Posted by & filed under Clinical Neuropsychology, Consciousness, Legal Ethical Issues, Neuroscience.

Description: Do you know what to means to say someone is brain dead or to say that someone is in a vegetative state? If you see or hear a news story about someone being in a vegetative state what do you think that person’s future looks like, or do you think they really do not have a future because their brain – the higher areas of the brain where we think and where consciousness resides (perhaps) are no longer functioning and where the person’s basic body functions like breathing, heart functioning, coughing, or sleep “wake” cycles are still being managed by lower level brain stem centers. Deciding what we should do (or not do) to and for people in such states are medically, ethically and legally complicated and can be agonizing for the relatives of people in such states who could be asked to decide whether, or not, to continue feeding and hydrating the individual. One example is that of Ian Jordan who died in April of 2018 after having spent 30 years in an unresponsive state. His wife, Hilary, visited and spoke to him daily and believed that while her husband never responded directly to her that he was emotionally present. Until recently, our efforts to understand what it might mean to say someone was “brain dead” involved intensely searching for things they could be or for things that would indicate something that might look like consciousness or awareness. These searches lead to a distinction between a vegetative state and minimally conscious state. In a minimally conscious state some people can respond to some questions, sometimes doing so behaviorally rather than verbally (e.g., raising one finger for yes and two for no). Medically the view was and is that some people improve by shifting from vegetative to a minimally conscious state over time but that if there is no improvement within one month of non-traumatic brain damage or within 12 months following traumatic brain damage them the prognosis is that no change or “recovery” is expected. More recently, the increasing availability, at costs low enough to support repeated use for research purposes, of detailed brain scanning techniques such as functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) has made it possible to look deeply and specifically into the brains of people in vegetative or minimally conscious states to see what is going on and to see if they can or are responding to their surroundings. Adrian Owen, a neuroscientist working in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada asked people in vegetative states to imagine they were playing tennis and found that areas of some patients’ motor cortex would jump into action. With some patients he could have then imagine playing tennis if the answer to a question he posed them was yes and imagined moving though their house if the answer was no and was able to show that some, not all, patients were at least somewhat aware of what was going on around them. To find out what Adrian Owen believes this suggests not just about the brain but about related ethical and legal issues listen to him giving a talk about his work and about several of his more remarkable (miraculous) patients at the link below and while you do, ponder the ethical and legal implications of his work.

Source: Into the Grey Zone with neuroscientist Adrian Owen, IDEAS, CBC Radio, March 12, 2018, reprised August 13, 2018.

Date: August 13, 2018

Photo Credit: Western University

Article Links:


So, what do you think now about vegetative states?  The grey zone, as Adrian Owen calls it, challenges our assumptions about traumatized brains. His book on this topic is listed in the refences list below. One very important point Owen makes in his interview following his talk in the link above is that we need to closely examine what we are assuming when we use words like ‘recovery”. While he tells us of a few people who came back from a vegetative state to being able to function somewhat independently in the world, in fact, recovery might only mean an individual can indicate some level of awareness by raising a finger or thinking of playing tennis and many people show no sign even with detailed brain scans that they are aware of anything going on around them at all. Obviously more neuroscientific research is needed but so too is a lot of reflection and discussion about the ethical and legal issues surrounding those in vegetative and minimally conscious states.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What is the difference between a vegetative state and a minimally conscious state?
  2. What do brain scanning technologies add to our work and thinking about vegetative and a minimally conscious states?
  3. What might a legal/ethical/medical policy for dealing with people in vegetative and a minimally conscious states look like? What else might we need to do before we can comfortably start to address this sort of policy.

References (Read Further):

Owen, A. (2017). Into the Gray Zone: A Neuroscientist Explores the Border Between Life and Death. Simon and Schuster.

Owen, A. M., Coleman, M. R., Boly, M., Davis, M. H., Laureys, S., & Pickard, J. D. (2006). Detecting awareness in the vegetative state. science, 313(5792), 1402-1402.

Owen, A. M., Coleman, M. R., Boly, M., Davis, M. H., Laureys, S., Jolles, D., & Pickard, J. D. (2007). Response to comments on” Detecting awareness in the vegetative state”. science, 315(5816), 1221-1221.

Cruse, D., Chennu, S., Chatelle, C., Bekinschtein, T. A., Fernández-Espejo, D., Pickard, J. D., … & Owen, A. M. (2011). Bedside detection of awareness in the vegetative state: a cohort study. The Lancet, 378(9809), 2088-2094.

Wade, D. T. (2018). How often is the diagnosis of the permanent vegetative state incorrect? A review of the evidence. European journal of neurology, 25(4), 619-625.

Maiese, Kenneth (2018) Vegetative state and minimally conscious state,

Merck Manual, Professional Version

Posted by & filed under Anxiety OC PTSD, Development of the Self, Emerging Adulthood, Human Development, Stress, Stress Coping - Health, Stress: Coping Reducing, Student Success, The Self.

Description: The fall term approaches and that means that many of you are gearing up to head back to college or to university. It also means that some of you are about to take the first step on your post-secondary developmental pathways. I have written a lot previously on issues related to the developmental shift to life after high school but there is always more than can be said and more, especially for new graduates, to consider as they move into the stage of Emerging Adulthood (see links below in Further Reading for some other posts of this, and related, topics).

