Using traditional Aboriginal methods to treat veterans

Using traditional Aboriginal methods to treat veterans
Smudging is incorporated into some Aboriginal cultures’ healing practices as a method for cleansing and purifying.

Traditional healers and the director of an Aboriginal Healing Lodge say their work helping native prisoners deal with past trauma will translate successfully into treatment of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for veterans and soldiers.

The Quebec-based Waseskun Healing Lodge is working to establish a centre where traditional Aboriginal healing methods – currently used to help prisoners deal with substance abuse, violent tendencies and past trauma – can be transferred to work on PTSD in the military.

Waseskun’s Executive Director Stan Cudek told The Journal that symptoms seen in soldiers with PTSD are very similar to those many Aboriginal prisoners display from childhood traumas.

And while transferring traditional healing methods from healing lodges to military clients has never been done in Canada, Cudek and his team are confident their approaches will work.

“Healing is a complex and multi-faceted process that involves regaining balance between our spiritual, mental, emotional and physical selves,” Cudek said. “For the process to begin, a person must ground themselves through developing their belief in something greater than themselves – a spiritual being or belief system. This is what provides the base or connection to mental, emotional and physical selves.”

Waseskun is one of eight healing lodges across Canada, and one of only four that are privately-run. The center’s clients are generally Aboriginal men, all from minimum-security prisons.

Many of the clients have experienced severe trauma throughout their lives, Cudek said. Often those traumas result in substance abuse, inability to control violence and social anxieties.

Treatments at the healing lodge involve traditional ceremonies, healing circles, sweat lodges and one-on-one sessions with elders and helpers. In essence, the lodge tries to help people identify the roots of their problems and deal with those roots.

Traditional healer Sonny Mayo, a Mohawk from the Kahnawake community near Montreal who works as the resident elder at Waseskun, said that to properly heal, whether it is PTSD or any other trauma-based mental illness, as much attention must be paid to the spiritual side as to all other aspects.

“This is what we use for our men, our warriors, when they come out from life’s battles,” Mayo said. “It translates into calling the spirit back into the human. PTSD is basically a military disorder because the spirit does not want to see the inhumanity man does to man.”

Both Cudek and Mayo added that in order for people to heal from PTSD or other traumas, they should be at a place away from the regular stresses of ordinary life.

To that end Waseskun is setting up a centre in the foothills of the Laurentian Mountains in Quebec, where they plan to run extended healing sessions that may last anywhere from one to six months.

The centre is expected to open next summer after Waseskun holds a spiritual gathering bringing elders and healers from First Nations communities across North America together to discuss healing methods, Cudek said.

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