The Quest for Healing and Wellness
*Originally published in winter 2011
Dr. Glen McCabe searches for decolonizing healing methods for Aboriginal People
As a member of the Aboriginal community, Dr. Glen McCabe of the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba has a deep and abiding interest in the emotional, cognitive, physical and spiritual health and wellness of Aboriginal people. He recognises that there is an over-representation of Aboriginal Canadians in all categories of mental, physical, social and interpersonal problems. As such, McCabe explains that Aboriginal communities require a response that is equal to the gravity of the situation and intends to focus his research on treatments that could extinguish the problems through emotional and spiritual understanding. He strongly believes that anything less would be a disservice to Aboriginal people.
McCabe acknowledges that abuses associated with colonization and assimilation resulted in traumatic reactions amongst Aboriginal people. These abuses contribute to a variety of difficulties including high rates of suicide, violent death (intended and unintended), drug and alcohol addiction, family violence and abuse, social isolation, loss of identity and as well as other issues, in spite of the many valiant attempts Aboriginal people make to improve their lives. He is proud of the brave and diligent work being done by the communities, but recognizes through his research that too often the problems re-assert themselves and individuals and even whole communities suffer. McCabe explains that, “even though short-term gains can be made, serious problems persist within the lives of Aboriginal individuals and communities and even across generations.” He attributes these recessions to the mainstream psychological treatments methods that are currently being used to heal and address psychosocial problems in the Canadian Aboriginal community.
McCabe challenges the use of mainstream psychological treatments for Aboriginal people because it focuses too heavily on the notions of illness or disease and therefore places attention on what is wrong and what has failed. “Practitioners and researchers have basically applied mainstream methods directly, or they have tried to apply some modified form of these methods. Neither approach seems to have been very effective” explains McCabe who sees a need for a different approach to be developed for the treatment of Aboriginal people.
As a result, McCabe has focused his attention on talking and interacting directly with Aboriginal people about their personal and deep healing experiences. He believes healing circles foster effective communication and encourage healing. “This way of gathering is the traditional Aboriginal approach to problem-solving and has been very effective in the healing of Aboriginal people,” says McCabe who commends the Aboriginal healers for practicing this positive approach. He adds that, “Healers and helpers in the Aboriginal community tend to focus on what is helpful rather than what went wrong or did not work. In effect, I have learned that to heal we need to lead with our strengths and create an atmosphere where our successes are built upon.” By focusing on the positives and what individual people can do, more people will experience relief from their suffering.
The suffering that many Aboriginal people across the country are seeking relief from is a result of the residue of residential school abuses, racism, injustice and other conditions that have resulted in trauma, loss of identity and psychosocial displacement. McCabe explains that, “They are going to Aboriginal healers and Aboriginal professionals and also to non-Aboriginal service providers. The advent of more effective treatment will result in better outcomes and the ensuing knowledge and wisdom will have a positive effect on Aboriginal people, and perhaps people from other cultural groups as well.” This approach to healing recognizes that Aboriginal ways of knowing and healing are for everyone and that they are legitimate practices.
McCabe is currently engaged in research into Aboriginal men’s healing and wellness using the approach of building on strengths. He explains that “Aboriginal men have exceedingly high rates of incarceration, violent death, aggression, gang affiliations and alcohol and drug dependencies. This needs to be addressed in a much more meaningful way than has been the case so far.” It is his hope that by focusing on their successes that they can find solace and heal. In addition, McCabe’s research focus continues to be on the further development of a culture and community based Aboriginal psychotherapy model, truly decolonizing research methods and the growth of belief in self, helping skills and optimism for the future amongst Aboriginal people.
Dr. Glen McCabe is a member of the department of Educational Administration, Foundations and Psychology in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba. His areas of specialization include clinical psychological practice and health and wellness training. He provides experiences for people who plan to work as educators, counselors, traditional healers and other areas of mental health interventions. For more information contact Dr. Glen McCabe by email at glen_mccabe [at] umanitoba [dot] ca.