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Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Re-imagining Aboriginal Mental Health Services: Centering Indigenous Perspectives
The indigenous peoples of Canada and the United States are heirs to the shattering legacy of European colonization. These brutal histories of land dispossession, military conquest, forced settlement, religious repression, and coercive assimilation have robbed Aboriginal peoples of their economies, lifeways, and sources of meaning and significance in the world. The predictable consequence has been an epidemic of “mental health” problems such as demoralization, substance abuse, violence, and suicide within these communities. One apparent solution would seem to be the initiation or expansion of mental health services to better reach Aboriginal clients. And yet, conventional mental health services such as counseling and psychotherapy depend on assumptions and aspirations that may not fit well with Aboriginal cultural sensibilities. For example, counseling practices draw on the presumed value for clients of introspective and expressive “self talk,” while Aboriginal community norms may emphasize communicative caution outside of interactions with intimate kin, leading to marked reticence rather than candid disclosure. Moreover, given the sensitive history of colonization, such differences have the potential to further alienate Aboriginal community members from the very services and providers designated to help them. This presentation will review the implicit logics that structure mental health service delivery as well as key ethno-psychological commitments of many Aboriginal communities in an effort to re-imagine counseling services in a manner that truly centers indigenous perspectives.