The health seeking process: an approach to the natural history of illness

Cult Med Psychiatry. 1977;1(4):351-77. doi: 10.1007/BF00116243.


Anthropological research on health-related behaviors in the United States has tended to emphasize folk illnesses among particular subcultural groups, obscuring the heterogeneity of popular culture health beliefs and practices in the lay health system. The development of theoretical models for this complex society will require research that stresses similarity as well as diversity within and between population groups. The health seeking process is proposed in this paper as a means to document natural histories of illness in any subculture. Concepts from medical anthropology and medical sociology are related to five components of health seeking -- symptom definition, illness-related shifts in role behavior, lay consultation and referral, treatment actions, and adherence. Illustrative propositions to guide further research are proposed.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health*
  • Disease / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Medicine, Traditional
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Role
  • Sick Role
  • United States