Reindigenizing Mental Health Services

What does reindigenizing mean? Why is it important?

To understand reindigenizing mental health services, let’s start with an understanding of what colonization and Eurocentic mean.

Colonization refers to the process of a population that migrates and occupies a foreign[1] land and dispossesses the indigenous inhabitants and/or institutes legal, fiscal, and other systemic mechanisms that benefit and favor the occupying migrants while suppressing the indigenous population.[2]

Eurocentric means having a biased view that favors Western Europe views and approaches over non-Western European views. Colonization of the United States of America (USA) lead to rampant disregard and intentional erasure of indigenous views, knowledge, and approaches. Eurocentricity is an arrogant, patronizing view that insists, “We don’t know or understand you or your culture, but we know what is best for you.”

Eurocentric versus ‘Scientific’

To clarify, Eurocentric mental health care does not equate to ‘science based’ mental health care. Nor do indigenous or alternative approaches equal ‘traditional’ nor ‘non-science’ approaches. Eurocentric mental health care refers to a mental health care approached from a Eurocentric, colonizer approach that fails to recognize or include any other cultural views, knowledge, and approaches.

Eurocentric systems permeate the USA’s approach to both medical and mental health care. Eurocentric care was touted as ‘advanced’ and seemingly ‘superior’ to other forms of care and is often still viewed in that manner. The impacts of colonization and Eurocentric mental health care practices that have been pushed upon indigenous communities, and similarly marginalized populations, has directly contributed to ongoing ignorance (nescience), misdiagnoses, cultural erasure, and systemic oppression.

Eurocentric Impact on Underserved Communities

Modern conventional Eurocentric mental health interventions were curated, nurtured, and vetted through a patriarchal colonization lens, that undermines culturally appropriate approaches and preserves systemic oppression. Eurocentric approaches have typically ignored and/or repudiated utilizing other models of care, which has incurred damaging effects to cultural identity, views, and knowledge resulting in historical trauma and cultural mistrust of mental health service systems.

Decolonizing Mental Health

Decolonizing mental health services means addressing the systemic issues and barriers that were created by Eurocentric institutions and approaches toward mental health services. It is an endeavor to remove current Eurocentric, colonizing views, systems, and barriers with the aim of treating our communities in alignment with appropriate cultural practices for each client.

Reindigenizing Mental Health

Indigenous practices have been around and utilized for centuries yet, due to cultural stigma, erasure, and genocide, many of these practices have been lost or not deemed acceptable within our Eurocentric mental health profession. The act of reindigenizing mental health is the effort to replace the current systems with culturally specific, culturally sustainable, and culturally appropriate mental health and well-being practices developed and passed on among indigenous people. Reindigenizing can impact large systems, yet it is also something that can be effectively used in individual or partner sessions. Utilizing indigenous practices as the focus of treatment can allow our minds, bodies, and spirit to remember and be an impetus for healing.

[1] The term ‘foreign’, in this context, means foreign to the migrants.

A close up on the hands of an indigenous person wearing traditional attire and colorful beads