Counseling American Indians and Alaskan Natives

Counseling American Indians and Alaskan Natives

A Story by Kara Emily Krantz
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This is a formal piece, and certainly not all-encompassing. However, if I show any ignorance or short-sightedness, I assure the reader that I wrote this piece with the utmost respect and humility.

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Counseling American Indians and Alaskan Natives

 

The American Indians and Alaskan Natives come from a civilization rich in culture and infused with spirituality. Many of their traditions date back thousands of years, far before the White man ever stepped on American soil and claimed it as their own. In this respect, the American Indian and Alaskan Native’s bloodlines run deep, and many of the wounds committed upon their ancestors continue to bleed for contemporary Native’s today.

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The American Indian’s self and stories hold many implications for the field of counseling and the mental health practitioner. An effective counselor needs to be aware of the many varying aspects surrounding an Indian’s individual identity, culture, and traditions. With over 505 federally recognized tribes and 252 different languages, Native Americans not only come from various tribal groups with unique traditions, customs, and beliefs, but they also come from varying settings including rural, urban, or reservation (Garrett & Myers, 1996). Therefore, similar to many clinical settings, the individual needs to be viewed as precisely that: an individual, with a very particular and personal history, story, and life-world. Nothing should be assumed about the Native American individual, and a counselor’s learning needs to involve a complete self-education of the individual presenting before them.

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A crucial element to developing a positive relationship with a Native American client requires the counselor to understand the psychological aspects of the client’s cultural experience. Historically, Native Americans have experienced heinous attempts to extinguish their tribal culture and language, as well as forcing them to adopt values and ways of the dominant culture. (Bichsel & Mallinckrodt, 2001) This imposed acculturation has occurred through such methods as punishment for speaking the tribal language, forced separation of children from parents, as well as the boarding school system itself (Sue & Sue, 2002: Bichsel & Mallinckrodt, 2001). A history of such grievances has naturally created special psychological and emotional issues for numerous Native Americans, as well as an intergenerational division which still remains today as a powerful influence on cultural identity, particularly for the older generations (Garrett & Pichette, 2000). 

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In appreciating the history of the Native American, a counselor must also have an understanding of Native American spiritual loss and its implications, specifically through the expression of cultural empathy. For example, Brown (1991) described the loss of native languages as “perhaps the greatest tragedy to come upon Native American groups” (p.54), because language is the basis for understanding and transmitting a tribe’s culture. It is important for a counselor to communicate genuine respect for individual, family, community, and tribal ways, as well as to listen deeply and nonjudgementally to whatever struggles the client wishes to share (Olsen, 2003).  

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Formal counseling services are underutilized by Native Americans and among those who use these services, the drop-out rates are among the highest of any ethnic group. Under-use of such services has been attributed to mistrust of White counselors, differing cultural views of the healing process, as well as differing cultural values in general (Bichsel & Mallinckrodt, 2001). Research with Native American students confirms that counselor attitude and value similarity are among the most important aspects of counselor preference.

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Bichsel and Mallinckrodt (2001) conducted a study in an attempt to determine Native American women’s views of counseling, specifically their perceptions and preferences of and for counselors. The study also considered the Native American women’s level of cultural commitment. All groups of women generally preferred a nondirective counseling style. However, women with a strong commitment to Native American culture expressed the lowest preference level for this nondirective style. All groups, however, preferred a counselor of the same sex and ethnicity, one who was culturally sensitive, and one who use a style characterized by “works with me to determine options” versus “tells me what to do.”  However, for women who only identified with Anglo culture, preferences for sex and ethnicity were not strong.

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For personal problems, women committed to Native American culture had much higher preferences for female counselors of the same ethnicity, compared to their preferences if the problem was vocational. Hypotheses for why this occurs include the idea that perhaps these women believe that a fellow Native American women who is culturally aware as a counselor would have the best chance of helping them with the ethnic identity status they assume in relating to their families. Conversely, perhaps some of the women felt that a representative of the dominant culture, or a White woman, would have special expertise for providing assistance with vocational problems.

