"The Thing Happened as He Wished": Recovering an American Indian Cultural Psychology

Am J Community Psychol. 2019 Sep;64(1-2):172-184. doi: 10.1002/ajcp.12353. Epub 2019 Jul 11.


One of the chief questions confronting mental health professionals who serve American Indian communities is how best to offer genuinely helpful services that do not simultaneously and surreptitiously reproduce colonial power relations. To ensure that counselors and therapists do not engage in psy-colonization, it is crucial to recognize the sometimes divergent cultural foundations of mental distress, disorder, and well-being in "Indian Country." In this article, I will consider four excerpts from a research interview undertaken among my own people, the Aaniiih Gros Ventres of north-central Montana. At a superficial level, these excerpts seem to reinforce reigning sensibilities that are readily familiar within the mental health professions. And yet, closer analysis of these interview excerpts reveals several tantalizing facets of an indigenous cultural psychology that may well continue to shape life and experience among tribal members in this setting. I recover this distinctive cultural psychology through archival representations of cultural and community life, including analysis of an important tribal myth. This analysis makes possible an alterNative interpretation of these interview excerpts, grounded in an aboriginal cosmology, that yields important implications for conceiving a more inclusive knowledge base for psychology that only robust community engagement can reveal.

Keywords: (Post)colonial communities; American Indians; Cultural psychology; Indigenous knowledges; Indigenous spirituality; Mental health services.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism / psychology
  • Anthropology, Cultural
  • Community Mental Health Services*
  • Cultural Characteristics*
  • Depression / psychology
  • Health Services, Indigenous
  • Humans
  • Indians, North American / psychology*
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Mental Disorders / ethnology
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Montana