Construction of an aboriginal theory of mind and mental health

Anthropology of Consciousness 20 (2):85-100 (2009)
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Most research on aboriginal mind and mental health has sought to apply or confirm preexisting European-derived theories among aboriginal people. Culture has been underappreciate. An understanding of uniquely aboriginal models for mind and mental health might lead to more effective and robust interventions. To address this issue, a core group of elders from five separate regions of North America was developed to help determine how aboriginal people conceived of mind, self, and identity before European contact. The process utilized for this study is iterative and involves discussions of teachings, traditional stories, and elder's comments on conclusions drawn. The elders endorsed a relational theory of mind in which mind exists between people as a product of the stories told and created within and by that relationship. Mind is distinguished from consciousness which is without language and exists within the individual as awareness. Language immediately results in an "out there" orientation in which two or more individuals generate stories about their experiences. The community is the basic unit of study for mind and mental health, and mental "illness" is not distinguished from physical "illness," but rather all are seen as a continuum of suffering and pain. What emerged from this research is that North American theories of mind are more closely related to Daoist and Shinto theories than to the logical positivism which drives most of North America's conventional psychology and psychiatry. Within European traditions, however, the philosophy of Mikhail Bakhtin with his emphasis on a dialogical self coupled with system theory comes closest to resembling North American aboriginal theories. This model explains why ceremony and ritual, community interventions, talking circles, and family therapy are more compatible with aboriginal thought than conventional North American biomedicine and psychology



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