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Indigenous Healing Psychology

Honoring the Wisdom of the First Peoples

Published by Healing Arts Press
Distributed by Simon & Schuster



About The Book

Connecting modern psychology to its Indigenous roots to enhance the healing process and psychology itself

• Shares the healing wisdom of Indigenous people the author has worked with, including the Ju/’hoansi of the Kalahari Desert, the Fijians of the South Pacific, Sicangu Lakota people, and Cree and Anishnabe First Nations people

• Explains how Indigenous perspectives can help create a more effective model of best practices in psychology

• Explores the vital role of spirituality in the practice of psychology and the shift of emphasis that occurs when one understands that all beings are interconnected

Wherever the first inhabitants of the world gathered together, they engaged in the human concerns of community building, interpersonal relations, and spiritual understanding. As such these earliest people became our “first psychologists.” Their wisdom lives on through the teachings of contemporary Indigenous elders and healers, offering unique insights and practices to help us revision the self-limiting approaches of modern psychology and enhance the processes of healing and social justice.

Reconnecting psychology to its ancient roots, Richard Katz, Ph.D., sensitively shares the healing wisdom of Indigenous peoples he has worked with, including the Ju/’hoansi of the Kalahari Desert, Fijians native to the Fiji Islands, Lakota people of the Rosebud Reservation, and Cree and Anishnabe First Nations people from Saskatchewan. Through stories about the profoundly spiritual ceremonies and everyday practices he engaged in, he seeks to fulfill the responsibility he was given: build a foundation of reciprocity so Indigenous teachings can create a path toward healing psychology. Also drawing on his experience as a Harvard-trained psychologist, the author reveals how modern psychological approaches focus too heavily on labels and categories and fail to recognize the benefits of enhanced states of consciousness.

Exploring the vital role of spirituality in the practice of psychology, Katz explains how the Indigenous approach offers a way to understand challenges and opportunities, from inside lived truths, and treat mental illness at its source. Acknowledging the diversity of Indigenous approaches, he shows how Indigenous perspectives can help create a more effective model of best practices in psychology as well as guide us to a more holistic existence where we can once again assume full responsibility in the creation of our lives.


Chapter Four

“The purpose of life is to learn”
Research as a Respectful Way of Experiencing and Knowing

An Indigenous Approach to Research

How does this mainstream Western research approach, characterized by the laboratory experiment, compare with an Indigenous approach? Danny Musqua, the Anishnabeq elder who is my spiritual father, tells a story about his Indigenous research effort. As a member of the Bear Clan, Danny is a guardian of traditional Anishnabeq ceremonies, caring for the knowledge that underlies the life and nature of the ceremonies, offering support in their actual performance. He is also a traditional storyteller, entrusted with the stories of his people that contain their journeys and spiritual teachings and educated in the ways of remembering these stories and communicating them in the proper manner. Memory and remembering are part of his being, inculcated in him from early childhood. As just a little toddler his grandmother would send him outside after he wakes up to listen to the birds . . . and the wind . . . and the grass. “These things can talk to you and tell you important things,” she instructs him, “Listen . . . listen carefully.”

Part of Danny’s responsibilities is to learn and know the many songs that activate and accompany the ceremonies. The songs are calls and pleas to the spirits, asking for the blessing and protection Part of Danny’s responsibilities is to learn and know the many songs that activate and accompany the ceremonies. The songs are calls and pleas to the spirits, asking for the blessing and protection of the spirit world. They sing a sacred language. There is a song that Danny realizes he needs to learn in order to more completely fulfill his responsibilities, and he knows the Anishnabeq elder who knows that song.

Thus begins his research effort. He approaches the elder with respect, because the elder is a man of knowledge. The elder also has sacred responsibilities, one of which is to protect and nurture his songs, and offer them to others when appropriate. Danny will be requesting an opportunity to learn a song that the elder is holding dear to his heart.