I have often thought about whether there might be one key thing I could tell new high school graduates (and, by extension, new first year students) that would help them get their heads in the right place for what is coming. Now while one statement is never enough, try this on for size for a moment. Your school experience from kindergarten through grade 12 has been most often presented to you (by parents, teachers, principals etc.) as a sort of Easter egg hunt. Your educational task has been to keep your eyes open for the “eggs” of knowledge and insight that have been lying around you in your school and in the world and collect enough of them so that you could be said to have “learned enough” to graduate and move on. This concrete “knowledge is out there to be collected” view is very developmentally appropriate for elementary school children and somewhat developmentally appropriate for junior high school students, but it doesn’t fit perfectly in high school and is downright dangerous once you get past high school and head off to college, university, or out in the big, wide world. Why is this view of the world and your learning about, and within it, dangerous?

Well, in 1999 the US Department of Labor said that 65% of then grade-school children will end up in jobs that hadn’t yet been invented. Further, in 2017 the Institute for the Future (both references below in Further Reading) said that “85% of the jobs that today’s learners will be doing in 2030 haven’t been invented yet”.  So, if your future jobs don’t exist yet, how could they be leaving ‘Knowledge eggs’ around for you to collect in order to get ready for them? Thinking about what that might mean to you marks your entry into the developmental stage of Emerging Adulthood and welcomes you to post-secondary life. What it means is that if you are going to college or to university it is important for you to understand how that it will be different there than high school and, as importantly, how YOU will be (or should be) different there than you were in high school.

You have a couple of options as to how you approach this next stage of your life. One option is to not think about it much and, as a consequence, have to deal with mounting uncertainty, stress and anxiety about what you are doing and how you will ever get it all done. If you want to try this first option on for size, go to the second link below (13 versatile ways to get the most out of your college years) and look through the 13 things you will have to be sure and do in order to maximize what you get out of your college/university experience. There ARE some good suggestions in that article BUT what it does NOT do is explain why you should be doing those things (a bit like being told to take your cod liver oil as a child because it is good for you). What is wrong with that is that it just extends your Easter egg hunt when, in fact, your developmental task has actually begun to shift from a knowledge/skill hunt to one of personal, life journey-planning and engagement. If you even just start to work at understanding THIS shift you will experience less anxiety (no it will not go away entirely) AND you will be closer to doing what you need to do to get ready for the future (your future) in which, among other things, it is very likely your job has not yet been invented. To get a feel for what this option involves read the first article linked below by Frank Bruni. Oh, and if your time is tight then just ready Frank’s article because it is the better option to take.

Source: How to Get the Most Out of College, Frank Bruni, The New York Times. And 13 versatile ways to get the most out of your college years, Kayla Matthews, The Blog, HuffPost.

Date: August 19, 2018


Photo Credit: The New York Times: Ben Wiseman

Article Links:  and

So, did you get a feel for the ‘whys’ of what you should do at college or university from Frank Bruni’s article? While Frank is not an academic researcher he HAS gathered data and has reflected on what it suggests about the current state of the world and of life for folks like you who are heading off onto your post-secondary developmental pathways. As well, if you check out a few of the links below in Further Reading to other posts on this blog you will see that Frank’s article and his suggestions and explanations, fit nicely with a lot of the developmental research that has been conducted recently in Emerging Adulthood and identity development. So, the option you decide to pursue in your post-secondary life is up to you and really that is very true because how it goes IS up to you (to decide, to make happen and to live and to, hopefully, enjoy).

Questions for Discussion:

  1. In what ways might we think of K to 12 school as an Easter egg hunt?
  2. What options are available to you for starting to walk along your post-secondary developmental path?
  3. If your future jobs have not been invented yet how should you approach university?

References (Read Further):

U.S. Department of Labor, Futurework: Trends and Challenges for Work in the 21st Century. (September 1999)

Institute for the Future (2017) The next era of human/machine partnerships: Emerging technologies’ impact on society and work in 2030. IFTF, Palo Alto, CA.

Other Posts on This Site:

Posted by & filed under Abnormal Psychology, Child Development, Chronic Illness, Clinical Assessment, Clinical Neuropsychology, Consciousness, Cultural Variation, Early Social and Emotional development, Health Psychology, Indigenous Psychology, Intervention: Adults-Couples, Intervention: Identifying Key Elements of Change, Motivation-Emotion, Neuroscience, Physiology, Stress Biopsychosocial Factors Illness, Stress Coping - Health, Stress: Coping Reducing, Substance-Related Disorders, The Self.

Description: There is an opioid overdose epidemic in North America. In 2017, 4,000 people in Canada and 72,000 people in the United States died of opioid overdoses. I don’t know what you have been hearing or reading about what is behind these astonishing and terrifying numbers, but there is a lot to consider and a lot to re-evaluate. Some of it is related to the broad availability of incredibly powerful opioid drugs such as fentanyl and thinking about that leads us into thinking about the addictive qualities of such drugs and the genetics and socio-cultural factors that are involved in addiction. All of that consideration and research is important. However, the enormity of the challenge the above numbers presents to us also suggests that perhaps we need to broaden our focus and think about moving away from the simplistic notions that drugs are evil and addictive and that some sort of war on drugs with its related issues such as mandatory sentence minimums for drug offenses. But if so, where should we move to and what should we consider? Well, how about to Portugal and the social determinants of health (and addiction)? The physician who wrote the book, from which the article linked below is an excerpt, tells us that in his work with addicts in Vancouver’s downtown east-side (google it if you have not heard of it) he observed that all of his female addicted patients were sexually abused as children and that in one way or another addictions involve histories of trauma, severe hurt, sorrow, helplessness, and alienation. Read through the article linked below for a look at what else we might want to consider as we try to come to terms with opioid addiction and the huge, and rapidly increasing death rates associated with them. Oh, and what about Portugal? Well, in Portugal they decriminalized all drugs (not just marihuana) and over 10 years their rates of addiction and drug related overdose deaths dropped dramatically and bottomed out at a very low level.

