Considerations in Working with Persons of First Nations Heritage

An Excerpt


Practice in psychology within Canada often involves working with persons of First Nations heritage. Although psychological practice occurs on a daily basis in the province and the country as a whole, there is scant dialogue occurring in Canada about best practice for psychological service delivery to First Nations peoples. Criticisms have been leveled over the past several years about psychology’s cultural bias and intentions, including some that were published in the Saskatchewan Psychologists’ Newsletter (1994) by Louise Halfe, who is a woman of First Nations heritage and a respected Canadian author. She wrote that psychologists have an “entrenched ethnocentric perspective”1 and that “the institutions providing mental health services continue to fail the First Nations people”. In the face of these kinds of criticisms, some healthy self-examination by psychologists, mental health service administrators, and psychological training institutions might prove beneficial for everyone, clients and the profession alike. However, whether this professional self-examination occurs depends on psychology’s openness to the experience of self-reflection. Resistance to self-reflection regarding practice issues can lead to defensiveness and tension between colleagues as they begin to line up on either side of a variety of professional issues affecting their clinical work and academic research. Self-reflection and consideration of professional and personal biases can be a starting point to developing cultural competence when working with a particular cultural group. What to reflect upon or consider may not be so obvious. This article suggests some central and pivotal issues practitioners should be aware of. Familiarity with these issues will increase personal cultural competence and stance in providing psychosocial services to persons of First Nations heritage.

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