Western Folklife Center
Taki Telonidis of the Western Folklife Center, based in Salt Lake City, produced the documentary “Healing the Warrior’s Heart” that explores the ways some Native American tribes treat their veterans when they return from war.

Healing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder With Native Medicine

Vincent Schilling

Alfred Gibson (Navajo), spiritual leader and medicine man, helps Native veterans heal from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) through the “enemy way” ceremony with the support of the Veterans Administration. While these therapies have been used by Native people for generations, over the past few years, the Veterans Administration has witnessed the power and value of the culutrally sensitive process.

Gibson told the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “When soldiers go overseas, we give them warrior ceremonies to armor and protect them against the battle; when the soldier comes back, we have to remove that armor, to help him reconnect with his home.”

In addition to his role as medicine man, Gibson is also a traditional practitioner at a treatment facility in Gallup , New Mexico, working to help patients battle such maladies as addiction, mental stress and PTSD. In his treatment, he pairs traditional sweat lodge and ceremony with therapy and western medicines.

Jimi Kelley's (Quapaw/Cherokee) father was in the military; his mother was a psychiatric nurse practitioner for the Veterans Administration. In his late teens, Jimi was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and PTSD. He found the western medical model did not meet his treatment needs, while Native medicine and therapies did. Jimi has found a way to combine western clinical therapy and traditional healing for his personal happiness and balance, and he is sharing it with others through the First Nation’s Behavioral Health Association. (JimiKelley.com)Currently, Veterans Affairs hospitals throughout the nation run special programs for Native American vets that include talking circles, sweat lodge ceremonies and gourd dances. Dr. James Gillies, a psychologist in the PTSD clinic at the VA Medical Center in Albuquerque, told the Christian Science Monitor: "To be a soul doctor is to embrace the souls of the people you work with."

“But the goal, is always to do away with the medication—to help patients learn the traditional ways of healing,” Gibson said.

According to Jimi Kelley, (Quapaw/Cherokee) family support specialist trainer and spokesperson on behalf of the Society of Truth, an initiative of the First Nations Behavioral Health Association, many programs report higher success rates when behavioral health programs are integrated with cultural and traditional practices.

“In terms of community needs such as cultural or spiritual integration, we need to have the room to be able to implement these things for healing to be effective in our community,” Kelley said. “I have two examples in an urban and reservation environment. The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe is a perfect example as they have a spiritual counselor on staff who functions in both a counseling role on the clock, but can do ceremonies off the clock. At the Los Angeles County Urban Indian Health Center, they include traditional crafts, drumming etc as part of the peer mental health program,” he said.


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Bill Hayes
Bill Hayes
Submitted by Bill Hayes on
Knowing what I know of native medicine, I can think of no form of therapy that would, or could, be more efficacious.

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
The best thing about Native medicine is that it treats the problem and not just the symptoms as does modern pharmacology. There are no side effects.

Robert Torres's picture
Robert Torres
Submitted by Robert Torres on
I can honestly say that its the best thing that happened to me, I have now been a part of a Lakota sweat Lodge for a better part of Five years after my deployment with all I have been threw I can say that if not for a person who had seen I was suffering took me to the Lakota Ceremony I would not be alive today it has changed me and my world! mitakuye oyas'in