(((I am currently studying for a licensure exam & completing an internship. This blog post is intended as a study exercise.)))
A Historical Cultural Assessment
In order to understand the Native American’s perceptions of the dominating Euro-American culture a historical context is important. Historically, the relationship between Euro-Americans and Native Americans has been fraught with a mixture of cooperation and conflict (Hays & Iwasama, 2006). The assimilation of Native American’s into the dominant Euro-American culture has been brought with trauma and varied forms of assimilation. For this reason, an assessment of the cultural background and assimilation experiences of Native American’s who we provide counseling to. As a biracial individual, I can personally attest to the fact that a person’s phenotypic appearance doesn’t reflect their cultural background. It is therefore inaccurate to look at person and make judgments of their culture based on whether they appear Indian. For example, while I look white, key aspects of my own childhood have provided me with a cultural belief system that reflects my mother’s culture. I may not look very Filipino in appearance but have some belief systems that are reflect of this culture.
A great disparity has existed historically between how Native Americans have conceived education, and how it is viewed from a Westernized perspective. Historically, governmental policies have managed to instill a high level of distrust in governmental services. From an educational standpoint, our governmental education policies have included attempts to eradicate Native American culture and assimilate individuals into a Westernized educational system. In fact, separating children from their home environment, takes children out of the natural setting in which they learned. According to our textbook, Indian children tend to prefer visual learning to the verbal and auditory methods utilized in Westernized school systems.
Mental Health & Multicultural Competency
According to the 1999 Surgeon General’s report, the Native American community has suicide rate 1.5x the national rate. High rates of PTSD, and alcohol abuse exist in this population. However despite this fact, the Native American community tends to under-utilize available counseling services and experience high drop-out rates. Cultural competency within the counseling field is essential to overcome a 500-year history of oppression and domination from the American government. Cultural sensitivity starts with an awareness of cultural differences and their underlying historical context. For example, our course textbook states that 85% of psychologist are from an European American heritage in which the following cultural beliefs are dominant:
Assertiveness in social interactions take precedence over subtlety as a preferred response (Hays & Iwasama, 2006).
Change takes precedence over acceptance and patience as a life-solution. (Hays & Iwasama, 2006).
Personal independence takes precedence over dependence and duty to family. (Hays & Iwasama, 2006).
Self-disclosure and directness is preferred to cautious protection of a family’s reputation. (Hays & Iwasama, 2006).
Belief Systems & Counseling Practice
In this final section, I feel it may be useful to list some belief systems common in Native American culture that diverge from the typical Euro-American perspective that dominates the mental health field. I list them below in no particular order:
Within the mental health field a medical perspective dominates that choose to view problems as a matter of individual dysfunction. The CBT-oriented perspective focuses on dysfunctional thoughts, feelings and behaviors, as an effective solution. In contrast, Hays & Iwasama (2006) suggest that harmony of body mind and spirit is critical for wellness in Native American culture.
Acceptance & Mindfulness.
A Euro-American perspective is solution-focused. In counseling this might translate to pragmatic CBT approaches, stages of change and motivational interviewing. In contrast Native American culture might also include components of acceptance and mindfulness. Traditional healers and the utilization of substances in context of spiritual practices are common. Rosenthal, (2005) latest that “drinking large quantities of beer is a way of enjoying oneself and is more socially acceptable”.
Nonassertive & Agreeable Passivity.
Rosenthal (2005) states that a “counselor should feel free to ask questions in order to ascertain where the client is coming from and what they think.” In Native American culture a nonassertive passivity is more preferred in the context of social interactions. Direct the conversation with questions is essential to understand the client’s perspective.
Possessions & Self Worth.
American Indian’s historically have a relationship with things that diverges greatly from the Euro-American’s materialistic perspective. For example, how does one “own the air”? It is just out there as something to enjoy. It doesn’t reflect who we are or our worth. This perspective is divergent from the dominant perspective in American in which social class is dependent on an array of ecumenic factors that tend to determine our sense of worth, (i.e. “keeping up with the Jonses”).
In American culture, we are long-range planners. We think about our pasts and how we got to here. We then examine our goals for our future, and sacrifice for today, what we hope to achieve for tomorrow. This hamster-wheel existence diverges from Native American culture in which one lives in the present more. Rosenthal, (2005) suggests they “are not generally accustomed to delayed gratification and long-range planning”.