"Native American Treatment That Works"

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Robert F. Bragg NCAC II, LAT


A Therapeutic Look into Thunder Child Treatment Center


The Philosophy of treatment at Thunder Child does not parallel the Cognitive Behavioral approach utilized in many treatment centers today. It does not rely solely upon the well know Hazleton / 1-Step approach to help addicts and alcoholics achieve a state of balance. Our philosophy is one that utilizes the best practices of Traditional Native American Culture, the Red Road Path to Recovery along with sound therapeutic principles of Addictions Therapy and Mental Health Therapy. We Educate, Stimulate and help them Formulate their own Recovery Plans.


The mainstays of our treatment approach are


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1. Compassion for the individual coupled with treating each person with dignity and respect simply because each human being deserves it.


. Honoring of the trauma. Every person coming in to our treatment setting is wounded. They may have caused trauma to others but they themselves have suffered greatly and been traumatized by the disease of addiction, the dysfunction in families and from prejudicial dominant culture abuses.


. Spirituality. Each person coming to treatment benefits from our Cultural, contemporary and traditional approach to Native American Healing. The Creator is for all not just the chosen few. Each person finds their own path and is supported in doing so through Sweatlodge ceremonies, singing, smudging, talking circles, prayer breakfasts and solitude time.


We believe that addicts and alcoholics have had spiritual crisis in their life and that treatment is a time of healing mind, body and spirit. Each person is allowed the dignity to call their spirit back in a way that satisfies their cultural and traditional beliefs. This may include talking and praying with a traditional healer or medicine person from one of our neighboring tribes. It could include expressing themselves in the form of creativity in arts and crafts, writing or dance. It might mean having a period of time alone in prayer and thought. We believe each person comes in contact with their Creator differently and should have the right to do so.


We utilize numbered steps therapeutically in the following form, loosely predicated on the first five steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.


Step One- We admitted we were powerless over our drugs and alcohol and could not manage our lives while drinking and using.


We begin this step with an Autobiography to seek out habits and behavioral patterns that got in our way. Through the personal stories of recovering addicts we recognize the mistaken notions of false pride, shame, denial and egotism that commonly prevent us from accepting that we are powerless over alcohol and other drugs. The powerful honest and moving testimony helps us to understand what is meant by unmanageability, hitting bottom and humility. We cant help but recognize ourselves in the beliefs and behaviors that are revealed by those in treatment as we witness their transformation from denial to acceptance. Although the men and women in treatment represent different economic social and ethnic backgrounds the similarities are more evident than the differences.


Step Two - We came to believe that a Higher Power of our understanding could help us become rational and sane in our thinking once more.


Many addicted people have difficulty with the Second Step. We may mistake the emphasis on spirituality for a call to religion; we may resent the implication of insanity; or we may have difficulty coming back to a Higher Power we feel we have failed. Treatment is a compilation of interviews with recovering addicts and tackles these common barriers to recovery. Insanity does not mean mental illness but refers to losses associated with obsession for drugs and alcohol that take us away from traditional values. Spirituality is defined as what is good in life. The Higher Powers purpose as explained in treatment is to connect each of us to our own spirituality. Testimony from the men and women reveals the wide range of entities that can serve as Higher Powers and the relief and sanity that come from no longer fighting the illness alone. Once again the word WE becomes paramount to the I concept.


Step Three - Made a decision to return to the beliefs of my people and trust in those beliefs as a way of life.


Its one thing to tell people to turn it over. Its quite another to offer practical advice as to how this might be done. Treatment does just that. The stories of recovering people from all walks of life make the abstract concepts of the Third Step accessible to those of us who are new to the program. Included are specific examples of letting go discussions of the difference between Creators will and our own insignificant self-will and an examination of the concepts of trust, forgiveness, faith, patience, humility and tolerance. Living a spiritual life as experienced by the people in treatment requires re-framing belief patterns and accepting the beliefs we chose to turn our back on. The rewards of doing so are courage, contentment, security and serenity.


Step Four - We identified the Character Defects and secrets in our lives that continued to cause us to do harm to ourselves, our families, friends and society. We wrote these on paper so we could identify the patterns that caused our problems and be rid of them. We made decisions about our behaviors that would need to change to live a good life free from alcohol and drugs.


Abstaining from alcohol and drugs keeps the body clean; to maintain spiritual health recovering addicts must also free their minds and hearts from the secrets that burden them. In treatment the Fourth Step process is explained firsthand by other recovering addicts. It begins by exploring why its necessary to do an inventory. The viewer gets practical peer advice on how to do an inventory and learns how to avoid the pitfalls that can prevent us from proceeding with the Fourth Step. The men and women in treatment openly discuss the fears they had to overcome before taking the Fourth Step the fear of painful memories of being judged, abandonment and betrayal. They speak of the importance of trusting ones Higher Power and the group process. Elders are often sought out at this point to discuss the defects with. Clients gain courage from the testimony of their peers understanding that no one is unique in his or her pain. Treatment makes the task of honest disclosure less painful for all of us.


Step Five - We shared out fourth step pain and misery with the Creator and a fifth step listener in an honest and truthful way so that we did not have to carry our burden alone and could begin the process of self forgiveness.


The fifth step is a purification ceremony where each client goes through a process of sharing and giving their secrets, hurts, pains, and vulnerabilities to a person who is understanding, compassionate and sincere in confidentiality. Not even our counselors know what is in your each persons personal fourth step.


These Steps along with other groups, traditional and culturally appropriate activities make up the bulk of our treatment process. In reality the main work of treatment is done within the heart of each person who comes to Thunder Child. Their hopes, dreams and goals being shared along with their pain, fears and hurts allows them to become whole again and begin their journey anew.


Robert F. Bragg NCAC II, LAT #0A, WY - September 00





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