The following projects are currently underway in my Culture and Mental Health Research lab:
Integrating Traditional Healing & Behavioral Health Services for Urban American Indians
Situated at American Indian Health and Family Services (AIHFS), an urban American Indian health clinic in Detroit, this study will design a practical service integration model for incorporating Native traditional healing practices within conventional mental health and substance abuse treatments (i.e., “behavioral health” services). The American Indian community in Detroit has expressed a desire for access to traditional healing to meet its health care needs. Despite casual references in the scientific literature to therapeutic integration within health services throughout “Indian country”, little attention has been devoted to the complex details of such integration. This project will serve as a vanguard for tackling these complexities in close consultation with traditional healers, service providers, program administrators, and community consumers. Nearly 50 representatives from these constituencies participated in ethnographic interviews or focus groups. Responses are being qualitatively interpreted using thematic content analysis. A practical service integration model based on these findings will then serve as the foundation for a Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) grant application to pilot, assess, revise, and disseminate this service integration model for interested researchers and community organizations. Additionally, immediately following the project year, we aim to publish the results of this inquiry as the first installment in a research program dedicated to effectively integrating Native traditional healing and behavioral health services. Given the high level of interest in this subject in Native communities—and the dearth of literature that might guide such efforts—we expect passionate engagement with our findings. In regard to translation research more generally, this project privileges community needs and interests so as to yield an inversion of the usual “bench to bedside” approach, representing instead the harnessing of research strategies to the study of under-appreciated traditional healing practices as they move from tribal communities toward integration and legitimization within clinical settings.
Blackfeet Culture as Substance Abuse Treatment
Contemporary tribal commitments to traditional cultural reclamation and revitalization find continued expression by recent generational cohorts of American Indians who, when it comes to matters of recovery, healing, and wellness in the context of substance abuse, routinely assert that “our culture is our treatment.” And yet, empirical investigations of this Culture-as-Treatment hypothesis—namely, that a (post)colonial return to indigenous cultural orientations and practices is sufficient for effecting abstinence and recovery from substance use disorders for many American Indians—have yet to appear in the scientific literature. Preliminary activities of a research partnership dedicated to the empirical exploration of this hypothesis for reducing Native American substance use disorders are summarized. Specifically, collaboration between a university-based research psychologist and a reservation-based substance abuse treatment program staff has thus far resulted in a detailed blueprint for a radically alternative, culturally-grounded intervention developed for reservation residents. This proposed alternative intervention—a seasonal cultural immersion camp designed to approximate the day-to-day experiences of pre-reservation ancestors—was designed for eventual implementation and evaluation with adult clients referred for residential treatment on the Blackfeet Indian reservation. It is anticipated that the proposed intervention will eventually afford empirical evaluation of the Culture-as-Treatment hypothesis.