice at Turning Point Healing Arts & Education Center in Ridgefield and teaches a holistic shamanic practitioner program through WCSU’s Institute of Holistic Health Studies. Connect at