Working With Native Americans
For individuals in the U.S. & U.S. territories
In Working With Native Americans, Dr. Winona F. Simms illustrates her approach to working with clients who are of Native American descent. Because of a history of oppression by the dominant culture, Native American clients may present for therapy with distrust in the therapist, so it is important to first build trust and to allow the client to speak and be heard.
In this session, Dr. Simms demonstrates how she instills trust in a new client, a young woman of the Winnebago and Sioux nations who is experiencing some tensions in her family regarding her school performance and her relationship with her biological father. Dr. Simms helps the client to view the problems she is having from the broader perspective of becoming an adult member of her family.
Because Native Americans in general may be doubtful of the effectiveness of therapy, the main goal at first is to instill trust. To do this, Dr. Simms recommends that the therapist be client-centered: The client needs to know that his or her story is valuable and will be heard. To this end, the therapist might look at therapy in a slightly different way, as a gift exchange, where the client gives his or her story, and the therapist gives the gift of listening.
However, therapists should be prepared to share more of themselves with Native Americans: Being willing to reveal your family background and heritage will let Native American clients know that you are interested in their background and in their heritage. This is true whether the therapist is Native or non-Native American.
The therapist should also be aware of the impact of the dominant culture on Native American culture. Native Americans have a history of being displaced by the dominant European American culture, and the dominant culture continues to have an effect on Native culture. Being sensitive to these issues, even if they only lie in the background of the client's story, is important, especially if the therapist is of European American background.
The most important part of therapy with Native Americans is being willing to listen. Truly listening and understanding may require immersion in the culture. Dr. Simms recommends that non-Native therapists looking to work with Native American clients first become familiar with Native American history and culture. Being open and curious, and having a true desire to understand, will help the therapist to learn about the culture, and ultimately will aid in any therapeutic work with Native Americans.
Dr. Simms currently lives in Palo Alto, California, as the resident fellow in the Native American theme dorm, Muwekma-Tah-Ruk (Ohlone for "House of the People") at Stanford University and works as the director of the American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian Program and assistant dean of Student Affairs. Last, but not least, Dr. Simms feels richly fulfilled as the mother of a daughter and two sons with a grandson and two granddaughters.
- Choney, S. K., Berryhill-Paapke, E., & Robbins, R. (1995). The acculturation of American Indians. In J. Ponterotto, J. M. Casas, L. Suzuki, & C. Alexander (Eds.), Handbook of multicultural counseling (pp. 73–92). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Demmert, W. G. (1999, Spring). Indian education revisited: A personal experience. Journal of American Indian Education, 38 (3), 5–13.
- Duran, E., & Duran, B. (1995). Native American postcolonial psychology. Albany: State University of New York Press.
- Horse, P. G. (2001). Reflections on American Indian identity. In C. L. Wijeyesinghe & B. W. Jackson (Eds.), New perspectives on racial identity development (pp. 91–107). New York: New York University Press.
- Mihesuhuah, D. (1999). American Indian identities: Issues of individual choice and development. In D. Champaign (Ed.), Contemporary Native American cultural issues (pp. 13–37). Walnut Creek, CA: Alta Mira Press.
- Renfrey, G. S. (1992). Cognitive-behavioral therapy and the Native American client. Behavior Therapy, 23, 321–340.
- Simms, W. F. (1998). The Native American Indian client: A tale of two cultures. In Y. M. Jenkins (Ed.), Diversity in college settings: Directives for helping professionals (pp. 21–36). New York: Routledge.
- Yellow Horse Brave Heart, M., & DeBruyn, L. (1968). The American Indian Holocaust: Healing historical unresolved grief. American Indian and Alaska Native Mental Health Research: The Journal of the National Center, 8 (2), 56–79.
- Counseling Latina/Latino Clients
- Culturally Oriented Career Counseling
Nadya A. Fouad
- Ethnocultural Psychotherapy
- Inclusive Cultural Empathy in Practice
Paul B. Pedersen
- Mixed-Race Identities
Maria P. P. Root
- Working With Arab Americans
- 110 Experiences for Multicultural Learning
Paul B. Pedersen
- Acculturation: Advances in Theory, Measurement, and Applied Research
Edited by Kevin M. Chun, Pamela Balls Organista, and Gerardo Marin
- Addressing Cultural Complexities in Practice, Second Edition: Assessment, Diagnosis, and Therapy
Pamela A. Hays
- Culture and Competence: Contexts of Life Success
Edited by Robert J. Sternberg and Elena L. Grigorenko
- Ethnocultural Aspects of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Issues, Research, and Clinical Applications
Edited by Anthony J. Marsella, Matthew J. Friedman, Ellen T. Gerrity, and Raymond M. Scurfield