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Social Work


The purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of an Aboriginal approach to healing and to establish the theoretical grounds for its effectiveness. Toward this end, this paper considers a number of issues. First, the similarities and differences between various Euro-Western theories of counselling or psychotherapy1 and Aboriginal approaches to healing are examined. Second, an overview of major cumulative findings from research on psychotherapy is presented toward establishing major curative factors that are common across various therapy approaches. Third, related to these psychotherapy research findings, Jerome Frank’s (1961, 1982, 1991) theory of common factors is being reviewed toward establishing parallels between psychotherapy and traditional healing approaches. Fourth, a traditional (Ojibwe) approach to healing and associated healing methods are discussed. Finally, the theoretical arguments for the effectiveness of Aboriginal healing methods are summarized and implications for Euro-Western helping approaches are considered.

The main reason for advancing theoretical versus empirical arguments for the effectiveness of Aboriginal approaches to healing, and doing so by comparing these methods to Euro-Western counselling theories and considering the outcome of psychotherapy research, is because there is a scarcity of research on Aboriginal healing methods. Although Lane, Bopp, and Norris (2002) have noted that “there is considerable anecdotal evidence that traditional healing practices have profound effects” (Lane, Bopp, and Norris, 2002, p. 22), they acknowledge the necessity of developing tools and processes to document the outcomes of Aboriginal healing. This is a laudable long-term goal; however, in the meantime, we believe that it is useful to develop theoretical arguments for the likelihood that Aboriginal healing methods will prove to be at least as effective as Euro-Western counselling, particularly for Aboriginal people.


This article was originally published in Native Social Work Journal, 5: 44-63. © 2003 Laurentian University