Source: Don’t ostracize drug users – empathize with them, Gabor Mate, The Globe and Mail.

Date: August 18, 2018

Photo Credit: The Globe and Mail: Michael DeForge

Article Links:

In the article linked above, Gabor Mate suggests that we need to broaden how we look at addiction and specifically that we need to look at the developmental histories of trauma and the trails of unmet mental, emotional, and spiritual needs associated with addictions if we want to understand them and see what solutions might look like from this broader perspective. Oh and if you think that what this really means is that this broader perspective is needed because human beings are socially more complex than the mice and rats that much of the foundational physiological research in opioid addiction is based then go have a link and a fascinating short graphic novel describing some of that research with rats called Rat Park (Stuart McMillen). It is very important to keep in mind that what is being called for here is a broader perspective and not really a new perspective. The physiological aspects of human addiction are vitally important to consider but then so are the physiological consequences of early or ongoing trauma and related noxious life circumstances. Basically, there IS more that we need to consider as we move to try and address the scary opioid related death rates and the related array of social policies, laws and intervention strategies we have in place, are reviewing, or are developing.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Why do people become addicted to opioid drugs like fentanyl?
  2. What are the social determinants of heath (or addiction)?
  3. What sorts of research should we consider doing to look more closely at the issues raised by Mate’s article? What sorts of social policies, practices, and assumptions might we need to re-visit and perhaps reconsider as this line of research and thinking moves forward?

References (Read Further):

Mate, Gabor (2009) In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addictions, Random House, London UK.

Matsumoto, C. L., O’Driscoll, T., Lawrance, J., Jakubow, A., Madden, S., & Kelly, L. (2017). A 5 year retrospective study of emergency department use in Northwest Ontario: a measure of mental health and addictions needs. Canadian Journal of Emergency Medicine, 19(5), 381-385.

Shahram, S. Z., Bottorff, J. L., Oelke, N. D., Kurtz, D. L., Thomas, V., Spittal, P. M., & and For the Cedar Project Partnership. (2017). Mapping the social determinants of substance use for pregnant-involved young Aboriginal women. International journal of qualitative studies on health and well-being, 12(1), 1275155.

Axelson, D. J., Stull, M. J., & Coates, W. C. (2018). Social Determinants of Health: A Missing Link in Emergency Medicine Training. AEM Education and Training, 2(1), 66-68.

Cabral, T. S. (2017). The 15th anniversary of the Portuguese drug policy: Its history, its success and its future. Drug Science, Policy and Law, 3, 2050324516683640.

Félix, S., Portugal, P., & Tavares, A. (2017). Going after the Addiction, Not the Addicted: The Impact of Drug Decriminalization in Portugal (No. 10895). IZA Discussion Papers.





Posted by & filed under Classification Diagnosis, Clinical Assessment, Consciousness, General Psychology, Language-Thought, Learning.

Description: Think of something you know a LOT about and/or something that you are very good at or have had a lot of experience with. It could be a job, a hobby, and interest, or a skill or it could simply be related to someone you know a lot about – a loved one, a sibling, a good friend. Now, with that in mind, can you think about a time or two where you have a ‘gut feeling’ about that person or about a situation related to something you know well? Perhaps it was a feeling or a hunch you had about your good friend either during a phone conversation or once when you met for coffee that there was something bothering them that they weren’t telling you. Or perhaps it is a feeling that there is something not quite right with your car – it just did not feel like it is driving they way it usually did. In such situations you may not be able to say exactly what it is that is giving you that feeling but you know something is not right. Hopefully we ask or figure out what is going on. Maybe your car is pulling to the right because the front wheels are out of alignment since you hit that huge pothole last week. Maybe your friend is worried about their relationship or their job but does not want to burden you with that because you have your own stresses right now. Most of what Psychology tells us about knowledge, cognition and expertise involves conscious problem identification and problem solving. So, what IS intuition? What is a ‘gut feeling’? Is it a supernatural ability that we know little or nothing about from a psychological perspective? Is it a sort of mystical power that some people are “gifted” with? As you read through the article linked below, think about what ‘gut feelings’ or intuitions might involve – where do they come from? How can you develop the “power” to have more of them?

Source: How to Quantify a Nurse’s ‘Gut Feelings’, Theresa Brown, Opinion, The New York Times.

Date: August 9, 2018

Photo Credit: The New York Times: Wenting Li

Article Links:


