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  • Writer's pictureA. Mitchell

Indigenous Psychology

Surprise, Surprise, Indigenous Technology is Advanced

 

Anyone who has studied indigenous cultures and ways of life will tell you, their technology is surprising. This surprise comes from the lingering racist perspective that indigenous cultures were primitive.


In the colonial days, this message of primitiveness was constant. It was necessary as the colonizers needed an excuse to colonize Indigenous cultures in violent ways. By dehumanizing them and stereotyping their technology as “primitive,” these people were devalued, violently colonized, and they were expected to start acting like their colonizers. Religion was imposed, new laws, different haircuts, new clothes, new education, new language, new holidays, and most of their traditional practices were subject to punishment or legal retribution. So effective, was this process that often both Indigenous and Colonizer believed in this primitive myth.



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Courtesy of Boston Public Library


The truth is, Indigenous cultures had phenomenal technology and sciences. The problem was, the colonizer never could see it because if they did, they would have to value the Indigenous person. Then their process of brutally and violently colonizing Indigenous peoples would look morally wrong. Regardless, it was morally wrong. But here we are today, still surprised with the technologies that come from these Indigenous cultures.


I’ve learned and researched side by side with some of the most renowned and acclaimed Indigenous researchers in cultural psychology today. I’ve also traveled the world and spoke with numerous Indigenous elders. The response to one of the most important questions in cultural psychology today is, how did Indigenous cultures treat psychological issues like depression, anxiety, trauma, addiction, domestic violence, psychosis, and the like? The response is consistent and I have yet to come across an Indigenous elder that says otherwise.


They didn’t treat these issues. This is a new issue that didn’t really exist in these historical communities.


Today, these issues exist in these communities. And they typically exist at higher rates in colonized communities. Higher rates of depression, suicide, anxiety, domestic violence, addiction, and trauma are common.


The traditional lifestyle of Indigenous communities was largely communal. They lived close together, taking care of their families and community. In the United States, these tribes were taken over and given plots of land that they were expected to farm. This was a massive lifestyle shift where the community went from living together to living alone.



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In a close community, everyone sees just about everything. They’re checking in on one another by simply watching someone as they work. If something didn’t seem right, the community would take action. They would notice a person who seems sad lately. This preemptive approach likely resolved mental health issues before they could set in.


Today, most folks wait years, decades, and sometimes never get help because of stigma, pride, or whatever the issue. In tribal communities, this wouldn't likely happen as the person would be talking with an elder or healer pretty early on. Indigenous communities didn’t deal with psychological issues that had set in for as long as they do today.


However, these communities certainly dealt with things like trauma, grief, and the like. These acute situations were treated acutely. They knew about their warriors coming back from battle. There was often celebrations and ceremonies for the warriors and slain. These issues were addressed quickly. There wasn’t the helplessly watching a loved one drink and drug themselves to death.


The technologies of Indigenous communities knew how to address a psychological issue before it got out of hand and they knew how to address them efficiently and gracefully.


Treating a psychological issue after it has set in for a long period of time means professionals are not only addressing the issue but they are having to work through years of hardened habits. Some folks never let go of these habits. They hold on to them so tightly, as if they are protecting themselves. And they are protecting themselves. The idea of dropping a habit can set some into a blind panic fearing that the trauma they experienced 15 years ago is going to happen again at any moment. This is a massive wall for contemporary treatments and this is why so many are in treatment for so long.


You may be asking, what about genetics. Some folks are genetically predisposed to get schizophrenia or an anxiety disorder. This is true and Indigenous folks are just as genetically predisposed for a psychological illness as anyone else. There is lots of scientific evidence to suggest we all have a psychological issue genetically sitting there waiting to awaken. It just needs a certain amount of stress or trauma to overwhelm us and come to fruition. The lifestyle and technology of Indigenous people seemed to address this issue without much concern.


Surprise, surprise, Indigenous technologies work and they work well.


I’ve been integrating these technologies with both Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures with great success. Those not open to the different approach, get the conventional psychological method. Unfortunately, these are the folks I see the longest. Those open to the unique approach, learn the tools, and I see them on occasion for a tune-up.


I've come to dread those that seek only the conventional approach. It is tiring, long, and often an arduously painful process. This is not to suggest that it is inadequate or ineffective; it works and it is helpful. However, we have loads of Indigenous technologies that have been ignored around the world because it is deemed “primitive.” The obnoxiousness of this situation is insane and it comes from the perspective of placing oneself as more important than another. It is breeding ignorance.


Luckily, many of us can see past our cultural egos and we are willing to discover the riches Indigenous technologies have always had.


These technologies are far from “primitive” and rather advanced. So advanced, that they can efficiently and gracefully adapt to current world problems. They were designed to adapt. Many get stuck on reestablishing an old culture where much was lost. This is good to reestablish building blocks for today. However, the ancient technology may have to adapt to our world today and it may not be able to be run in the exact way it was done hundreds of years ago.



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The techniques and technologies I was taught were traditionally taught and held in a forest or in an isolated setting. Today folks do not expect this when they start therapy or counseling. I tried to get folks to head out in the forest but it simply never happened. They would only do it if I went out with them. Traditionally done in isolation, my presence was usually unnecessary. So, these technologies had to be adapted to a clinical setting. The adaptation wasn’t big as these tools were done in communal settings too but they were taught and done in the wilderness for certain circumstances or for the novice.


One by one, I saw my clients improve while I watched the conventional clients move slowly through their emotional nightmares. I had some clients that suffered lots of abuse and they were now in their 60’s. The hardened habits are more challenging the longer we live with the issue. We develop strategies to get by. They work but not very well. Luckily, these habits can be addressed too.


I personally studied both Indigenous technologies since I was a teenager and conventional psychology/mental health counseling throughout college and graduate school.


I went back to college to study this after personally enduring a major trauma. Away from my Indigenous practitioners, I saw a conventional psychologist. His understanding of healing was so different from mine that I stopped going and moved 600 miles back home to get the Indigenous treatment I needed.


I healed, went back to school, and decided that I wanted to provide a broader scope of psychological technologies to the world.


As a result, I’m helping loads of people efficiently and gracefully and I am not struggling with the burnout so many conventional psychologists struggle with today. I have the tools to take care of myself and I simply teach them to my clients. They do most of the work and feel empowered as a result.


 

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