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Aboriginal Services: Linking therapy and cultural competence

CAMH staff member and Cree Elder Vern Harper (second from left) and Acting Clinical Head of Aboriginal Services Dr. Peter Menzies (centre) with International Health Program Director Akwatu Khenti (far right) at a symposium hosted by CAMH on best practices in Aboriginal mental health, addiction and prevention.

It’s Thursday at the Meeting Place in downtown Toronto. Cree Elder Vern Harper and therapist Lizz Arger are meeting with a regular at this drop-in centre for homeless people. Like 40% of the 200 men and women who gather each day to chat with friends, shower, cook and take part in craft workshops, he is Aboriginal. He is struggling with both mental health and addiction issues.

As part of CAMH’s Aboriginal Services team, Harper and Arger offer a unique program combining therapy with cultural and spiritual teaching.

“Clients get the best of both worlds,” says Dr. Peter Menzies, Acting Clinical Head of Aboriginal Services. “Besides therapy, Elder Harper talks about spiritual issues, tells traditional stories and provides ceremonies. This is an important part of healing.”

CAMH staff member and Cree Elder Vern Harper

CAMH Aboriginal Services has grown steadily since its inception in 2000. With the support of Health Canada’s First Nations and Inuit Health Branch and the Oshki-Pimache-O-Win Education and Training Institute, CAMH will be providing training sessions on concurrent disorders with eight First Nations in the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation Territory.

With provincial funding, Aboriginal Services is working with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal partnering agencies across Northern Ontario to build local capacity to address mental health and addiction issues. The training has begun in Sudbury (where we also have hired a Provincial Aboriginal Training Consultant), and we plan to expand training to Thunder Bay, Sioux Lookout, Fort Frances, Nipissing and Kapuskasing in the future. “It is huge,” says Dr. Menzies. “CAMH has an opportunity to have a major impact on the lives of many First Nations people, and to build mental health and addiction capacity in a lot of northern communities.”

1,230
Clients with whom CAMH’s Aboriginal Services works each year

“The other centres would just focus on the addiction part. I needed more than that. I needed cultural understanding.”

Client Marilyn Brown credits CAMH’s Aboriginal Services for paving her road to recovery.

 

 

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