In his book Blink, psychoanalyst Malcolm Gladwell writes about a lot of people who seem to have intuition. One was a high-level tennis coach who discovered one day while watching tennis on television that he would sometimes find himself saying “uh-oh” when the serving player threw the ball up in the air to start their serving motion and each time the coach said “Uh-Oh” the server faulted, their serve did not land in the court. The coach, even with the help of a cognitive psychological researcher could not figure out exactly what it was that he was seeing that resulted in him saying “Uh-Oh”. The hospice nurse who wrote the article linked above wrote about her “nagging sense that something was wrong” with a new patient and her bad feelings about not acting on the feeling when the patient died unexpectedly. Rather than a magical power, intuition is perhaps better thought of as a reflection of the lofty levels of clinical or other forms of expertise we can develop with lots of experience. When we get to know or friends or our cars or our jobs or professions really well we can pick up on constellations of small bits of information and have our expertise nudge us in the direction of a hypothesis or course of action without really being clear as to exactly how we “know” that we need to do something or ask about something or gather some data in a particular area. Our brains are very complex information processors and, when we gain a lot of experience and develop expertise we may not always be consciously aware of all that goes on in our brains as we deploy our expertise. The Rothman Index, mentioned in the article, is an example of one way of modelling the sort of expert data tracking that that clinicians like the nurse in the article or perhaps like clinical psychologists might use in therapy. the advantage of this sort of modelling is that it supports and provides data-grounding for the ‘gut feelings’ of clinical practitioners (experts) and, if used well, can reduce the number of times when clinicians may not act on the ‘gut feelings’. When someone tells you to go with your ‘gut’ when you are trying to make a complex life decision it is worth thinking about whether the decision is in an area where you have enough experience and enough data to actually have a ‘gut’ or and intuition that you can rely upon.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What is a ‘gut feeling’ or an intuition?
  2. What does it take to develop a high level of expertise in an area like that used either in medical diagnosis (by medical specialists) or relationship analysis (like couples-counselling clinical psychologists)?
  3. How are expertise and intuition related?

References (Read Further):

Good intuition takes years of practice, Edward Skidelsky, The Telegraph.

Gladwell, Malcolm (2006) Blink: The power of thinking without thinking, Back Bay Books.

Finlay, G. D., Rothman, M. J., & Smith, R. A. (2014). Measuring the modified early warning score and the Rothman index: advantages of utilizing the electronic medical record in an early warning system. Journal of hospital medicine, 9(2), 116-119.

Walco, D. K., & Risen, J. L. (2017). The empirical case for acquiescing to intuition. Psychological science, 28(12), 1807-1820.

Chin-Yee, B., & Fuller, J. (2018). Clinical judgement: Multidisciplinary perspectives.

Lilienfeld, S. O., Lynn, S. J., O’Donohue, W. T., & Latzman, R. D. (2017). Epistemic humility: An overarching educational philosophy for clinical psychology programs. Clinical Psychologist, 70, 6-14.

Chaturvedi, D. K., Arora, N., Trivedi, P., Rastogi, R., & Chauhan, S. (2018). Framework for Use of Machine Intelligence on Clinical Psychology to Study the effects of Spiritual tools on Human Behavior and Psychic Challenges. Journal of Image Processing and Artificial Intelligence, 4(1).







Posted by & filed under Child Development, Human Development, Indigenous Psychology, Social Psychology, Stereotype Prejudice Discrimination.

Description: Ok, after a couple of rather dense posts looking at issues related to Indigenization I think it would be helpful to look at a very pragmatically focused piece of research bearing on the education experiences of aboriginal children in mainstream schools. There are a number of belief stigma and biases held to vastly varying extents by teachers in the mainstream school system. How do those biases and stigma influence the academic performance of aboriginal students? Well, think about it for a few minutes and come up with your own hypotheses and then skim through the article linked below to see what it has to say. Skip around in the article (introduction then discussion then conclusions) to get a sense of what the authors found.

Source: Self-fulfilling Prophecy: How Teachers’ Attributions, Expectations, and Stereotypes Influence the Learning Opportunities Afforded Aboriginal Students, Tasha Riley and Charles Ungerleider, link to article below.

Date: May 20, 2018

Photo Credit:

Article Links: follow the link to the full text online screen to read the article. For more detailed information use the thesis link:

So you can see from the conclusions section of the article that good intension can still include bias or stereotypic expectations.  What is also clear is that the approach is aimed at understanding what can be done to increase the likelihood of success for aboriginal students in mainstream schools and classrooms. I am NOT arguing to segregated schools or classes but there is little in the article about how to address the teachers’ assumptions or biases. It is worth considering that while mainstream psychology views assumptions and biases as individually held (and thus perhaps open to policy manipulation) it may be more advantageous to see the biases, stereotypes and stigma as culturally held within mainstream culture. This opens up a broader array of opportunities for adjustment and does not stand on how effectively “biased” teachers can be moved to getter perspectives. We need to dig in a bit more to what we can use to expand out cultural understanding of the psychology of aboriginal people and especially of aboriginal students and how they are viewed from mainstream perspectives.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What obstacles are there in the way of Aboriginal student academic achievement according to the authors of this article?
  2. How might the predictive weight associated with identifying a student as “low achieving” be better managed if that student is aboriginal?
  3. Do the recommendation is the article for addressing the issues it examines make sense? What else might be helpful to know?

References (Read Further):

Timmermans, A. C., de Boer, H., & van der Werf, M. P. (2016). An investigation of the relationship between teachers’ expectations and teachers’ perceptions of student attributes. Social psychology of education, 19(2), 217-240.

McInerney, D. M., & King, R. B. (2013). Harnessing the power of motivational factors for optimizing the educational success of remote indigenous students: A cross-cultural study. In Seeding success in indigenous Australian higher education (pp. 81-111). Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

Posted by & filed under Uncategorized.

Description: In my previous post I went on at some length about ways in which I am going to try and create some context and related understanding of what we might understand the term “indigenization” to mean as applied to Universities and to Disciplines like Psychology. The article linked to the previous post provided an overview of some efforts towards institutional indigenization. The question of what this might mean at the disciplinary level (say Psychology) was not addressed. To get you to start thinking in that direction I would like you to have a look at the downloadable document linked below in which an academic at the University of Regina lays out 100 ways to Indigenize and decolonize academic programs and courses (thus its title). Have a look through the list and as you do, especially with the recommendations offered to course instructors and think about what they might mean to a Psychology course instructor.