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Even women with strong cultural commitments preferred the Anglo culturally sensitive counselor to the Native American culturally insensitive counselor, which clearly indicates that it is more important for a counselor to be sensitive to the client’s particular culture than it is to have a counselor who is a member of that culture but does not appear to be sensitive to its values.

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Some of Bichsel & Mallinckrodt’s results clearly suggest that Anglo counselors may be regarded as competent and approachable if they can demonstrate their cultural awareness and sensitivity. The results of this study support the need for counselors to receive thorough training about Native American cultural issues and values to provide competent and ethically appropriate counseling to this under-served population. It is important to remember that the results of this study were formulated from a single population of women on the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon, and are therefore potentially inapplicable to all Native women, specifically those who do not live on reservations. The influence of positively or negatively confirmed expectations on the counseling process might be a fruitful area for further research.

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There are numerous social and psychosocial issues that are specific problems for the Native American population. These issues include education, acculturation conflicts, as well as issues of domestic abuse, suicide, and substance abuse.

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Education

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Although competent in the educational arena, by the fourth grade a pattern of academic decline and dropout appears within the Native American population. Often, academically successful Native Americans are accused of “acting White.” Additionally, the “White man’s education” is not always seen as a necessity, for many youth can find jobs on the reservations. However, this inability to completely a successful education “perpetuates the cycle of poverty and lack of opportunities” (Sue & Sue, 2001, pp.317-318) for the Native American, which may potentially contribute to the high suicide rate among Native American adolescents.

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Implications for counseling include awareness of the Native American’s differing value and educational systems. Schools and staff must help students bridge the two worlds of White and Native American cultures. For example, reestablishing contact with the native tribe and reservation may assist students in maintaining a sense of connection and cultural identity. Important variables for success in education for the Native American include levels of stress, sense of cultural congruity or incongruity, availability of mentors and support networks, self-esteem, self-efficacy, and a strong sense of identity. (Sue & Sue, 2001).

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Acculturation Conflicts

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Levels of acculturation play an important role not only in the everyday lives of Native Americans, but also in the counseling arena. Many Native Americans are highly acculturated and therefore hold the values of the larger society. However, the degree of Native American identity versus acculturation needs to be evaluated and considered, since this is a variable highly influential in the individual’s potential receptivity to counseling. M.T. Garrett and Pichette (2000) note the five cultural orientation types as Traditional, Marginal, Bicultural, Assimilated, and Pantraditional. Due to the differences in acculturation, treatment or counseling approaches appropriate for a specific individual will not be appropriate for all Native Americans. Therefore, mental health professionals should assess for any tribal affiliations, language(s) spoken, levels of self-identity, and where the individual grew up, as well as the current relationship to a tribe or culture. (Sue & Sue, 2001).

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Counselors are trained to encourage client to tell their “story,” make sense of it, and actively create it through intentional living. In this way, it is important for the counselor to understand the influence of oppression and history on the minority’s experience, as well as assess the extent to which the process of acculturation has occurred and/or affected the client’s cultural identity. Ironically, derogative terms such as “apple” or “uncle tomahawk” reflect a racial/cultural no-win situation that some Native Americans experience when caught between two cultures in which they are “red” on the outside and “white” on the inside (what some people have referred to as the ‘marginal’ person). (Garrett & Pichette, 2000). This often leads to an individual losing contact with one world, but feeling unaccepted in the other.

