Warrior Spirit Indigenous Psychology Conference 2016: Native Youth Encampment: the theme of the conference is “Medicine Words.”

Medicine Words: Mental Health Conference to Blend Indigenous Healing, Western Psychology

Kristin Butler

Traditional Indigenous healers and western mental health practitioners will come together to share their effective psychological intervention strategies at the sixth annual Warrior Spirit Indigenous Psychology Conference, November 16-17, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The conference, “Warrior Spirit Indigenous Psychology Conference 2016: Native Youth Encampment,” is hosted by Native Wholistic Specialists, Inc., a Native-owned and -operated organization founded in spring 2001 by Dr. Kalvin White, Navajo, from Fort Defiance, Arizona. Dr. White received his doctorate in counseling psychology from the University of Utah in December 1998.

“This is a very unique conference,” Dr. White told Indian Country Today Media Network. “It brings all of these Native people together — that are working in the capacity of mental health, that are either master level counselors, professionally licensed counselors, psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric nurses, or professional educators — all in one group, at one time, to share this information, and from there, to build on that.”

The theme of the conference is “Medicine Words.” One of those words is “warrior spirit.”

White describes the warrior spirit as the mental, physical, spiritual, and psychological state that Native warriors embraced when they protected and defended Indigenous people. It reflects beauty, confidence, pride, and honor.

Due to a lack of cultural identity, Native youth often create a false identity. “That’s where gang society, gang relationships, and gang mentorships come in. They create a purpose to destroy, to destruct, to defend. It becomes an addiction to identity development, and it becomes dysfunctional to communities, because of the crime, drugs, alcohol, so on and so forth,” White said.

From an indigenous psychological point of view, healers recognize that these children have simply lost their cultural identity, “therefore they’re meandering through this world that we live in today,” White said.

Native youth and their families will take center stage at this year’s conference, with a noteworthy and diverse lineup of all Native speakers honing in on topics such as character development, cultural identity, educational success, and mental health. Unlike most conferences, Warrior Spirit Indigenous Psychology Conference 2016 emphasizes the positive aspects of Native therapeutic healing techniques, client/practitioner interaction, and individual and group therapies.

One example of a traditional therapeutic modality is storytelling. “The way our elders did that was they had the individual patient identify with the characters in the story, so that they would be able to see and look at their parallels with that character, and from there build a resiliency model,” White said.

The conference will also address the need to incorporate a holistic approach in mental health. “In western psychology, we’re trained to look for mental illness using diagnostic criteria,” White said.

Rather than examining factors that contribute to suicide, Indigenous psychology asks: “What are the character development factors that give that individual resiliency to live?” White explained.

White will begin his conference speech about the drum and how it promotes healing. “Wherever I go throughout Indian country, there’s that drum, and a lot of young people gathered around that,” White said.

The next challenge for White and his fellow mental health practicioners is writing about Indigenous traditions and practices “in a psychological paradigm that a non-Indian would understand.”

“To bring the Indigenous paradigm into a treatment modality is not really recognized as being what people in western psychology call ‘scientific-based or evidence-based,’ because there’s really no evaluation of that paradigm. Regardless, it’s been our treatment for the past 500 years,” White said.

The conference, now its sixth year, is still grassroots and put on with “out-of-pocket funding,” White said. Registration costs $300 per person, which covers the hotel stay and price of the conference facility. Seventy-two people are registered this year.

While White insisted all the conference speakers bring “merit” to the table, he did highlight Dr. Wilson Aronolith, who will speak on Thursday. “He’s a well-articulated individual of traditional knowledge,” White said.

Check out the full agenda here.

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