Source: 100 ways to Indigenize and decolonize academic programs and courses, Shauneen Pete, University of Regina.

Date: May 20, 2018

Photo Credit: Julie Flett

Article Links:

So how did it go? My sense was that while there were a few recommendations I could see ways to apply to Psychology and some that rather clearly did not apply I could also see that there were quite a few where a bit more information about how indigenous knowledge and culture does or does not map onto mainstream Psychological concepts, theories and assumptions is needed before one to contemplate how at act on the recommendations in a Psychology class. So there is more to be done!

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What is meant by the word indigenization in relation to universities?
  2. What is potentially gained by indigenizing universities?
  3. What might it mean to indigenize Psychology?

References (Read Further):

Ragoonaden, K., & Mueller, L. (2017). Culturally Responsive Pedagogy: Indigenizing Curriculum. The Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 47(2).

Richards, H. V., Brown, A. F., & Forde, T. B. (2007). Addressing diversity in schools: Culturally responsive pedagogy. Teaching Exceptional Children, 39(3), 64-68.

Posted by & filed under General Psychology, Human Development, Indigenous Psychology, Social Psychology.

Description: I am going to spend some time over the next little while writing about and posting links to articles and other media about the need to indigenize Psychology. (Note: in what follows I will be referring to features and aspects of the Canadian historical and current experience, however, indigenization and all that it involves certainly has implications globally as well). If you do not know what that is or what it might involve you are not alone. It is a big, broad and foundational issue which cannot be summarized in a single post. To understand what could be involved in indigenizing Psychology and to understand why it is something that needs to be undertaken requires that you gather and stich together your own understanding of an array of facts, theories, histories, and perspectives. You will need to consider what you know or what you can find out about the historical treatment of aboriginal and Metis people in Canada from broad issues of colonization to historical events and practices such as residential schools and the jump in the number (proportion) of aboriginal children and youth in foster care or adopted into non-aboriginal families known as the “60’s scoop.” You will need to reflect on your own assumptions, and beliefs about the impacts of those and other historical events on aboriginal and Metis people and about how they are viewed and treated within society not just historically but today. You will need to consider the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which worked towards the following goals:

“There is an emerging and compelling desire to put the events of the past behind us so that we can work towards a stronger and healthier future. The truth telling and reconciliation process as part of an overall holistic and comprehensive response to the Indian Residential School legacy is a sincere indication and acknowledgement of the injustices and harms experienced by Aboriginal people and the need for continued healing. This is a profound commitment to establishing new relationships embedded in mutual recognition and respect that will forge a brighter future. The truth of our common experiences will help set our spirits free and pave the way to reconciliation.” ( )

You should also look at the work going on in colleges and universities, partly in response to a number of recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report, to indigenize post-secondary institutions, programs and courses. The core of those recommendations involve the view that universities are both the generators and the purveyors of knowledge and that they have been engaging in those activities largely from within a perspective or world-view grounded in a experiences and interests of  the colonizers or settlers with little or no acknowledgement of or understanding of the perspectives or world-views of aboriginal, Metis, First Nations, Inuit — gathered under the heading of indigenous people, indigenous communities or indigenous cultures and with no understanding of the impact such a lack of understanding has contributed to the standing and experiences of indigenous people.

Finally, all of these have implications for how we might understand what it could mean to indigenize Psychology. Psychology is one of the disciplines found on most, perhaps all, University campuses and as such it will be involved in whatever initiatives are untaken to indigenize the universities in which it resides. But, it is potentially useful to step back a bit, to consider the various historical, socio-political, and University operational and governance matters noted above as background or context for a direct examination of the foundational assumptions of the discipline of Western Psychology. So, is Psychology and all that it studies simply and universally true about and for human beings? If not, then are there assumptions about the basic nature of human beings and their psychological functioning, development, adaptation and wellbeing underlying Psychological theory and research that are linked to and reflective of the mainstream (majority, settler) population and consequently either ignorant of or, worse, damaging to the assumptions about the basic nature of human beings and their psychological functioning, development, healing and wellbeing held by indigenous persons, communities and cultures. This question regarding the universality of Psychological concepts and theories is going to be central to my efforts to help you investigate, reflect upon, and understand what it might mean to indigenize Psychology.

Where to start? Well, when I teach Human Development (infancy through adolescence) I try to find opportunities to discuss the role of culture, history and community in shaping what it means to be an infant, a child, a teenager, an adult, a parent, and a citizen, I start by having students consider what they believe to be the appropriate response to questions like: What are infants like—what is their basic nature? Most responses to these questions involve talking about movement from the dependency of infancy towards the autonomy of adolescent and the responsibilities of parenthood and citizenship. I ask students to consider how universal this general developmental pathway is. I point out that most Western developmental Psychology textbooks run about 16 chapters in length and in most of them the first 12 to 14 chapters are typically devoted to coverage of human development including discussions of physical, cognitive, and socio-emotional development. The chapters towards the end of these textbooks are sometimes grouped into a section called “Contexts of Development” and focus upon the social and family contexts within which individual children grow and development they also talk about the institutional and geographic contexts such as schools, urban versus rural counties, and cultural and geographic reginal variation in developmental contexts. The impression is that humans develop and some of the flavors of individual or community or cultural covariation are surface-added by the contexts in which otherwise universal human development proceeds. What is less obvious but still directly tied to this approach to human development is perhaps the central assumption of Western Psychology, that being that the unit of analysis or focus within Psychology is and ought to be the individual.

