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Aboriginal Healing Self Study Materials

dreamcatcherThis self-study course provides the learner with the opportunity to develop and apply information gleaned from theory, research and practice skills.  Learners will explore the significance of community, identity and the importance of intergenerational stories to Aboriginal people of Canada.  The readings are broad in scope to offer the learner the opportunity to contemplate the interplay between the various elements and the meaning that these have for the work that they undertake with this population.


Introduction – Aboriginal Self-Study Section of Learning Experience




Aboriginal-Healing-in-Canada – Studies in Therapeutic Meaning and Practice

In 1992, a national team of researchers was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to form the National Network for Aboriginal Mental Health Research. One of the funded projects within this network was “Models and Metaphors of Mental Health and Healing in Aboriginal Communities.” Working in conjunction with the Aboriginal Healing Foundation (AHF), several goals for this project were developed.

Cultural Continuity as a Hedge against Suicide in Canada’s First Nations

This research report examines self-continuity and its role as a protective factor against suicide. First, we review the notions of personal and cultural continuity and their relevance to understanding suicide among First Nations youth. The central theoretical idea developed here is that, because it is constitutive of what it means to have or be a self to somehow count oneself as continuous in time, anyone whose identity is undermined by radical personal and cultural change is put at special risk to suicide for the reason that they lose those future commitments that are necessary to guarantee appropriate care and concern for their own well-being. It is for just such reasons that adolescents and young adults—who are living through moments of especially dramatic change—constitute such a high risk group. This generalized period of increased risk during adolescence can be made even more acute within communities that lack a concomitant sense of cultural continuity that might otherwise support the efforts of young persons to develop more adequate self-continuity warranting practices. Next, we present data to demonstrate that, while certain indigenous or First Nations groups do in fact suffer dramatically elevated suicide rates, such rates vary widely across British Columbia’s nearly 200 aboriginal groups: some communities show rates 800 times the national average, while in others suicide is essentially unknown. Finally, we demonstrate that these variable incidence rates are strongly associated with the degree to which BC’s 196 bands are engaged in community practices that are employed as markers of a collective effort to rehabilitate and vouchsafe the cultural continuity of these groups. Communities that have taken active steps to preserve and rehabilitate their own cultures are shown to be those in which youth suicide rates are dramatically lower.

HIll and Coady – Western Psychotherapy and Aboriginal Healing Methods

The purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of an Aboriginal approach to healing and to establish the theoretical grounds for its effectiveness.  Toward this end, this paper considers a number of issues.  First, the similarities and differences between various Euro-Western theories of counselling or psychotherapy and Aboriginal approaches to healing are examined.  Second, an overview of major cumulative findings from research on psychotherapy is presented toward establishing major curative factors that are common across various therapy approaches.  Third, related to these psychotherapy research findings, Jerome Frank’s (1961, 1982, 1991) theory of common factors is reviewed toward establishing parallels between psychotherapy and traditional healing approaches.  Fourth, traditional (Ojibwe) approaches to healing and associated healing methods are discussed.  Finally, the theoretical arguments for the effectiveness of Aboriginal healing methods are summarized and implications for Euro-Western helping approaches are considered.

Linking-stories-and-initiatives – A narrative approach to working with the skills and knowledge of communities

This paper describes an approach to community work informed by narrative ideas that we hope will be of relevance to practitioners in a wide-range of contexts. Over the last year, a number of Aboriginal communities, which are experiencing hard times, have been exchanging stories. These are stories about special skills, special knowledge, about hopes and dreams and the ways that people are holding onto these. They are stories that honour history. This article describes the thinking that has informed this process. It also contains extracts of stories and messages from different communities.

Navigating Two Worlds – Experiences of Counsellors Who Integrate Aboriginal Traditional Healing Practices

medicine wheel

The use of traditional healing among Canadian Aboriginal communities has experienced a revival, and the therapeutic benefits of these practices have received much research attention. An argument is repeatedly made for incorporating indigenous healing into clinical interventions, yet recommendations on how this may be accomplished are lacking. The present study aimed to address this limitation. We interviewed 9 mental health professionals who routinely employ both Western psychological interventions and Aboriginal traditional healing practices. Grounded theory data analysis identified 4 core themes and led to a model that illustrates participants’ integrative efforts. Implications for counsellors working with Aboriginal clients are addressed.

Pathways to Healing – A Mental Health Toolkit for First Nations People

The Canadian Collaborative Mental Health Initiative (CCMHI) is led by 12 national organizations representing community services; consumers, families and caregivers; self‐help groups; dietitians; family physicians; nurses; occupational therapists; pharmacists; psychiatrists; psychologists; and social workers. Funded through Health Canada’s Primary Health Care Transition Fund, the goal of the CCMHI is to improve the mental health and well‐being of Canadians by increasing collaboration among primary health care and mental health care providers, consumers, families and caregivers.
The CCMHI toolkits contain practical tools to:

  • Help mental health consumers and their family members understand mental illness and work with other members of the care team
  • Assist providers and planners in the implementation of collaborative initiatives
  • Inform educators of the benefits of inter-professional education and provide tools to teach about collaborative mental health care.


This paper provides an account of how the metaphor of ‘therapist as host’ can shape therapeutic practice. It describes a range of ways in which those seeking counselling can be welcomed to the experience of therapy. Particular attention is paid to welcoming children. Considerations relating to the physical aesthetics of consulting rooms, marketing, documentation and the use of websites are discussed.

Western Psychotherapeutic Practice – Engaging Aboriginal People in Culturally and Respectful Ways

Until recently the majority of psychologists in Australia have been confronted by the lack of information relating to culturally appropriate methods of engagement and therapy with Aboriginal clients. Findings from a qualitative study undertaken in Western Australia indicated that Aboriginal conceptualisations of mental health appear more holistic and contain elements that are both cultural and spiritual. The extent of these differences in conceptualisations from Western psychiatry and psychology are so vast that the mental health interventions need to be reconsidered. Extending from an Aboriginal mental health model are traditional treatments that endeavour to address the cultural and spiritual components of the mental illness.

Findings from the study indicated that these treatments appeared to be hierarchically organised, depending on cause, severity, type of practitioner required and treatment. The findings also indicated that Aboriginal people generally seek traditional interpretations and treatment of an illness and exhaust these avenues prior to contact with the Western mental health system. The research also delineated Aboriginal beliefs about Western psychotherapy, including conceptions about Western therapy. The authors propose an engagement model, including formative preparation, for non-Aboriginal practitioners intending to work with the Aboriginal community.

What Works – Career-building strategies for people from diverse groups – a counsellor resource

This is one of 13 chapters of an online resource for counsellors titled What Works: Career-building strategies for people from diverse groups. Visit to view, download or print other chapters.