Dr. Beau Washington, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, writes a monthly column called Coyote Thoughts. (Courtesy Dr. Beau Washington)

Coyote Thoughts: The Deadly Tricksters

Dr. Beau Washington
9/29/12

Trickster Thoughts are thoughts that are possible but not accurate. They are only "slightly off" so they often fool us into believing that they are true. If a person thinks a trickster thought just once or twice, there is not much of a problem. If a person thinks about them a lot, the tricksters cause a battle within that can take a strong person down.

I was waiting for my prescriptions and started to talk with a guy who told me he was a cage fighter. I have seen cage fights on TV and once at a casino. They really look like they hurt.

I asked him, “Do you beat yourself up?”

He immediately responded, “I sure do. I have to drink myself to sleep every night because I am so stupid and worthless.”

“Is that why you fight?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “For about five days afterwards it keeps me from thinking how worthless I am. All I think about is how much I hurt—my ribs, legs, arms, pretty much all over.”

His name was called by the pharmacist, and the conversation ended. I am sorry that I didn’t get to talk with him more. I am not saying that all cage fighters fight for this reason, but this guy does. I doubt that the fighter I was talking to was worthless, and he was smart enough to know why he fights: He fights because his thoughts are painful.

Stupid people would not have this insight. He was a strong man, but he was buying into what the “Name Calling” Trickster was telling him. Tricksters will call in other tricksters if you start to believe them. "Thinking I Am Worthless and Stupid" will call in the "Fortune Teller Trickster" resulting in thoughts like: “I will never win; I will always be broke; nobody will ever love me; they will be better off without me;” and the list goes on. These kinds of tricksters are not talked about. They are sly and hide in one’s mind, and they start to bring a person down. Sometimes they can become so bad that they can even kill a person.

In the old days, we made our own shoes, clothes, knives—basically everything we needed. We have gotten away from these self-sufficient ways. About 97 percent of Natives who die from suicide do so without asking for professional help. Because of this fact, just as making our own clothes in the old days, we as family members, friends and community need to learn ways to prevent suicide.

I know it is scary to think about this. You may be the only contact the person in trouble has. Both my wife and I work in suicide prevention; we both would rather ask if somebody is thinking about hurting themselves rather than beating ourselves up for not asking later, thinking: “I should have asked, I might have saved their life." Another way to ask is: “That is some pretty bad stuff. Ever feel like ending it all?” You can change the first line relative to the conversation. The second line usually works pretty well. Just ask. Regrets are hard to live with.

Trickster Thoughts are invisible, but you can hear them. Knowledge is power and good prevention is learning and recognizing the trickster thoughts and stopping them before they do their damage. Knowing their names is the start of taking their power away; questioning their accuracy and truthfulness kills them. Remember, everybody who thinks has Trickster Thoughts; the problem comes when we believe them.

We will realize when a friend or relative is depressed long before a mental health professional finds out. There isn’t a magic pill to cure them, and a prevention program will not work unless many people in the community commit to learning how to fight the Tricksters and teach the ways to others.

People of all sizes and ages can learn to defeat the Tricksters; they don’t have to be super heroes to save lives. Everybody in Indian country is on the front line in this battle. You can learn to help. In the meantime, call a professional and ask for advice, help and/or take your friend for professional help. It is a good day to live.

Dr. Beau Washington received his doctorate from the University of Northern Colorado. A member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Beau grew up at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, where his Father was a teacher. While researching depression, he also discovered the wide range of problems that rumination (dwelling) on problems creates in other mental problems as well. His active understanding of ruminative thought lead to developing a technique for effectively stopping the painful thoughts that plague distressed individuals. In addition, Beau developed cognitive models of depression and addiction. His therapy is being piloted in the Primary Care Clinic setting at the University of New Mexico Hospitals. Clinical trials are in the development phase to add Beau’s therapy to the short list of evidenced based therapies now used in therapy. Dr. John Gray at UNM calls his therapeutic approach innovative. Beau understands that part of the key to successful intervention is making psychology consumer friendly, for example, changing the term “cognitive distortion” to “Coyote Thoughts.” He has also developed a Native suicide prevention program called “Coyote Thoughts” ©2011. Beau has trained Native mental health clinics and presented at reservations as well as regional and national conferences. Visit his website coyotethoughts.com.

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