Danny knows he must approach the elder in a spiritually based ceremonial manner, offering a sacred exchange in order to learn the song. He presents the elder with a tobacco offering, which among First Nations people carries a spiritual message of respect and humility, demonstrating how deeply the offeror values what is being requested. The tobacco offering humbly requests the presence of the spirits directly into the exchange, giving life to and sanctifying the process. (For a further discussion of the tobacco offering see Michell [1999].)

The elder is grateful Danny has come, because it’s the elder’s responsibility to pass on his knowledge to deserving others; his knowledge lives only as it is shared with others. The elder sings his song, and Danny listens. He draws upon his lifetime of training, to listen with care, being open to all realms of sound and meaning, so he can hear--and remember. This ability to hear is sharpened as it becomes infused with spiritual energy.

The elder sings the song several times more, and Danny listens and believes he hears. But he has a moment of doubt. He’s not totally sure he got it! “Would it be all right if I tape-record this song,” he asks, almost immediately embarrassed by his question. The elder looks at Danny with a surprised, quizzical expression. “You say you want to learn this song,” he almost repeats Danny’s words, “but if you really do, you will hear it and learn it. You don’t need that tape recorder. If you don’t really work to learn the song, it will just go in one of your ears and out the other.”

Danny smiles, and then he and the elder enjoy a good laugh. “Of course,” Danny realizes to himself, “of course.” Danny now prepares at another level to listen, so he can hear, really hear and thereby learn. Being more relaxed through the laughter, his ears open to his mind and heart, and listening a few more times he connects to the spiritual sources of the song.

As Danny embarks on this piece of Indigenous research he is seeking understanding not the prediction or control that earmarks the mainstream research approach. He knows that he must approach the goal of learning this new song by engaging his ways of knowing, and in the end bringing those ways to a deeper, more spiritually charged level. The entire process of working with the elder is a sacred journey, rather than the more technical, even mechanical character of the mainstream laboratory approach.

Danny and the elder are co-creating the setting in which the learning and spiritual transmission will occur. This is not the unilateral possession of power and control in the hands of the laboratory researcher, but a co-created process of research and learning which either party can change. The elder is not a “subject,” but a person of respect, and even if Danny wanted to, he cannot become a mainstream researcher because he cannot subject the elder to anything. There are two experts involved, and involved with each other. As the research unfolds, it becomes effective because both become expert in both learning and teaching.

Though Danny now knows the song, and has been given traditional permission to sing it during ceremonies, he does not own the song--it remains a gift, a treasured part of Anishnabeq spiritual teachings. He is the caretaker of that song, and must nourish it with honest singing and a clean heart. But it is not his property; he cannot sell it. He can now pass that song on to others, to ones who have earned the right to that song. And pass it on he must, as it through sharing that knowledge remains alive and enlivening. As Metis elder Rose Fleury put it, “Our knowledge is useless unless we pass it on.”

About The Author

Dedicated to the respectful exchange between Indigenous teachings about health and healing and mainstream Western psychology, Richard Katz received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Harvard, where he taught for nearly 20 years. Over the past 50 years, Dr. Katz has spent time working with Indigenous elders and healers in various parts of the world, including the primarily hunting-gathering Ju/'hoansi of the Kalahari Desert, the Indigenous Fijians of the South Pacific, the Sicangu Lakota of Rosebud Reservation, and the Cree and Saulteaux First Nations people of Saskatchewan. At the request of the Indigenous elders he has worked with, he seeks to bring their teachings into contact with mainstream psychology. The aim is to encourage the mainstream to be more respectful of diversity, more committed to social action, and more appreciative of the spiritual dimension in health and healing. Dr. Katz has written 7 books on culture and healing. He is currently Professor Emeritus at First Nations University of Canada and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Saskatchewan. He lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Healing Arts Press (December 19, 2017)
  • Length: 480 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781620552674

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Raves and Reviews

“A remarkable culmination of Katz’s invaluable life-long work with Indigenous healers, Indigenous Healing Psychology is a brilliant, groundbreaking work connecting psychology to its roots so it can more truly become a force for healing and social change. A genuine invitation to a breathtaking journey that is a rare treasure. Just what psychology so desperately needs.”

