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Decolonizing Therapy in Correctional Settings

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Decolonizing Therapy in Correctional Settings

The mental health profession has a long-standing legacy of colonial practices and values. Therapists working with racialized clients must decolonize both their clinical interactions and relationships as well as their professional practices. For instance, they must understand how ingrained colonial bias has created power differentials within their therapeutic relationship with their client, as well as be cognizant of all existing systems of oppression within each therapy session.

Particularly in correctional settings, Indigenous populations are overrepresented and disproportionately affected by mental illness. As these institutions often design and implement mental health treatment on-site, decolonizing mental health programs and supports is essential for any meaningful shift in institutional practices (McGuire & Palys, 2020).

This chapter will seek to examine and assess the necessity for decolonizing mental health services within correctional institutions. Ultimately, our objective is to offer more culturally sensitive mental healthcare for Indigenous clients in prison that promotes healing and wellness.

Decolonizing practice refers to the act of challenging societal and psychological norms that perpetuate oppressive structures, systems, and values (McGuire & Palys, 2010). Decolonization in psychotherapy begins by acknowledging how therapeutic strategies developed by privileged white individuals reflect colonial trauma and perpetuate a colonial mindset.

Establishing a decolonized practice requires the incorporation of culturally competent practices and interventions created, implemented and controlled by Indigenous peoples (Monchalin, 2017). This includes incorporating Indigenous traditions and ceremonies into clinical settings as well as acknowledging the significance of self-determination and cultural reclamation during therapeutic processes.

In addition to applying decolonizing principles clinically, therapists must also incorporate social justice frameworks into their work (Gosski & Goodman, 2015). They should use these frameworks as tools to better comprehend the underlying causes of inequity in maternal mental health service utilization among Black women and birthing people.

These social justice frameworks assist in centering and decentering marginalized people to develop pathways for improving maternal and infant mental health outcomes. For instance, the Reproductive Justice framework asserts that Black women and birthing people have a right to bodily autonomy and control over pregnancy and the birth experience. This concept is founded on the idea that reproductive rights are negatively affected by racism, paternalism, economic disparities and other forms of systemic oppression.

According to this framework, the best way to address these inequities is by ensuring Black birthing people have access to quality mental health providers who are culturally congruent with their identities. Doing so allows them to trust that their providers understand and share their life experiences, as well as pinpoint elements relevant to diagnosis and treatment goals for a more informed diagnosis and plan of action.

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