Indigenous Healing Psychology – Honoring the Wisdom of the First Peoples – book review by Michelle Brenner

Indigenous Healing Psychology takes us through a rare journey over space and time – a journey that bridges the world of mainstream psychology and that of Indigenous healing. It takes the life of Richard Katz to bring these worlds together in one book, to help us understand the limitations of being born in a culture. For some the limitations separate our capacity to see the unseen, to have access to layers of life that for many pass by like a blip on a screen. For others being born in a culture limits the capacity to teach and be part of the academic and institutional world.  

Respect lies at the heart of this journey. This bridge is built on respect, without which one cannot reach the other side. We embark with Richard in the 1960’s when Richard Katz was a student at Harvard University where people such as B. F. Skinner,(behaviourist champion) , Erik Erikson (stages of human development) Aaron Beck and Albert Ellis (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and Abraham Maslow (humanistic Psychology) were part of his world, his teachers, his mentors, his fellow colleagues. We walk the streets, drink coffee in the houses and come face to face with the shadows that are often left out of academic articles and research papers that work towards understanding the human psyche.

From mainstream psychology USA we join Richard on his life experience research journeys with Indigenous people of Fiji, Africa, and North America, where Richard asks :

“How can mainstream psychology welcome its responsibility for encouraging social change and respecting real cultural diversity? 

How can mainstream psychology overcome its present momentum toward a bifurcation between biomedical and the humanistic approaches, with the former dominating and instead work toward creating a balance, appreciative of both sides?

In short, how can mainstream psychology be more of a healing psychology?”

Mainstream psychology, Richard reminds us “is a vehicle of colonialism in large areas of the world, evaluating and categorizing peoples as failing to meet standards or, even more pernicious, as “needing our help” which means “needing (help) to become like us.”

To fully appreciate the perspective that Richard is laying out for us, he takes us to leaders in Indigenous healing such as, Danny Musqua, ‘we’re all part of the creation and therefore we all..and I mean all –plants, animals, wind, and rocks –all are deserving of unquestioned and ultimate respect as part of life – though that respect can be tested through our actions.” And =Oma Djo, who speaks of ‘seeing properly’, “When I see properly, when I feel the n/omrising inside me’, says =Oma Djo, “That’s when I can see inside people, I can see what’s troubling them, I can see everything clearly.”

If this seems too far out of the box, Richard reminds us of William James’s famous quote;

“Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different.” 

Step by step, meeting by meeting, Richard guides us to how he built this holistic paradigm that enabled him to bridge mainstream psychology with Indigenous healing. 

This book is full of stories and research projects that articulate the divide and yet like water and earth are both necessary elements in our world. 

“The Indigenous teaching is not to ‘be spiritual’, the teaching is in having balance, where spirituality works in harmony with the physical, emotional, and mental dimensions of human nature.   “Balance is what we seek. Balance is what allows us to be fully human.” The dynamic of balance and imbalance – so crucial to fully human development – along with principles of respectful exchange are keys.”

Richard asks us to reflect deeply upon our truth, our practices, our heritage,:

“These Indigenous approaches (to health and well-being) stress healing rather than curing. Yet mainstream psychology remains preoccupied with the more limited aim of curing, emphasising the removal of symptoms rather than the expansive aim of healing and a transformation of consciousness. For the mainstream to accept balance, along with exchange, as keys to its efforts in the area of health and well-being is a mighty challenge – and opportunity.

If you have ever wondered what goes on inside the world of 1st nations and how the compassion revolution that finds such wealth of knowledge and practices being researched from Eastern traditions relate to the broader 1st nations world of healing, then step into this book, Indigenous Healing Psychology, and as: Ratu Civo (says);

“The straight path”, he confirms, “is the path of spiritual understanding and growth. But…the path doesn’t just come to you because you want it. You must find the path – and find it by walking it. And that’s hard! There’s struggle and disappointment. We have to work to connect with the spiritual –even though it’s there all the time”

This hard work is not unfamiliar with mainstream psychologists, who also grapple with reflection. However Richard highlights the power of how respect is practiced in Indigenous healing as one of the keys to its practice. – “Indigenous elders are continually emphasizing the importance of knowing oneself before one can effectively help others. But from an Indigenous perspective,  that process of knowing oneself is always undertaken with the aim of serving others.“

I found it hard to put this book down, from Carl Rogers, to sweat lodges and everything inbetween. This book is an honour and joy to read. 

 Review written by Michelle Brenner

Michelle Brenner was one of the first to receive post-graduate qualifications in Conflict Resolution from Macquarie University within Australia in 1994. Since then she has been a pioneer in the practice and development of the field. She was a forerunner in mediation in local government, being the first full time mediator for an inner city Sydney council. She has consulted for the NSW Department of Education, the Federal Department of Immigration and the NSW Police Force.. She is one of the founding members of Holistic Practices Beyond Borders Inc. She has published 2 books, “Conscious Connectivity: Creating Dignity in Conversation”, and “Conversations on Compassion” both available at Prior to her career in Conflict Resolution, Michelle was a Natural Health Therapist. She has travelled extensively and lived in Hawaii, Japan, Indonesia, Israel, France New Zealand. Michelle lives in Sydney, Australia and is a qualified Nature Forest Therapy Guide with ANFT.


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