This critical analysis of the literature explores the potential of liberation psychology to address the sequelae of historical trauma in Native American communities. 21st century Native America faces significant health and wellness challenges including socio-economic disparities, interpersonal violence, substance abuse, psycho-spiritual distress, and physical health issues (Brave Heart, 2004; Dickerson & Johnson, 2010; Manson, 2000; Manson, Beals, Klein, Croy, & AI-SUPERPFP, 2005; United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2001). The literature questions the validity of mainstream psychological science to effectively conceptualize and treat Native Americans, and calls for the identification of specific, culturally relevant interventions to increase physical and psychological wellness (Duran, 2006; Manson, 2000; Wendt & Gone, 2011). The concept of historical trauma helps to elucidate the psycho-spiritual distress experienced by many Native Americans, including internalized oppression, as the sequelae of unhealed wounds from 500 years of physical and cultural genocide (Brave Heart, Chase, Elkins, & Altschul, 2011; Duran, 2006; Gone & Alcantara, 2007; Manson, 2000; Struthers & Lowe, 2003; Whitbeck, 2006). Duran, Firehammer, and Gonzalez (2008) suggest a liberation psychology approach may alleviate suffering related to historical trauma. This dissertation further integrates the literature on the historical trauma response with the literature on liberation psychology. Native American wellness goals are identified in the literature of scholars, researchers, practitioners, activists, community members, and allies. Concepts and strategies from a liberation psychology framework are then explored for their potential to help illuminate challenges, address needs, and support goals, in alignment with cultural values and work currently being done in this field. Implications in the areas of epistemology, research, clinical practice, practitioner training, and public acknowledgement are explored in depth, and recommendations for incorporating liberatory strategies in therapeutic interventions are made. This dissertation also identifies its own theoretical and methodological limitations, and proposes areas for future investigation. Emerging hypotheses suggest that incorporating liberatory practices in therapeutic work with Native American communities may offer a congruent and compatible pathway to promote psychological well-being in this community.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Dissertations (PsyD) -- Psychology; Indians of North America -- Psychology; Indians of North America -- Mental health; Ethnopsychology; Social psychology

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Harrell, Shelly;