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The level of acculturation of Native Americans can be assessed using the Native American Acculturation Scale. Counselors must avoid making assumptions about Native American client’s cultural identities, but rather understand what level of acculturation they are at and collaboratively identifying their client’s needs, concerns and goals. It is important, however, for a counselor to underline the importance of the client’s cultural identity. Therefore, “counseling can be approached as a developmental process of helping Native American clients comes to a better understanding of themselves, others, society, and life” (Garrett & Pichette, 2000, p.10).
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Domestic Violence, Suicide, & Alcohol and Substance Abuse

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As with many groups, rates of domestic violence are higher than assumed, and Native American women suffer a three and a half times higher rate than the national average. Many of these women remain silent due to cultural barriers, distrust of White agencies, or fear of alienation from their families. Whatever the reason, counselors need to be aware of this silent epidemic and consider the possibility of domestic abuse among Native American clients. (Sue & Sue, 2001).

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Suicide is an epidemic among the Native American population, and is potentially thought to be the result of alcohol abuse, poverty, boredom, and family breakdown. Native American youth present with twice the rate of attempted and completed suicides than any other population of youth. Development of suicide intervention skills through role-playing, self-esteem building, the identification of emotions and stress, as well as others can all assist in intervening and assisting with this scary epidemic. (Sue & Sue, 2001).

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Heavy drinking among the Native American populations is responsible for the high percentage of alcohol-related mortality (four times), alcohol-related illnesses (three times), and the amount of fetal alcohol syndrome babies reported within this group (Thomasan, 2000; Sue & Sue, 2001). Forty-two theories have been proposed, yet there is no all-encompassing explanation for drug and alcohol use among Native Americans. Alcohol abuse has been related to “low self-esteem, cultural identity conflicts, lack of positive role models, abuse history, social pressure, hopelessness about life, and breakdown of the family” (Sue & Sue, 2001, p.322). Drinking alcoholic beverages within the Native American community may initially have been incorporated into cultural practices as an activity of sharing, giving, and togetherness. Other explanations have involved the release of feelings, social events, and the general acceptance of drinking within tribal groups.

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Both the systems and the individual level of assessment and treatment would need to be addressed within a culture where family or tribal customs and traditions promote the use of alcohol and other substances. It is important to not look as though one is imposing “White solutions” onto reservation problems. The development of alternative responses can be very helpful in reducing the chances of abuse among Native Americans. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), for example, has proven to be highly inapplicable to many Native Americans, especially those with strong affiliations to their ethnic culture. This is potentially due to AA’s emphasis on the Medical Model’s view of alcoholism as a disease, its middle-class orientation, and its lack of cultural relevance. For example, the ‘confessional’ public style of AA is counter to the private family-centered setting traditionally viewed as the place for handling Native American personal problems (Thomasan, 2000). However, according to a study by Guyette (1982) only 10% of Native Americans surveyed with substance abuse problems said they preferred an exclusively Native American treatment approach, compared to 76% who preferred a combination of Native American healing practices and European American treatment practices. The incorporation techniques such as the medicine wheel, talking circles, the sweat lodge, and tribal healers are all useful in properly assisting those of Native American origin.

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Native American Values

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Although there is great diversity and variation among the values that encompass various Native American and Alaskan Native groups, certain generalizations can indeed be made regarding Native values.  For example, sharing is a value of high consideration among the Native Americans, where wealth is not a high priority and money merely a means to enjoy the present with others. Also, treatment strategies attempting to work with alcohol and drug use must take into consideration this value of sharing among the group.

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Cooperation is another value, implicated in the schoolroom where some Native American children may appear unmotivated when merely they are reluctant to remain in competition with their peers, an inappropriate expression of individuality. Noninterference is also promoted with the Native American population, where observation is better than impulsive action or interference. Consequently, parental relations with children are often less punitive and more indulgent than the majority culture. Children are rarely told what do, but rather encouraged to determine their own decisions. It is important to be careful in delineating the line between child neglect and a more spiritual nature of child rearing. In this way, nonverbal communication is also key among this culture, and it is important to keep in mind that looking an elder directly in the eye may be actually a sign of respect rather than the assumed disrespect such an action indicates among the majority culture. Therefore, “it is important to determine whether specific behaviors are due to cultural values or are actual problems” (Sue & Sue, 2001, p317) among individuals of varying cultures.

