Honoring Indigenous Identity: Providing Holistic Care

Date Posted

July 17, 2023


Dawna Roberts

Idigenous Identity Man Looking Off Camera

Brianna Jacobs, LCMHC, is one of the 55,000 members of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. She was raised by a single indigenous mother, but, because family is a priority in the Lumbee tribe, Brianna feels like she was raised by a village. Because her indigenous identity was always important to her, she knew that she could offer something special to her community. When she decided to enter the mental health field, her family took the time to understand her decision and wholeheartedly supported her.

When entering the clinical field, Brianna imagined it would be all white coats and sterile environments, like a doctor’s office, but she later realized that her practice could be anything she wanted. Although she first hid parts of herself (such as her tattoos and piercings), she realized that patients wanted authenticity. To better help her clients, she needed to get to know herself better and be who she really was.

Honoring Indigenous Identity and Creating Safe Space

Indigenous-Identity-BeadworkBrianna found that creating a space where people feel safe to come to you for help is most important. She strives to be someone they can relate to and not feel judged.

One example of being true to herself and making her clients with Indigenous identity comfortable is that she often wears beadwork. She discarded the idea that wearing beadwork was unprofessional. Now, her tribal beadwork is part of her professional appearance, helping her relate to her patients and redefining what professional therapy means for indigenous care.

Another way that Brianna has stepped away from her preconceived notions of what therapy would look like is that there is no desk between her and her patients. Instead, her clients can feel more like they are talking with a friend by sitting face-to-face. Her goal is that they feel more comfortable when they leave than when they came in.

Offering a Holistic Approach

When starting in practice, Brianna was mindful that her potential clients could be skeptical about the process and value of therapy. Brianna works hard to make therapy – and the language and concepts of therapy – accessible and non-alienating. For example, Brianna prefers not to use technical terms, instead using storytelling to help her clients understand what she is saying. She also uses metaphors and stories to help her patients embrace their therapy. Sometimes she uses beadwork in her sessions, so the patient feels like they are sitting there talking with their sister or auntie, making sharing their thoughts and feelings more comfortable.

Like many therapists, Brianna incorporates a variety of therapeutic approaches in her practice. The three things that she brings to every session are empathy, non-judgment, and unconditional positive regard. Feminist theory helps people understand that “the world may be unfair, but this is how we navigate it.” Being person-centered means that she and her patient are on the same level, leading to strong, trusting relationships between her and her clients. She tells people, “I am not treating a diagnosis; I am treating you.” That personal relationship is more important to her than anything else.

Focusing on Self-Care

In addition to therapy, Brianna often focuses on self-care with her indigenous clients. They can take the self-care strategies they learn and healing laughter with them. Brianna’s focus on self-care is a good reminder for caregivers to tune into their own wellness practices.

Dawna M. Roberts has spent most of her career in technology. She has written thousands of blogs, marketing materials, and website pages for her clients. She owned a website development agency for 15 years, honing her SEO and digital marketing skills. Writing and storytelling are her passions, and she enjoys crafting well-written, compelling content that keeps readers coming back for more. Her biggest joy is writing that helps other people.