Honoring Their Way: Counseling American Indian Women

By Rayle, Andrea Dixon; Chee, Christine et al. | Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, April 2006 | Go to article overview

Honoring Their Way: Counseling American Indian Women


Rayle, Andrea Dixon, Chee, Christine, Sand, Jennifer K., Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development


The authors review current literature on issues facing American Indian (AI) women and discuss implications for providing culturally sensitive counseling with these women. A case study of a Dine (Navajo) woman living within mainstream society and holding true to her traditional cultural beliefs illustrates how a culturally responsive approach to counseling Al women is integral for individual counseling with this population.

Los autores revisan la literatura actual en asuntos afectando a mujeres Indias Americanas (AI) y discuten las implicaciones para proporcionar el aconsejar sensible culturalmente con estas mujeres. Un case de una mujer Dine (navajo) que vive dentro de la sociedad convencional y mantiene valida a sus creencias culturales tradicionales que ilustra crime un enfoque culturalmente receptive a aconsejar mujeres Indias Americanas es integral para el aconsejo individual con esta poblacion.

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American Indian (AI) persons are one of the least understood and, in terms of mental health, most underserved populations in the United States (Herring, 1999). Due to the social, cultural, and geographical adaptations that AIs have endured, many have been culturally dislocated (i.e., they feel that they do not fit into the traditional AI culture or into the general U.S. culture) throughout their history in the United States (Thomason, 2000). The traumatic incidents of the past have negatively affected AIs' view of their cultural values that differ from those of mainstream America (Bennett & BigFootSipes, 1991); these historical incidents remain in the minds and hearts of many AI persons and have led them to have considerable mistrust of European American counselors (LaFromboise, Trimble, & Mohatt, 1990).

The well-being of AIs has reportedly suffered throughout history, and this population appears to be at higher risk for mental health problems and substance abuse when compared with other ethnic groups (Thomason, 2000). Considering the cultural dissonance many AI persons feel and the influence that historical occurrences have had on their psychological and emotional well-being (Garrett & Herring, 2001), AI persons have not traditionally sought help outside their family/tribal systems. However, through the Indian Health Service (IHS), which is responsible for providing mental health services to approximately 500, 000 AI and Alaska Native people, more AI persons have sought mental health help outside their familial and tribal systems. Although the need for mental health prevention/intervention is well documented and treatment options are increasingly more available (Bischel & Mallinckrodt, 2001), the reality is that AI persons often do not feel liberated or free enough to seek help.

The freedom for AI women to seek help is further in question when mental health professionals take into account the discrimination against women in general throughout U.S. history as well as the injustices against Al women in particular (LaFromboise, Berman, & Sohi, 1994). These injustices have resulted in higher levels of poverty, unemployment, substance use and abuse, alcohol-related mortality, domestic violence, suicide, gang-related violence, and mental health problems (Bischel & Mallinckrodt, 2001) among women. These concerns are compounded for AI women who face the multiple assaults of racism, sexism, and sociopolitical and economic disadvantages (Reynolds & Pope, 1991). Therefore, who can AI women turn to in times of psychological or emotional need? How can professional counselors honor their ways?

In this article, we review current literature pertaining to counseling AI women; we also make recommendations for counseling AI women, illustrating these recommendations through a case study of Lilia Yazzie, an AI from the Navajo nation.

american indian realities and traditions

AI persons represent approximately 1% of the total U. …

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