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Time orientation is unique among the Native Americans, as well, where life is lived fully in the present and things are accomplished according to rational order rather than deadlines. Naturally, spirituality is also highly valued within the Native American community; perhaps why conceptions such as the sweat lodge and vision quests are often used to establish connections between the mind, body, and spirit. In this way, positive emotions can be therapeutic, as well as the negative. Medicine is “in each event, memory, place, or person” (Sue & Sue, 2001, p317) and the counselor should be aware of these cumulative curative experiences.

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For counseling purposes, it is also of considerable importance to comprehend the value of the arts within the Native American community. Native American Indians regard art as a crucial element of life, and not merely as a separate aesthetic ideal. Native people see “painting as indistinct from dancing, dancing as indistinct from worship, and worship as indistinct from living (Dufrene & Coleman, 1994). Counseling for this population must respect the spiritual, symbolic, and artistic dimensions of Native American culture. For example, counseling sessions should perhaps begin and end with a prayer that would be acceptable to the client, for many Native Americans believe that healers can only be successful if they seek spiritual aid.  Also, instead of relying solely on verbal communication for therapy, counselors working with Native Americans may consider creative arts therapies such as art, dance, music, or drama therapy.

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The Rule of Opposites is discussed in length within Garrett & Myers (1996) academic entry on the Rule of Opposites as a paradigm for counseling with Native Americans. Within their work, they thoroughly discuss the seven postulates inherent with the Rule, and how such deeply embedded beliefs play a part in the counseling of these unique and spiritual individuals. Garrett and Myers firmly believe that the use of the Rule’s seven lesson will help both the counselors and the client “recognize and resolve conflict, ask more affective questions, seek harmony and balance in life… and explore personal decision making and choices” (Garrett & Myers, 1996).

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The concept of choice is integral to the Native American way of life. For every choice there is a non-choice, or some kind of alternative that was decided against. Through the understanding that everything in life has meaning and purpose, the goal in counseling becomes one of assisting Native American clients in discovering their purpose, examining their assumptions, seeking an awareness of personal and universal truths, and making choices that allow them to exist in a state of harmony and balance within the Circle of Life (Garrett & Myers, 1996). In this multidirectional approach prescribed by the Rule of Opposites, the ultimate goal is to find meaning in both pleasure and pain, happiness and sadness, positives and negatives. A shift in perspective allows Native American individuals to seek balance by realizing that everything serves a valuable and useful function in their lives. (Garrett & Myers)

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It is important to remember there is no quick and easy way to acquire information about any individual Native American, and any involvement in quick fixes will only results in a deleterious effect on both the counselor and the client (Dufrene & Coleman, 1994). There are many areas of Native American life that are profoundly different than mainstream America’s. For example, in their article entitled “Two Spirit: Counseling Native American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual People,” Garrett and Barret (2003) go on to describe how the “Two Spirit” individual has been revered throughout the years in Native American culture, and is seen as containing an “infinite number of points,” (p.131) having the unique ability to look at life through an unguarded and precious perspective. Therefore, using proper terms in any given culture, for example the use of “Two Spirit” in the Native American culture, is invaluable in gaining the respect and confidence of clients.

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It is abundantly apparent that the Native American culture is one filled with both painful pasts and precious principles. High spiritual in nature, the Native American is often searching for not only peace within the self, but also peace within the earth that enfolds all life. Many Native American beliefs are deeply moving, and, as Olsen (2003) profoundly points out at the end of her piece on Native American spiritual loss, “perhaps counselors are also longing to find meaning… and could learn from Native American lessons that will help them in their personal lives and in their work with all of their clients” (p.116).







References


Bichsel, R.J. & Mallinckrodt, B. (2001). Cultural commitment and the counseling preferences and counselor perceptions of Native American women. The Counseling Psychologist, 29, 858-881.

