Counselling First Nations: Experiences of how Aboriginal clients develop, experience, and maintain successful healing relationships with non-Aboriginal counsellors in mainstream mental health settings, a narrative study

Gail E. Howell-Jones
School Psychology, University of British Columbia
July, 2013
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Aboriginal people in Canada experience disproportionately high rates of family violence, suicide, substance abuse, and mental health problems such as depression and posttraumatic stress disorder. However, although culturally based healing resources for aboriginal people are inadequate to meet the need, available mainstream mental health services are underutilized by aboriginal clients. Therefore, while building on previous research looking at the problems faced by mainstream services and non-aboriginal counsellors in engaging and helping aboriginal clients, this research assumed there have been successes and examined aboriginal experiences of successful engagement and healing within such contexts. The methodology for this study is a narrative based approach that meets the mandates for ethical and appropriate indigenous research as described by those of authority in the field of indigenous research, and answers the question: How do aboriginal clients develop, experience, and maintain successful healing relationships with non-aboriginal counsellors in mainstream mental health settings? Narrative analysis of interviews with seven aboriginal mental health clients who believed they had a positive counselling experience in a mainstream setting produced findings that suggest common themes of interaction and discovery mark successful counselling relationships. Generally clients described an increased sense of connection and belonging, harmony, integration of traditional aboriginal and non-aboriginal practice and beliefs, self-acceptance, understanding, and balance as critical. However the defining characteristic of a successful counselling experience was expressed as the capacity of the counselling relationship to increase each client's clarification of how aboriginality is meaningfully and uniquely understood. These findings have implications for mainstream mental health services and indigenous research in general.