– Joan Borysenko, Ph.D., New York Times bestselling author

“A deeply honest book showing the greatest respect for Indigenous knowledge. You can see how our traditional Anishnabe teachings can offer a path to healing psychology. Indigenous Healing Psychology shows how psychology can finally begin to heal our people.”

– Danny Musqua, Anishnabe Elder, Keeseekoose First Nation

“Katz shares his extraordinary journey through world cultures and methods for inner and community work. Psychology will only be the better for encompassing such powerful Indigenous wisdom. This book is a mind-expanding gift to the reader, a well-researched offering to psychology, and a force for good.”

– Daniel Goleman, Ph.D., author of Emotional Intelligence

“Katz convincingly argues that the inclusion of Indigenous spiritual worldviews in mental health intervention and treatment will produce better client outcomes and better relationships among people no matter where they live. He offers the reader a profound challenge that is supported with Indigenous ways of knowing and living. His long-awaited book is beautifully crafted, clearly written, convincing, and logically organized--complete with a wealth of thought-provoking material written in a confident, authoritative voice. Anyone who carefully and thoughtfully studies these pages will come out a richer, well-informed person who will view spirit, the sacred, place, and connectedness through a discerning lens.”

– Joseph E. Trimble, Ph.D., distinguished professor of psychology at Western Washington University

Indigenous Healing Psychology presents a powerful and inspirational pedagogy into Western and Indigenous healing traditions; it offers valuable guideposts to ways we can all transform ourselves to meet the challenges of our fast-changing world.”

– Harvey Knight, Indigenous cultural advisor to the Regional Psychiatric Centre, Saskatoon

“Katz journeys into the heart of what psychology is and what it can be. He exposes the Western myopia that limits the espoused goal of psychology, i.e. understanding the human experience of mind, body, and our relationship to the world. His personal experiences of navigating formal psychology and his subsequent lessons learned from traditional healers point to the ignored facets of spirituality, humanism, culture, and community that cannot be separated from a truly holistic human psychology and healing.”

– Dennis Norman, Ed.D., ABPP, faculty chair of the Harvard University Native American Program

“This book is a must-read for all students of indigenous psychology. It teaches all the essentials. Consistent with the experiential focus of the wisdom tradition, Katz does not preach; he tells what he knows experientially. The reader is invited to join him on a personal journey that took him from the lecture halls of Harvard to paths in search of the healing wisdom of the Indigenous peoples. This account of Katz is testimonial to the possibility that doing research in Indigenous psychology is a spiritual journey that can be profoundly fulfilling and transformative for the reader as well.”

– Louise Sundararajan, Ph.D., Ed.D., fellow of the American Psychological Association

“In this engaging and excellent book, Katz gives the reader a foundation for understanding the quality and depth of Indigenous healing. He has learned from the elders to do it in the best possible way: by telling stories that illuminate complex concepts and make them relatable and usable.”

– Melinda A. García, Ph.D., author

Indigenous Healing Psychology is a powerful, provocative, and enlivening book that, through Katz’s expansive and inspiring voice, offers psychology just what it needs to hear in order to fulfill its promise to be truly healing and equitable. I know from my own work as a psychologist and counselor that people are searching for precisely what Indigenous Healing Psychology offers. Celebrating diversity in all its myriad manifestations, this is a bold and exhilarating book.”

– Niti Seth, Ed.D., academic counselor at the Harvard University Bureau of Study Counsel

“Indigenous Healing Psychology is a fascinating look at the world of psychology as a discipline in need of healing. Katz traces the evolution of his encounters with some of the giants of psychology at Harvard as well as honored Indigenous healers in other cultures. This book is a major contribution to revisioning mainstream psychology by returning it to its fundamental commitments to diversity, cultural meanings, human potential, and social justice.”

– Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu, LifeWorks program of integrative learning at Stanford University

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