Brown, J.E. (1991). The spiritual legacy of the American Indian. New York: Crossroad.

Dufrene, P.M., Coleman, V.D. (1994). Art and healing for Native American Indians. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 22.

Garrett, M.T. & Barret, B. (2003) Two Spirit: Counseling Native American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual People. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 31, 131-142.

Garrett, M.T. & Myers, J.E. (1996). The Rule of Opposites: a paradigm for counseling Native Americans. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 24.

Garrett, M.T. & Pichette, E.F. (2000). Red as an apple: Native American acculturation and counseling with or without reservation. Journal of Counseling & Development, 78, 3-13.

LaFromboise, T.D., Trimble, J.E., & Mohatt, G.V. (1990). Counseling intervention and American Indian tradition: An integrative approach. The Counseling Psychologist, 18, 628-654.

Olsen, M.J. (2003). Counselor understanding of Native American spiritual loss. Counseling and Values, 47, 109-117.

Thomason, T.C. (2000). Issues in the treatment of Native Americans with alcohol problems. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 28.
 


© 2008 Kara Emily Krantz



Author's Note

Kara Emily Krantz
I spent two years getting my Masters in Counseling Psychology. Figured perhaps I should post some of that arduously hard work!

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ah
suicide is a result of boredom?....great report/essay, it was extremely informative, and most importantly not boring, the worst part about these is the boredom, but i didnt want to stop reading, great write again, thanx for posting, keep posting/writing lol

Posted 6 Years Ago


2 of 2 people found this review constructive.



Reviews

While true that Native Americans by and large are often behind the stream of prosperity in the U.S., for a plethora of reasons, I envy the tribal and/or extended family structures so often found in Native American society.
We white people a so bereft of such support, and consequently are much more lonely.
When I was a teen I wished that I could have gone to a seer, or elder for advice or to have my dreams interpreted, (in a society that took dreams seriously.) I would have liked to have had a tribe to identify with, to dance sing and hunt with.
People are looking for tribes to belong to wherever you look. (Look at this website!)

Posted 6 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

fascinating. i have a book by a cultural anthropologist who did this sort of work where diverse civilizations hold entirely different meanings in the subtelties of their cultural behaviour. it is a veryinteresting book, and i will try and find it so i can give you the authors name and the title.

Posted 6 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

This was good. You did a nice job at citing your sources, though you made some mistakes in terms of page numbers. I believe the proper way to cite a page number is "pp. (page number)." At least that's how I learned it.

A very informative essay great job.

Posted 6 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

I found this very informative to say the least. I being of Native American descent thought it was a great piece. I have struggled with my several stereotyping laid upon me growing up and I think it may in part be one of many reason I went down certain paths in my life. I have went to counseling before and really did not get anything out of it. Other than I had a couple of counselors say and I am repeating their words. "Why you are really fucked up we would like to do a study on you, but we don't think we can help you". I thought this was great really made me start holding myself accountable for my action knowing that I had no one else to blame but myself for me being a screwed up as I was. I am glad that you wrote and posted this as it really made me see something I guess from an outside perspective and see a culture that I partially embrace for another's views and understanding.

Great Job!!!!!!

Posted 6 Years Ago


2 of 2 people found this review constructive.

[send message][befriend] Subscribe
ah
suicide is a result of boredom?....great report/essay, it was extremely informative, and most importantly not boring, the worst part about these is the boredom, but i didnt want to stop reading, great write again, thanx for posting, keep posting/writing lol

Posted 6 Years Ago


2 of 2 people found this review constructive.


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Added on February 15, 2008
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Kara Emily Krantz
Kara Emily Krantz

http://karaemily.wordpress.com, MA



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I am resolved to never be content with the lives of "quiet desperation" which so many of us lead, to continuously challenge myself, and forever walk in Beauty. I like pandas. I like writing poe.. more..

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