Individuals grow, development, learn, make plans, move out into the world, take up responsibility and, eventually, become adults. Contexts, such as friends, family, schools, communities, and historical timeframes all influence individual developmental trajectories, but the key focus remains the development of individuals. Now this may seem so obvious to you that the very idea that there might be other ways to think about developing persons is simply unthinkable. An indigenous Psychology begins with a position that viewing persons entirely as autonomous individuals is only one of a number of possible assumptions or starting places and not seeing the possibilities of other sorts of assumptions about peoples’ basic natures can amount to a version of racism that is grounded not in fear or hatred directed towards indigenous others (though such racism is a very serous problem), but rather, a racism grounded in indifference, ignorance, or unawareness. Think of it this way (by way of analogy); we can think of fish as living within an aquatic culture. The fish, however, despite being surrounded by water, are essentially unaware of it and do not appreciate its essential role in their existence (unless, of course, they are suddenly without it). Members of the mainstream, settler/colonizer population are essentially unaware of their own culture and often have a great deal of difficulty understanding that the ongoing struggles of second and third generation children of Residential School attendees are not a reflection of their individually flawed natures but are consequences of issues of transgenerational trauma and of their ongoing struggles with cultural contexts that are not their own and within which they are not fully welcomed. This can apply to refugees and immigrants as well. It can also apply to anyone who, by virtue of difference, diversity or disability, is outside of the normative, outside of the mainstream.

All right, OK, yes, I know, perhaps us “fish” DO know a little bit about the water in which we swim or about the cultures and their assumptions in which we grow and develop. However, given the nature and extent of the harm that can be done when we may be defining people, groups, and communities using inappropriate assumptions, isn’t it worth putting some effort into understanding the nature of those assumptions and ways in which our understanding of human psychology and human development may be incomplete, flawed, underinformed or perhaps even a bit racist?

Let’s start by bouncing around a bit in the various domains I mentioned above and, where opportunities arise, dig in a bit into what it might mean to indigenize Psychology. Let’s start by looking at an article the provides a general overview of efforts by Canadian universities to indigenize themselves. While this article does not mention Psychology directly keep the idea of variability in assumptions about the nature of persons in mind as you read through the article.

Source: Indigenizing the Academy, Moira MacDonald, University Affairs

Date: April 6, 2016

Photo Credit: Julie Flett

Article Links:


In the posts that will follow this one we will further explore the various domains described above and lay the foundation for the development of an understanding of Psychology that does not, purposely or out of ignorance create conditions that could damage aboriginal or Metis culture and which would not apply concepts of healing or challenge that are culturally foreign to aboriginal people. .

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What is meant by the word indigenization in relation to universities?
  2. What is potentially gained by indigenizing universities?
  3. What might it mean to indigenize Psychology?

References (Read Further):

Website of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Kim, U., Yang, K. S., & Hwang, K. K. (2006). Contributions to indigenous and cultural psychology. In Indigenous and Cultural Psychology (pp. 3-25). Springer US.

Pickren, W. E. (2009). Indigenization and the history of psychology. Psychological Studies, 54(2), 87-95.

Posted by & filed under Abnormal Psychology, Indigenous Psychology, Intervention: Children Adolescents, Intervention: Children and Adolescents, mental illness, Research Methods.

Description: In my previous post (, I wrote about the distinct cultural perspectives that give diverse meanings to the terms Elder (aboriginal culture) and elderly (mainstream cultures). In this post I am shifting ages a bit and am asking you to consider how aboriginal and mainstream teenagers and youth in Northern British Columbia access and respond to online resources relating to mental illness, mental health and mental wellbeing. Before you read the article linked below, think a little about whether you think there will be any differences in the whether, and in the ways in which, aboriginal versus mainstream youth access web-based resources about mental illness and mental health. If you think there might be differences, what do you think they might look like? Are the resources likely to be different depending upon who they are aimed at (developed for)? What do you think aboriginal youth might have to say or want to say or do regarding these sorts of online resources, especially to make them more useful and accessible to other aboriginal youth? If you are not sure how to address these questions no problem, just keep them in mind as you read the linked article.

Source: Ward, V., & de Leeuw, S. (2018). Web of culture: Critically assessing online mental health resources for Indigenous youth in northern British Columbia using digital storytelling. UBC Medical Journal, 9(2). Download link below.

Date: March 1, 2018

Photo Credit:

Article Links:

There is a lot in the linked article that may be unfamiliar to you. Concepts and phrases like decolonization, social determinants of health, strength-based approaches, privileged voices, indigenous voices, action-based principles, and digital storytelling to point out a few.  I am not going to discuss these terms in detail here (we will return to many of them in future posts). For now I would like you to think about what it might mean to “have a voice” in relation to thinking and talking about mental health and wellness. The finding noted in the study that indigenous youth are much more likely to seek out resources, connections, and supports related to mental health and wellness on-line than are mainstream youth is particularly worth reflecting upon and it is essential to note that this difference should not be tritely dismissed as simply reflective of greater need. The key to understanding the difference lies in understanding the “have a voice” finding. Basically, people in mainstream culture typically see “having a voice” as involving speaking loudly enough to be heard. When the culture or social forces that surround you are yours (are of your culture) then “having a voice” can be translated as “speak and you shall be heard (and/or understood).” Being part of minority culture, or particularly a part of indigenous culture can mean that you can be viewed as not having standing to speak or not being treated respectfully or even heard at all if you do speak. As we will see in more detail as we get into this topic in future posts, the history of treatment of indigenous peoples by mainstream colonizing (there is THAT word again) culture and population reflects a consistent lack of standing based on an array of (racist) beliefs and aggressive actions against indigenous people and cultures within Canada and North America. Think about that when you reflect upon what might bring indigenous youth to say they do not “have a voice” and think about how that could impact their identity development, community engagement and developmental and psychological wellbeing. Finally, with that in mind think about how we might understand why or how it might be that indigenous youth find on-line opportunities connection and online communities with which to engage particularly helpful and empowering.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What issues are there that are particularly important when we consider the mental health and wellness of indigenous youth in North BC communities?
  2. What might it mean when indigenous youth say they do not feel they “have a voice” in matters of their own mental health and wellness?
  3. What role(s) does culture play in youth’s definitions of mental illness, health and wellness and how might online resources support the role of culture in these areas?

