Why Are We Settling? Indigenous Cultural Safety Education for Counsellors in Ontario

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Moucessian, Anoushka
Indigenous cultural safety education , counselling psychology education , mental health , First Nations, Inuit, Metis
Indigenous cultural safety education is crucial to achieving greater health equity for Indigenous Peoples (Browne et al., 2016) by helping counsellors recognize the social, historical, political, and economic context of contemporary Indigenous wellness experiences (Ramsden, 2002). Accredited graduate programs in counselling psychology are the foundation of mental health support (Department of Health, 2015). In Canada, graduates apply for certified professional membership with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association and the ‘Registered Psychotherapist’ designation with the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario (CRPO) to identify themselves as having met standards of professional practice. Counsellor education directly impacts professional practice and quality of support for Indigenous clients (Department of Health, 2015). The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015) report recognizes the need for cultural safety in recommendation 23(iii), which calls on all levels of government to provide “cultural competency training for all healthcare professionals.” This call is founded on evidence that client support tailored to a specific cultural context is more effective than generic client support (Griner & Smith, 2006; Allen et al., 2009; Gone, 2013). It is unknown if and to what extent counsellors trained in Ontario universities receive cultural safety education. Using Transformative Education Theory and a Reflexive Antiracism lens to understand the implementation and impact of cultural safety education in Ontario counselling professional programs, three studies were conducted: 1) An environmental scan of cultural safety education curricula across six Ontario university counselling programs; 2) Interviews with nine course instructors (one Indigenous) who teach counselling courses to examine course content, structure and delivery related to cultural safety education; and, 3) Interviews with 16 counselling students (one Indigenous) to discuss how their program experience impacts their ability to develop a culturally safe practice. Results indicate that Indigenous cultural safety education is only partially being incorporated as a core portion of counselling psychology curriculum in Ontario. Instructors took a fragmented approach to teaching about Indigenous wellness, leaving students with a fragmented understanding of how to develop a culturally safe practice. This suggests that Ontario counselling programs still have work to do in responding to Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendation 23(iii).
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