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Dissertation

Strands in a web: phenomenological perspectives on Native American women, identity, and psychotherapy

24 July 2000

Abstract

There is little research available addressing the experiences of modem Native American women and their attitudes toward Western-European models of psychotherapy. This study employs a qualitative phenomenological approach to explore Native American women's experiences of themselves, their identity development, and their perceptions of psychotherapy. Ten women who self-identified as Native American and who felt culturally rooted in this aspect of their heritage participated in individual interviews and a small follow-up discussion group. Themes noted in the interviews fall under the general headings of connection, loss and choice, experiences with non-natives, multifaceted women, and psychology. This project lends support to earlier research that describes the identity of Native American peoples as a dynamic process of interrelationships between all aspects of the women's lives with their unique, independent personalities. This dissertation adds a sense of depth and richness to the literature reviewed by including the participants' experiences in their own voices. Perceptions of psychotherapy were generally positive but
cautious. The experience of feeling connected to and understood by a therapist who herself was open and "real" was regarded as important by the participants. This project presents information about Native American women's experiences that demands consideration of the profound nature of the interconnections in these women's lives and the impact that depth has on individual on identity. New ideas about providing mental health services to Native American women are presented and discussed. Specific recommendations to training programs in Psychology are outlined regarding the development of cultural competence among their students.


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