Blog Details

Psychotherapy and Art Therapy for Indigenous Youth in Toronto



As of 2023, Indigenous youth in Toronto continue to grapple with a complex interplay of mental health issues, significantly influenced by historical trauma, systemic inequities, and ongoing challenges in accessing culturally appropriate care. The legacies of colonization, residential schools, and cultural dislocation have left profound impacts, contributing to higher rates of anxiety, depression, and substance misuse among this demographic. Many Indigenous youth also face socioeconomic disadvantages and racial discrimination, further exacerbating their mental health struggles. Despite a growing awareness and efforts to bridge the gap, there remains a critical need for accessible, culturally sensitive mental health services that honor Indigenous traditions and practices, fostering resilience and supporting the holistic well-being of Indigenous youth in Toronto.

Our goal, in this short blog, is to shed light on the transformative mental health services, emphasizing their accessibility through the Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) program and Jordan’s Principle. By focusing on the specific needs of Indigenous youth, we strive to contribute positively to the mental health landscape in Toronto and Ontario.

What Are the the Unique Needs of Indigenous Youth

Indigenous youth in Toronto face a myriad of unique challenges that significantly impact their mental health and well-being. Historical trauma, resulting from colonization and the residential school system, has led to generational pain and loss of cultural identity, often manifesting in feelings of disconnection and isolation for these young individuals. Systemic barriers in education, healthcare, and social services further exacerbate their struggles, as they encounter racism, discrimination, and a lack of culturally responsive resources. Additionally, the urban setting of Toronto can intensify feelings of cultural disconnection, as Indigenous youth may find it challenging to access community and traditional practices that are integral to their identity and resilience. These factors collectively contribute to a heightened vulnerability to mental health issues, underscoring the pressing need for targeted, culturally sensitive support and interventions for Indigenous youth in the city.

Why is addressing the mental health issues among Indigenous children and teenagers important?

Addressing mental health issues in Indigenous children is of paramount importance, as it plays a crucial role in breaking the cycle of intergenerational trauma, promoting holistic well-being, and supporting positive developmental trajectories. Through culturally sensitive mental health care, these young individuals can build resilience, forge strong connections with their cultural heritage, and develop healthy coping mechanisms, ultimately contributing to stronger, more resilient communities.

Furthermore, prioritizing mental health helps in reducing the stigma surrounding these issues, ensuring equity in access to care, and enhancing the overall quality of life for Indigenous children. It also lays the groundwork for improved educational outcomes, fostering an environment where Indigenous children can thrive academically and personally. In essence, addressing mental health issues in Indigenous children is not just a matter of providing immediate support; it is an investment in the future of the individuals and their communities, ensuring that they have the resources and strength to sustain their cultural heritage and navigate the unique challenges they face.

What is The Power of Psychotherapy in Improving Mental health of Indigenous youth?

Psychotherapy offers a safe space for individuals to explore their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, facilitating personal growth and healing. For Indigenous youth, this can be a pivotal tool in addressing mental health concerns and fostering resilience.

The power of psychotherapy in enhancing the mental health of Indigenous youth is evident through various culturally competent therapeutic approaches. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be adapted to respect Indigenous worldviews, helping youth to challenge and change unhelpful thought patterns and behaviors. Narrative Therapy allows individuals to tell their stories and redefine their identities, providing a space to reconnect with their cultural heritage and community. Culturally adapted Mindfulness and Holistic therapies emphasize the importance of balance and connection to nature, aligning with Indigenous values and promoting mental well-being. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) has also been utilized to address trauma, incorporating cultural symbols and practices to ensure relevance and sensitivity. By integrating these approaches with traditional healing practices and community support, psychotherapy becomes a powerful conduit for healing, resilience-building, and empowerment for Indigenous youth in Toronto, addressing their unique mental health needs in a respectful and effective manner.

paper and watercolor

What is the power of art therapy for Indigenous children and youth?

Art therapy merges creativity and psychotherapy, allowing individuals to express themselves through various artistic mediums. Art therapy can bridge cultural gaps and provide a voice to those who may struggle to articulate their experiences verbally.

Historically, art has played a significant and healing role in Indigenous communities, serving as a powerful medium for storytelling, preserving traditions, and expressing individual and collective experiences. For example, the creation and use of totem poles among the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest is a profound artistic practice embedded with spiritual, historical, and cultural significance. These intricately carved wooden structures tell stories of ancestry, historical events, or cultural beliefs, fostering a strong sense of identity, continuity, and belonging within the community. Through the carving process and the communal storytelling that accompanies the totem poles, individuals can connect with their roots, honor their ancestors, and find healing and strength in their cultural heritage. This historical practice exemplifies how art has been a conduit for healing, resilience, and the preservation of Indigenous knowledge and traditions, laying a foundational understanding for the contemporary application of art therapy among Indigenous youth.

How can Indigenous People Access Services through NIHB and Jordan’s Principle?

The Non-Insured Health Benefits program and Jordan’s Principle are critical in ensuring that Indigenous youth in Toronto have access to the mental health services they need. To find the comprehensive guide on how to navigate the NIHB program and ensuring your eligibility for this program, read about it here.

Jordan’s Principle is a government fund that is available to Indigenous children and youth in Toronto and Canada. This government fund covers the cost of psychotherapy and art therapy services for children and youth in Toronto (and in Canada) and can be used for psychological, educational and medical services. To find out about the application process, read about it here.

How can I find the Right Psychotherapist in Toronto?

Choosing a psychotherapist who is knowledgeable, respectful, and culturally sensitive is crucial. Ideally, find a psychotherapist who is from the Indigenous background would be the best option. Another option is to find a psychotherapist or art therapist who has experience working with the Indigenous communities or perhaps travels to the communities. Having visited and worked in the First Nations communities plays an important role on the psychotherapists’ understanding of the environmental factors and cultural ways of healing, which can be utilized in a city office. Furthermore, finding a psychotherapist who has experience in combining nature-based practices with  the traditional ways of treatment would be helpful.

To Find an art therapist or a psychotherapist, who is experienced in working with Indigenous children, adolescents and youth, contact us here.

Related Posts