Counseling with Adlerian Theory and Native American Spirituality

April 13, 2012

In “Blending Native American Spirituality with Individual Psychology in Work With Children,” the authors, Darline Hunter and Cheryl Sawyer, discuss the many ways that counselors have been successfully integrating techniques based on Native American philosophy to help children who feel disconnected from society develop healthy social  connections. They begin by emphasizing Alder’s theory that in order for individuals to be emotionally whole and healthy they must become fully integrated in and feel connected with society as a whole, and they must become a contributing member of society. They continue to discuss various ways children feel and  become disconnected from society, and the negative impact on their behaviors and emotions. They state that when the “basic needs of all humans (belonging, mastery, independence, generosity) are not being met…children become alienated and act out their senses of disconnectedness” (Hunter and Sawyer, 2006).

The authors follow up discussing the need for an effective therapy for disconnected children with stating the similarities between psychotherapeutic goals and Native American philosophies. According to Adler, individuals need to have “a sense of harmony with the universe…contact with others…[and] empathy for others” (Hunter and Sawyer, 2006). This is similar to Native American philosophies of being “in harmony with nature…[being] valued above and beyond possessions…emphasiz[ing] self-sufficiency…and respect for the elderly” (Hunter and Sawyer, 2006). Hunter and Sawyer go on to describe how certain Native American values and beliefs coincide with many of the goals of psychotherapy. One example is the Medicine Wheel which teaches children the need to be connected with the self, with others, with the natural environment, and with the spirit world. Next, therapists use Pet Therapy to help children learn how to safely bond and empathize with other creatures, and to teach them how to be responsible and take care of others. Therapists also use Nature Therapy where children learn gardening. They get the experience of putting their hands in the dirt, and they learn the value of patience while waiting for the fruit and flowers to grow. Children are encouraged to share what their gardens have produced with others, helping them to experience being a contributor while learning the value of purpose. The therapy emphasizes a need for belonging and the need for mastery.  Children learn to belong through “talking circles” where they learn to accept and respect others, and they learn the value of listening to others as well as expressing oneself. They are taught to value mastery through the Native American belief that “someone with more competence is not a rival but a resource and that achievement is sought for personal reasons, not out of competition” (Hunter and Sawyer, 2006).

Hunter and Sawyer support their findings with research from a variety of authors and experts. They present the need for disconnected children to receive effective therapy to help them become integrated into society. They show the various links between psychological goals and Native American values. They spend time stating details of the different techniques therapists use that are based on Native American teaching and rituals. The authors show the effectiveness of the techniques by stating the results of specific case studies to let the reader know the practical application of the therapy. The only weakness in the article is that Hunter and Sawyer never make it clear which specific age groups are best served by the therapy. Some sessions seem very juvenile, and are not likely to appeal to teens, while others seemed to deal with complex ideas that might be over the heads of very young children. Despite these weaknesses, however, the article is a valuable resource for anyone who works with children who are at risk and may be dealing with issues of isolation.

Peter L Richardson

Hunter, D. & Sawyer, C. (2006). Blending Native American Spirituality with Individual Psychology in Work with Children. The Journal of Individual Psychology, 62, 234-248.


One Response to “Counseling with Adlerian Theory and Native American Spirituality”

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