In Canada, June is an opportunity to celebrate and learn about Indigenous history. At the same time, though, we're coping with a profound national grief. Some people are coming to terms with the truly devastating realities our Indigenous communities have faced and continue to face for the first time, while others have expressed that they are saddened but not surprised by the ongoing news. The mass graves found at the sites of former residential “schools” are painful reminders of not just a historical trauma but also the current and ongoing impacts of intergenerational trauma, cultural genocide, and persisting systemic racism. Instead of celebrating Canada Day this Thursday, here are 3 calls to action to honour Indigenous peoples.
Before we dive in, for any Indigenous community members who have been affected by this news, please know that there are resources available to support you, as listed on SACE’s website.
Hearing the truth
Some of you who are not part of the Indigenous community have already been wondering how you might be able to respond to surfacing events. Personally, I appreciate SACE’s sentiment that “Reconciliation must start with truth”. We can all make a commitment to hearing the truth with humility and compassion.
Following this, we can become familiar with the calls to action of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the calls for justice found in the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
As we all move through this challenging time and more people reconcile with the truth, I imagine that waves of grief may arise, though experienced differently for everyone. It may be helpful to keep Susan Silk’s “Ring Theory” in mind. From my perspective, it reminds us that we’ll all be impacted by the stories we’ve been hearing to varying degrees. Our job is to ensure that we’re gaining the support we need from those in our own circle or further away from the trauma, and sending support toward the centre of those most impacted by the event.
Source: Illustration by Wes Bausmith
While reading or listening to stories of trauma, I also think it’s important to consider how we can do so in a way that allows us to stay in a seat of empathy and presence. Often, people begin with an aim to stay informed but end up dissociated because they’ve become dysregulated by imagining the traumatic events. You may relate to the idea of “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes” in order to understand what they’ve gone through.
It turns out that imagining what it would be like to experience someone else’s trauma not only puts us at risk for vicarious trauma, it also isn’t very effective. If you’re reading or listening to a lot about trauma right now, I invite you to try something else instead: stay curious. I’ll be sharing more about this idea in an upcoming course I have on vicarious trauma, so please watch for that.
Ensuring appropriate healthcare access
Finally, for those who are healthcare professionals, there are a number of things we can do to ensure appropriate healthcare access. Start by checking out this article on How We Can Support Indigenous Peoples’ Wellness. I also have found it helpful to learn about the ideas around decolonizing mental health. It aligns really well with a feminist counselling perspective where we try to understand the historical and present context people are dealing with in order to understand why they might be struggling and offer trauma-informed support that aims not to pathologize.
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of attending a workshop led by Karlee Fellner where, in addition to talking about decolonization, she focused on “Indigenizing Psychology”. On her website, she offers a definition for both terms:
“decolonizing involves breaking down colonial ideologies & how they manifest, looking to Indigenous counter-stories of survivance & relationality instead. Indigenizing centres Indigenous ways of knowing, using local knowledges, traditions, and languages to address the interests of particular communities. together, these processes contribute to Indigenous self-determination and healing”.
I hope these brief ideas have been helpful. If you’re looking for more, please keep listening - both inside yourself and to the many voices in our Indigenous communities as well.
It’s hard saying no. For a lot of new therapists, we really struggle with the idea of disappointing someone in our care.
It can be easy to feel that because our clients need something, we need to be the one to give it to them. I hear new therapists say things like “but they need evening hours – they can’t make it during the normal workday“ or “they need a sliding scale – they can’t afford the full fee”.
When I saw Dr. Gabor Mate - author and renowned addiction expert - speak in October 2012, he gave a definition of trauma that I wrote down, and since then I’ve been collecting other definitions. I think it’s important to have a clear understanding of what it is we’re trying to heal. Dr. Mate would say that trauma is the suppression of natural fears and emotions, and that all mental illness is an attempt to get away from ourselves.
I'm currently reading Peter Levine's "Healing Trauma" and feeling SO GRATEFUL that he's written out a handy list of words to describe bodily sensations. When I work with clients, I often ask them to describe thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations of any given experience - and a lot of folks struggle with this! Most of us live in our heads and have a difficult time finding words for these other, equally important, parts of ourselves. So the next time your therapist asks how you are, instead of "okay" or "not so good", try asking yourself what sensation in your body tells you you're feeling that way.
Working in the area of sexual violence has taught me that for many folks, understanding our experience and having a name for it can help us heal from it. Knowing the definitions of sexual assault and consent and being able to claim the word "survivor" can be extremely powerful.
Nicole Perry is a Registered Psychologist and writer with a private practice in Edmonton. Her approach is collaborative and feminist at its heart. She specializes in healing trauma, building shame resilience, and setting boundaries.
About the Blog
This space will provide information, stories, and answers to big questions about some of my favorite topics - boundaries, burnout, trauma, self compassion, and shame resilience - all from a feminist counselling perspective. It's also a space I'm exploring and refining new ideas.