References (Read Further):

Smith, L. T. (2013). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples. Zed Books Ltd.

Westerman, T. (2004). Guest Editorial: Engagement of Indigenous clients in mental health services: What role do cultural differences play?. Australian e-journal for the Advancement of Mental Health, 3(3), 88-93.

Kirmayer, L., Simpson, C., & Cargo, M. (2003). Healing traditions: Culture, community and mental health promotion with Canadian Aboriginal peoples. Australasian Psychiatry, 11(sup1), S15-S23.,community%20and%20mental%20health%20promotion%20with%20Canadian%20Aboriginal%20Peoples.pdf

Rickwood, D. J., Deane, F. P., & Wilson, C. J. (2007). When and how do young people seek professional help for mental health problems?. Medical Journal of Australia, 187(7), S35.

Kirmayer, L. J., Brass, G. M., & Tait, C. L. (2000). The mental health of Aboriginal peoples: Transformations of identity and community. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 45(7), 607-616.


Posted by & filed under Health Psychology, Human Development, Indigenous Psychology, Intervention: Children Adolescents, Intervention: Identifying Key Elements of Change, Stress Coping - Health.

Description: In my previous post ( I introduced a new thread I am going to be focusing on, among other things, over the spring and summer. In that post I introduced an article looking at the place of the concept of wisdom in western society and thought and introduced the idea of rethinking about what it might mean to “indigenize” (in quoted because I am not sure I like the term) Psychology. I suggested that in order to get started on this quest we need to begin by noticing some of the assumptions in which our Psychological theories and concepts about persons, individuals, abnormality and wellness (among other concepts) are grounded. I have found that discussions involving foundational criticisms of Psychology are a bit hard to follow (though perhaps it is just because I may not be a particularly wise person) and so I thought we could start by considering some research that is sniffing around some potentially foundational and yet diverse assumption. Following along with a consideration of the concept and cultural and community role of Elders in aboriginal communities consider these two questions. First, what roles might indigenous Elders (recognized by their communities as such) play in the development and implementation of health strategies in aboriginal communities? Second, think about potential roles that old people (the elderly) might play in the development and implementation of health strategies in the cities states or provinces of mainstream society in North America. After some reflection on these questions, read the article linked below which describes a qualitative study intended to address the first question above in several communities in the Gitxsan Territory in Northern British Columbia.

Source: Varcoe, C., Bottorff, J. L., Carey, J., Sullivan, D., & Williams, W. (2010). Wisdom and influence of elders: Possibilities for health promotion and decreasing tobacco exposure in First Nations communities. Canadian Journal of Public Health/Revue Canadienne de Sante’e Publique, 154-158.

Date: May 11, 2018

Photo Credit: CIHR,

Article Links:

After looking through the article linked above do you have a sense of the differences between Elders (among the Gitxsan) and “the elderly” within mainstream culture? If so it is worth reflecting upon what those differences might mean for developing a workable Psychology of health, addictive behavior, and individual and community change. The roles that Elders might play in both community and personal development and health points not only to Elders’ roles but also to something of the relationship between persons, their communities, and their culture – people are understand not just as “who” they are but simultaneously by where they are and what relationships they are defined though. I will come back to this observation in later posts, but it may well be one of the important foundational differences we will need to better understand if we are to properly think about what an Indigenous Psychology might look like.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Is there a difference between Elders and the elderly?
  2. If, within Gitxsan culture and society the elderly are not necessarily Elders what is the difference?
  3. What do you now understand about the potential role of Elders in the advocacy of healthy lifestyle strategies?

References (Read Further):

Smith, L. T. (2013). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples. Zed Books Ltd.

Eady, M. J. (2016). The community strength model: A proposal to invest in existing Aboriginal intellectual capital. in education, 22(1), 22-41.

Ljubicic, G. J. (2017). ” The Caribou Taste Different Now”: Inuit Elders Observe Climate Change, edited by José Gérin-Lajoie, Alain Cuerrier, and Laura Siegwart Collier. Arctic, 70(1), 102-104.

Whitewater, S., Reinschmidt, K. M., Kahn, C., Attakai, A., & Teufel-Shone, N. I. (2016). Peer Reviewed: Flexible Roles for American Indian Elders in Community-Based Participatory Research. Preventing chronic disease, 13.

Sanderson, D., Picketts, I. M., Déry, S. J., Fell, B., Baker, S., Lee‐Johnson, E., & Auger, M. (2015). Climate change and water at Stellat’en First Nation, British Columbia, Canada: Insights from western science and traditional knowledge. The Canadian Geographer/Le Géographe canadien, 59(2), 136-150.

Posted by & filed under Consciousness, Emerging Adulthood, Higher-Order Cognitive Functions in Aging, Human Development, Indigenous Psychology, Intelligence, Neuroscience, Successful Aging, The Self.

