The Healing Power of Heritage

Visit any run-of-the-mill therapist today and you know what you’ll expect. An approach to therapy with a strict Western mindset regarding mental health. Yes, these types of therapy are considered “best practices.” (And they do work for many people.) But research is showing that they’re missing the mark for many Native people.

Mental health specialists are realizing there are other ways. Like the healing power of Indigenous heritage.

For example:

  • Traditional healing practices: Ceremonies, storytelling, medicinal plants. These are examples of ways traditional healers provide culturally reflective therapy. Research shows our rich tradition of healing practices are effective in boosting mental health.
  • Resilience: Our history of resilience is unlike any other people. Those struggling with mental health can be inspired during adversity. We know we have overcome in the past. And there is hope for a better future.
  • Community support: We prioritize the well-being of the group over the individual. This is contrary to Western thinking. We emphasize connecting with others to combat mental health issues. We believe social supports are essential for those who are struggling.
  • Connection to nature: Our relationship to the environment is a source of healing and encouragement for many. Other cultures are learning about the benefits of being outside. Research shows it reduces stress and anxiety. And it improves overall mental health.

Understanding heritage’s healing power is important. But finding a mental health clinician with a positive bent toward Indigenous values is another story.

Traditional healing is a rare trait among mental health counselors throughout the country. Many lack cultural competence. And few colleges teach these techniques. They’re generally not considered “best practices.” So they’re part of few curricula.

Even when heritage healers do exist, difficulties arise. The training required is extensive and must be taught by a qualified elder. And it’s hard to “stay in business.” That’s because services are usually free.

But what if you do have the luxury of shopping around for mental health services? You might consider asking a prospective therapist these four questions:

  • Have you treated other Native people before?
  • Have you received any training in “trauma-informed” care
  • Have you received any training in spirituality or traditional practices?
  • How do you see my cultural background influencing treatment?

Incorporating cultural practices and traditions into mental health care can be a powerful way to promote healing and well-being. Talk to a mental health clinician about it.

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