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David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Reservation program blends conventional treatment with tradition
January 06, 2005

A mental health specialist on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is finding success blending conventional treatment with traditional Lakota ceremonies.

Ethleen Iron Cloud Two Dogs said counseling and psychotropic medications are part of the mix, but her Children First Corp. also uses traditional American Indian interventions.

"For the children in our substance abuse program, we incorporated our spiritual and cultural beliefs into our interventions, and it seemed to be very successful as far as our youth staying sober and getting help," said Two Dogs.

"So we said, 'If this works for children and young people who have substance abuse needs, what about those children with severe depression, or some kind of psychosis or mental disorder?' The results have been good."

For children with serious emotional disturbances caused by abuse, neglect or any other kind of trauma, that can mean the use of an inipi, or purification ceremony.

"It is a sacred ceremony to the Lakota that purifies the mind, body and spirit," she said. "Whenever children go through the purification process, they are able to have a stronger foundation."

Another way to connect children with their culture and family is through a Lakota naming ceremony. When a baby is born, they're given a Lakota name "that anchors them to the earth," Two Dogs said.

"It's the name they are known by in their community, and when they pass into the spirit world, their relatives in the spirit world know them by this name."

Counselors can also use a Calling Back the Spirit ceremony. Whenever a child goes through something traumatic, such as sexual abuse or witnessing violence, their spirit can be damaged or hurt, Two Dogs said.

"It can actually leave the body, like a dissociative state," she said. "Once this happens, they are without direction; they have no conscience. So with this ceremony, we call back the spirit, and it becomes reintegrated with their mind and body."

Making mental health programs culturally relevant is important on the reservations as well as all across South Dakota, said Kim Malsam-Rysdon, director of the state Division of Mental Health.

It is one of seven priorities identified by a Children's Mental Health Task Force created by the 2002 Legislature to find ways to improve the state's mental healthcare system.

Cultural competency training is important in places such as the Cheyenne River Reservation, but it's just as critical to have enough mental health providers, said Teton Ducheneaux, MD, a clinical psychologist associate in Eagle Butte.

"Right now, there is not a lot of time for the people we do have to go out into the communities," said Ducheneaux, who is seeking licensure as a psychologist. "Transportation is an issue. And there needs to be anger-management groups, but we don't have enough people.

"You get overwhelmed very easily. It breeds high turnover."

Ducheneaux in his 2 years at Eagle Butte has seen suicide gestures and attempts drop, and part of that is reflective of a growing emphasis on Lakota spirituality, he said.

Ducheneaux, an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, said there needs to be more culturally relevant programs for the nontribal mental healthcare professionals coming to work on his reservation.

"I know this," he said. "You can bring all the people in you want. And if they are not trained in the culture, if they are not able to interact with the culture here, it doesn't work out."

Two Dogs and her group have worked with officials at Oglala Lakota College to develop courses, such as Lakota Mental Health I and II, that teach people how to be care coordinators.

They're not case managers or social workers. Their sole purpose is to look at the needs of mentally ill children and their families, and to ask, "What will make their lives better?" Two Dogs said.

"It's connecting the family and child to resources, like if there is a housing issue, or a grief issue," she said. "And it's not an 8 to 5 job. You must respond at any time. You might start at 8:30 in the morning and go to midnight."


I have a traditional healer here in Port Hardy and we use her a ton! She has great results and knows how to create traditional medicine as well using what is available locally in our forest.
I have a family who I work with that uses a combined therapy plan where she works with them everyother week and it seems to be doing wonderful. It has created a ton more work for me because it has resulted in some real breakthroughs that require follow up that I have to do but the family is making great progress.
Thanks for posting this article.
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