Place psychological experience: A Native American perspective

Randolph Allen West (2002)

Initially, this project was designed to explore interactions between traumatic stress and place psychological experience among Native Americans. However, a literature search revealed little information on this topic. Following a qualitative research design (Creswell, 1994, Miles & Huberman, 1994), as the researcher analyzed narrative data early in the project he shifted the emphasis toward the need to first understand the Native American experience of place before investigating interactions between place psychological experience and traumatic stress. Therefore, this is a qualitative investigation of the "psychological experience of place" (PPE) and its relationship to perceptions of health among Native Americans. The literature suggests that primary functions of place are to engender attachment, sense of belonging, and security with one's places. In this study, the concepts of "Place Cosmology" and "Place Loss" are introduced and integrated with Place Attachment, Sense of Place and Place Identity to develop PPE. Place Cosmology highlights spiritual relationships with place. Place Loss recognizes disruptions of place. Place, frequently an unconscious experience in Western society, is a conscious experience and a source of strength for some people. This investigation is an examination of the range of place experiences and their covariance with mental health in Native Americans. Assumed in this study was a relationship between one's PPE and the experience of stress. Findings are that survival knowledge was embedded in the meanings of participants' places, practicing subsistence lifestyles and knowledge of one's native language enhanced relationships with place, and disconnection from one's places was synonymous with depersonalization and contact with nature was healing. Because Elders imparted place knowledge participants believed they were losing the meaning of their places as their Elders died. Similarly, Reservations were seen as a last refuge of Native American culture and participants believed their Reservations were threatened by the dominant society. Implications range from changes in intervention practices, cultural heritage programming, land policy, environmental awareness, and refugee acculturation. This study proposes that place psychological experience has a dramatic influence on human perceptions and meanings, and a direct influence on psychological well-being and overall health. Realized at a cultural level, place psychological experience has positive impacts not only to the improved quality of human life but to the environment as well.