John Chaney

Providing Culturally-Sensitive Care

John11 John Chaney, Mvskoke Creek, PhD, is a professor in the department of psychology at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma. He is the director of the American Indians into Psychology Program, and he is the director of the Marriage and Family Clinic. Chaney teaches courses in pediatric psychology, family therapy, and the psychology of minorities. His clinical interests include family systems theory and narrative approaches to therapy.

In 2009 he received the Oklahoma State University Regents Distinguished Research Award for his work that melds pediatric psychology and minority and diversity issues. In particular he studies the functioning of family systems in the context of chronic childhood health problems, such as juvenile rheumatic disease and Type 1 diabetes. Chaney was the co-author of the first paper focused on American Indians ever to be published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology. Chaney’s research also includes academic achievement in American Indian students, racial bias, and the use of American Indian images as sports mascots.

102809-OSU-research-winners-lg Dr. Chaney (in the middle) with the other recipients of the 2009-10 Regents Distinguished Research Award Winners.

Chaney wants American Indians to become more visible. He thinks that one way American Indians can achieve more visibility and influence is by getting a good education and earning advanced degrees.

The following are some of Chaney’s reflections on and advice about providing mental health care in American Indian communities.

Providing Effective Health Care

American Indian and Alaska Native psychologists who choose to work with Native people face challenges. Chaney says, “One mistake some graduates make is to go to an Indian community, hang up their shingle, and expect people to line up at the door. That doesn’t work. They may need to first serve stew and fry bread at community gatherings and serve meals to the elderly. They may need to participate in community functions, like pow wows, before people will trust them.”

When clients do come for a counseling session, the approaches used in the dominant culture might not work with some Native people. Chaney notes: “In traditional psychology you ask some pretty personal questions during the first contact. I avoid doing that with traditional Native clients. I’ll let them tell me. Also, in most training programs, therapists typically are taught to disclose very little about themselves to clients. However, many traditional Indian people may feel as though you are not being genuine and aren't likely to come back if you say, ‘We’re not here to talk about me. We’re here to talk about you’. Before these clients can trust you, they want to know: Who are your folks? Where is your family from? Are you a member of the community? Are you one of us?”

Psychologists and other health professionals don’t understand when some traditional people seem to withhold important information. Chaney says that can often be explained by the fact that traditional people might assume that, like medicine men and women, health professionals already know important information. "It’s considered disrespectful," says Chaney, "to tell people in these positions what they clearly already should know."

The comments above were originally published in an article that appeared in the Autumn 2000 issue of Winds of Change. (The cover artist is Roy Henry Vickers, Tsimshian and English.)