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In celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day: A Therapist Journey Toward Decolonization

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Published 10/23/2019
5 minutes read
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Jodene Cuero, M.A., Dinè (CSPP/AIU, CFT)
Amanda Young, M.A., MHA Nation (Oklahoma State University, Counseling Psychology)
Julii Green, PhD, African American & Eastern Band Cherokee (CSPP/AIU, PsyD Dept)

We represent Native American psychologists and psychologists-in-training from the following tribal communities Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation (MHA Nation), Navajo Nation, and Eastern Band Cherokee. We acknowledge our relatives who have journeyed before us, those who are currently enduring, and those who have yet to come. In honoring Indigenous People’s Day, we plan to briefly discuss strategies for becoming a decolonized therapist as well as considerations for decolonizing therapy with Native American clients. We will reflect upon history, supportive literature, and lived experiences.


Native American clients are likely experiencing trauma at higher rates as well as contending with distressing events (above mentioned) that rips away a piece of the soul, leading to a “Soul Wound” (Duran, 2006), and it is often replaced with pain and hurt. If this pain and/or hurt is not addressed, it will slowly overcome and color the soul. This might lead to internalized oppression, lateralized violence, and other maladaptive behaviors. Duran (2006) introduces the concept of Healing the Soul Wound and it focuses on restructuring how mental health professionals view therapy. Therapy should address healing the pain and hurt of the soul according to Duran. It is important to remember that this piece of the soul will never go away and we should work collaboratively with the individual and the community to decrease its impact.

"These traditional approaches provide a context that incorporates the values and belief systems of the Native Americans that holds to the interconnectedness of the mind, body, spirit, environment, universe, and community (all living beings)."

The transmission of cultural knowledge occurs through many of the following traditional activities such as Sweat Lodge, Seasonal Spiritual dances, Spiritual Ceremonies, Drumming, Traditional Songs, Traditional Story Telling, and Art (weaving, pottery, painting, basket making, tools, making regalia, and making traditional clothing) (Denham, 2008; Morse et al., 2016). It is important to note that the forms of art, gifts, and activities extend far beyond the Native stereotyped beading and pottery. These traditional approaches provide a context that incorporates the values and belief systems of the Native Americans that holds to the interconnectedness of the mind, body, spirit, environment, universe, and community (all living beings). It is the balance and harmony of this connectedness that constructs the resilience and health for Native Americans (Cross, 1997; Garrett et al., 2005). It is a natural process of living well for the Native Americans. This way of being has always been the way of life prior to Colonialism.

"Therapy should address healing the pain and hurt of the soul according to Duran." 

Therapists can also utilize Felt Theory (Million, 2013) which focuses on increasing collectiveness, knowledge, and empathy. This theory emphasizes the development of empathy for the pain and strength of the individual and the community. In an effort to develop empathy for Native clients, it is recommended to read relevant literature, become a part of the community (e.g., participate in community events, pow wows, cultural events), be aware of issues plaguing Indian Country (e.g., increased suicide rates, impact of boarding school, historical trauma), and learning how to advocate for your client and their community. This theory is used as a strengths-based intervention and can facilitate the process of developing historical truth with the client and the community. The combination of healing the Soul Wound and Felt Theory can inform the therapist’s decolonization journey and contribute to decolonization of therapeutic interventions with Native American clients.

To learn more about how you can get involved, visit The National Indian Child Welfare Association website here. To learn more about The California School of Professional Psychology, follow this link.


Allen, J, & Mohatt, G.V. (2014). Introduction to ecological description of a community intervention: Building prevention through collaborative field based research. American Journal of Community Psychology, 54, 1-2, 83-90.

Cross, T. (1997). Understanding the relational worldview in Indian families. Retrieved from

Denham, A.R. (2008). Rethinking Historical Trauma: Narratives of Resilience. Transcultural Psychiatry, 45(3): 391-414

Duran, E. (2006). Healing the soul wound: Counseling with American Indians and other native peoples. New York, NY: Teachers College Press

Duran, E., Duran, B., & Brave Heart, M.Y.H. (1998). Native Americans and the trauma of history. In R. Thorton (Ed), Studying Native America: Problems and prospects (pp. 60-76). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.

Garrett, M.T., Garrett, J. T., Torres-Rivera, E., Wilbur, M., & Roberts-Wilbur, J. (2005). Laughing it up: Native American humor as spiritual tradition. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and development, 33, 1994-204.

Lucero, E. (2011). From Traditional to Evidence: Decolonization of the Evidence-based Practice System. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 43(4): 319-324.

Million, D. (2013). Therapeutic nations: Healing in an age of indigenous human rights. Tucson, AZ: The University of Arizona Press.

Morse, G.S., McIntyre, J.G., & King, J. (2016). Positive Psychology in American Indians. In E. C. Chang, C. A. Downey, J.K. Hirsch, and N.J. Lin (Eds), Positive Psychology in Racial and Ethnic Groups: Theory, Research, and Practice. American Psychological Association.

Vogel, V. (1970). American Indian Medicine. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.

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