Carolyn Barcus

Recruiting and Supporting American Indian Psychologists

barcus_c Carolyn Barcus, EdD, is a member of the Blackfeet Tribe of Northern Montana. Her Blackfeet name is Bear Woman. Barcus has dedicated her career to improving the mental health and well being of indigenous people in North America. She has been doing this by recruiting American Indians into psychology and supporting them so they can successfully complete their education. She has taught many undergraduate and graduate classes over the years and still continues to teach. Barcus has also played a major role in bringing together American Indian psychologists, American Indian psychology students and others who are dedicated to enhancing the health of Native people. In addition, she has worked at the development of American Indian psychology as a science.

For many years Barcus provided direct care through her own part-time practice, working primarily with women who were sexually abused as children. Her interest in sexual abuse developed while working with perpetrators and survivors of sexual abuse at the Intermountain Sexual Abuse Treatment Center. “Sexual abuse is a world of pain,” she says.

Currently Barcus is Co-Director of the
American Indian Support Project (AISP), which she was instrumental in developing. From 1991 until 2008, she was Director of AISP. For 5 years before that she was assistant director of the program. Barcus is proud of the work that the 35 graduates of AISP are doing in Native communities in the United States and Canada, providing much needed psychological services and serving as role models. Four AISP students are currently working on their graduate degrees. Barcus is encouraged by the growing numbers of bright Indian people who are seeking careers in psychology. “Most Native people who are applying to our program are interested in making things better for Native people,” she says.

Bring Leaders in Psychology Together

Every year, since 1987, Barcus and the AISP students have hosted the annual Convention of American Indian Psychologists and Psychology Graduate Students at Utah State. (Since 1997 the Society of Indian Psychologists has co-hosted the convention.) In addition to making presentations on general topics in practice and research, the psychologists focus on the developing science of American Indian psychology. Prior to the convention there is a weekend retreat at Bear Lake that includes ceremonies and talks by a medicine person.

Barcus was President of the Society of Indian Psychologists from 1999-2001. Even when she has not been an officer, she has played a leadership role.

From Physical Education to Psychology

Raised on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana, Barcus earned her bachelor’s degree in physical education at Montana State University. She taught junior and senior high school for 7 years and then earned her masters’ degree in physical education at Utah State. While in the masters’ program, Barcus coached the women’s tennis team and the women’s bowling team. As she traveled around the country with these teams, she was able to help team members with their sport-related problems, such as how to hit a stronger overhead shot in tennis. However, she didn’t feel equipped to help the young women with the problems they brought to her regarding their emotional lives, for example, depression and relational problems. Consequently, Barcus started taking courses in counseling and ended up earning the last EdD in psychology at Utah State.

Rich Background

Barcus’ first part-time private practice work was with the Department of Corrections, State of Utah. For 9 years she counseled inmates and provided other services. In 1978, while continuing with her private practice, she served first as a mental health specialist and then as the service unit director for the Indian Health Service Intermountain Tribal School in Brigham City, Utah. Her work over the years included administering Indian Health Service Health Center Programs, doing in-service training, developing school-wide treatment teams, supervising social workers, and doing crisis intervention.

In 1985 when Barcus joined Utah State she continued to work for IHS, now as a consultant. She also supervised USU psychology department practicum students at Intermountain Sexual Abuse Treatment Center where she worked from 1987-1992.

A Love of Horses

Barcus 3_2

Barcus has a passion for horses. In fact, she admits that she is “horse poor”. For 7 years in a row, she and friends have ridden in increments from Logan, Utah to Yellowstone National. (Each year they started their ride from where they left off the previous year.) Barcus’ goal is to reach her home on the Blackfeet Reservation. In her retirement she wants to raise Tennessee Walking Horses.

The profile above was written in 2007.

Update 2010

Barcus, who now is in semiretirement, reports:
We were able to find a Native person to take my academic position. Gayle Morse is Mohawk from New York. She is great. Her main line of research is looking at the effects of environmental toxins on mental health and mental functioning. So far, semiretirement looks a lot like work as usual, but that is fine with me.  I love my job and am very excited to have a second Native psychologist here.”

Regarding her multi-year trek by horseback, Barcus says: “
We are still working our way north on our ride to Canada, which borders the North side of the Blackfeet Reservation and the ranch where I grew up.   We made it across Yellowstone Park, skipping the “bad bear” section, and have made it into Montana.  There is no trail that takes one across Montana that is horse friendly so we will be piecing a route together as we go.”