Description: As we enter into spring I am shifting gears a little bit on my posts. Specifically, I am going to focus a little bit on the edges of Psychology – on things that are not part of the mainstream parts of the discipline or on approaches to Psychology that are based on different assumptions or different cultural foundations than mainstream Western Psychology. I am not doing this to simply focus on aspects of the obscure. Rather, I am going to focus on a couple of areas that many people — many psychologists — believe need to be considered by Psychology. One such area involves the perspectives and experiences of aboriginal/indigenous/First Nations people, communities, and cultures. There is an increasing realization, not entirely tied to the works of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, that indigenous perspectives on personhood, community, world views, and other aspects of culture are not well articulated within mainstream Psychology (and are, in fact, somewhat ignored or denigrated). Just as many post-secondary educational institutions are working on some form of what is referred to as “indigenization,” there is a drive to indigenize Psychology arising from a number of areas including Cultural Psychology and concerns over the impacts of colonization, racism, and stigma on Psychological accounts of psychological, health and wellness issues within First Nations, aboriginal and Metis communities.

The second area of reconfiguration, to be introduced more fully in an upcoming post, concerns developmental psychological accounts of the transition from adolescence to adulthood (and to citizenship or engagement in community) that has, over the past few decades appeared to become a much more complex and protracted process than it was even just a generation ago. A new developmental life stage of Emerging Adulthood has been proposed as a means of seeing and understanding the processes of experience acquisition, self-reflection, and life designing that occupies emerging adults in the decade spanning 18 to 29 years of age. More on this later.

There is no simple description of what an indigenized Psychology might look like as whatever that process involves goes beyond simply considering previously ignored or understudied content from a Psychological or Cultural Psychological perspective. Rather, we need to start by understanding the assumptions about the basic nature of personhood, individuality, and community connectedness that are at the heart of Western Psychological perspectives. Much like how emerging adults need to get to where they can see the diversity of perspectives ways of being that exist in the world only after we have a corner of a realization the implication of that same diversity for doing Psychology can we begin to develop a respectful understanding of indigenous perspectives, world views and psychologies.

So where to begin? Let’s start fairly simply by looking at a concept that will not seem particularly exotic – let’s think about wisdom. What would someone need to be like, act like, think like, for you to think of them as wise? They would likely have to be old as we are to inclined to view young people as wise, but what else? Well, before getting too far into your reflections think about something the author of the article linked below opens their discussion of the concept of wisdom with – we, western civilization people, don’t actually use the concept much at all these days. Consider why this might be as you read trough the article linked below. In addition, as you read, keep inn mind that most aboriginal cultures and communities deeply respect and value the actively roles played by their Elders in their communities. It is not much of a leap to note that Elders are considered to be wise, and to be the keepers (and deployers) of traditional cultural knowledge and practices. So, a small step towards awareness of the foundational assumptions of Western Psychology can be taken by reflecting upon our societal disuse of the concept of wisdom. Start that step by reading through the article linked below.

Source: A word to the wise: Why wisdom might be ripe for rediscovery, Jonathan Rauch, Opinion, Globe and Mail.

Date: May 11, 2018

Photo Credit: Bryan Gee. Source Image: Bettmann / Getty Images

Article Links:

So, what did you think of the discussion of the concept of wisdom? It is rather fascinating, I think, to note that we (as in people in mainstream modern day western society) do not think or speak much of wisdom, do not ascribe it people who we respect, and we do not typically desire our potential political leaders to aspire to it. Despite this, wisdom is clearly a core concept for us historically. As well, some areas within Psychology (including neuroscience) are noting places for wisdom in their view of the Psychological world. This does not mean that we need to try and convince people to look more seriously at wisdom (though that view as articulated by the author of the article linked above IS rather compelling), but rather, it is valuable to simply see the gap between Psychological theory and research and the day-to-day thinking, acting, and assumptions of members of mainstream North American communities. I will take this question up in relation to consideration of the place of Elders in indigenous (Aboriginal and Metis) communities and cultures in North America (and perhaps beyond) in subsequent posts.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion:

  1. What is Wisdom?
  2. How, if at all, is consideration of wisdom involved in our thinking about and acting in relation to our industrial, political, and spiritual leaders?
  3. What roles might we see wisdom playing in the ongoing functioning of community, culture and individual wellbeing?

References (Read Further):

Depp, C. A., & Jeste, D. V. (2006). Definitions and predictors of successful aging: a comprehensive review of larger quantitative studies. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 14(1), 6-20.

Jeste, D. V., & Oswald, A. J. (2014). Individual and societal wisdom: explaining the paradox of human aging and high well-being. Psychiatry: Interpersonal and Biological Processes, 77(4), 317-330.

Weststrate, N. M., Ferrari, M., & Ardelt, M. (2016). The many faces of wisdom: An investigation of cultural-historical wisdom exemplars reveals practical, philosophical, and benevolent prototypes. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 42(5), 662-676.

Landes, S. D., Ardelt, M., Vaillant, G. E., & Waldinger, R. J. (2014). Childhood adversity, midlife generativity, and later life well-being. Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 69(6), 942-952.

Ardelt, M., & Oh, H. (2016). Correlates of wisdom. The encyclopedia of adulthood and aging.

Dennis, M. K., Kepple, N. J., & Brewer, I. I. (2017). Grandparents of the community: Lakota elders’ view of intergenerational care. GrandFamilies: The Contemporary Journal of Research, Practice and Policy, 4(1), 9.