Counselors receive research grant to study Native populations in New Mexico

By Raquel Talamantes

UNT College of Education Counseling faculty members Amanda Giordano, Elizabeth Prosek and Michael Schmit recently received a research grant from the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (ACES) to interview Native Americans and gain a better understanding of how they want their culture to be portrayed in diversity courses and how to best meet the mental health needs of this marginalized population. 

Giordano, a specialist in addictions counseling and co-facilitator of the counseling program’s Addictions Counseling Research Team (ACRT); Prosek, co-facilitator of ACRT and specialist in mental health outcomes; and Schmit, an assistant professor specializing in outcome research, aim to gather information from the Native Americans participating in the study that has not yet been presented in existing research literature..

“We hope to gain new knowledge and understanding of how Native men and women experience counseling, if at all; or how counselors could better serve them,” Prosek said.

The award will provide the opportunity to conduct a qualitative study to inform counselors on ways in which they can provide more culturally sensitive counseling services. Additionally, the interviews will highlight the participants’ opinions about how Native culture should be presented in graduate courses.  

“We will conduct a phenomenological study with Native people, both on and off reservations, in order to ascertain Native Americans’ perspectives of how counselors can best approach the mental health needs of Native clients,” said Giordano, who is leading the study. “Additionally, learning about the lived experiences of Native Americans’ access to higher education may help counselor educators recruit Native people into counselor-training programs. Specifically, we will conduct individual, semi-structured interviews and focus groups with Native Americans on or near reservations in New Mexico.”

Giordano said she believes the most useful insight and direction in studies like this one comes directly from the population being studied, and she wants to give Native Americans a chance to share their voice as it relates to their own culture.

“Statistics continue to highlight mental health and substance abuse needs among this population” Giordano said. “Specifically, alcohol-related deaths are 520 percent higher among Native people than all races in the U.S., and death by suicide is 60 percent higher. Therefore, we believe it is crucial for counselor educators to gain a thorough understanding as to what Native people believe to be the proper treatment for these issues.”

Prosek adds that conducting phenomenological studies through a qualitative approach allows for the voices of the participants to be heard.

Giordano chose Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the study because of its large and diverse Native American population.

“There are 562 distinct Indian nations in the United States,” Giordano said. “It would be erroneous to group all Native people together without considering within-group differences. Therefore, our goal is to ascertain information from individuals from different tribes and Native cultural backgrounds.”

There are eight Native pueblos in northern New Mexico near Santa Fe: Nambe, Picuris, Pojoaque, San Ildefonso, Ohkay Owingeh, Tesuque, Santa Clara and Taos. The Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council Inc. (ENIPC Inc.) exists to provide tribal governors with a structure to collaborate and meet the needs of their communities, Giordano said.

“We feel that conducting interviews in northern New Mexico provides a unique opportunity to learn from individuals from many tribes,” she said.

Over the past five years, Giordano has dedicated time and effort to promote racial justice and to advocate for marginalized groups. Her initiative to combat oppression and to give voices to those in need led her to apply for the ACES grant and start this study.

“The idea of the grant project originated with Amanda,” Schmit said. “When she asked me to join the team, I felt honored and was excited to contribute my research knowledge to the magnitude of what this project represents — giving a voice to Native people.”

 

Pictured, left to right, Amanda Giordano, Elizabeth Prosek and Michael Schmit.