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Archaeology as Therapy and why archaeologists should connect with mental health proff
My question is, is anyone formally using archaeology as a Therapy and are there any formal links between archaeologists, communities and mental health proffessionals?

If there are could they contact me at

Because I think there should be such links. But an exhaustive search of the net suggests that at present there are not any formal links and Dr Faye A Simpson a Post-Graduate Research Fellow in Community Archaeology from Exeter, who has in her writing mentioned such possibilities also in an email says she hasn't come across any formal links.

And the time is right for making such links as health services want activities which are preventative and stop people getting ill and involve exercise and archaeologists want archaeology to be useful in much more immaginative and varied ways than hiding bones in boxes in museums.

Working in Australia there is also the whole buisness of how archaeologists working alongside Indigenous Elders can help empower young people and help connect them with their own culture.

As well as being an archaeologist (trained in Australia at University of Western Australia and having worked in Yorkshire with On-site-Archaeology and for Patna Museum in Bihar, India) I am also a Psychiatric Nurse and I am currently working as a community Clinical Nurse Specialist in the Pilbara region of Western Australia based in Port Hedland.

Many of my Aboriginal clients often take part in archaeological/anthropological surveys and some of my young clients return fit and healthy and with money, which is much better than their usual unoccupied and poverty stricken state which often see's these victims of my racist society simply lying around smoking bongs and developing various types of physical and mental illness.

Appart from the surveys already happening as a result of mining I would like to see the health authorities linking with Indigenous communities and archaeology companies so that the communities could conduct their own archaeological surveys for therapeutic reasons. And of course the communities would control what was and wasn't published.

And I surely don't need to emphasise how useful such different kinds of projects would be for archaeologists and their employer's

So I think this is a really good idea and I know for a fact that there seems to be quite a few individuals around the world who work as archaeologists but have a background in mental health.

So anyone is welcome to take these ideas and use them, and of the only thing slightly original here is that archaeologists need to make formal links with organisations connected with mental health - client groups, communities of clients, Doctors, Nurses and all manner of therapists


Steve Arthur

And below is a draft letter I have been trying to send to various Indigenous, Psychiatric and Archaeological people here in Australia.

[INDENT]A Proposal to Build on Indigenous Practice and Formally Link Psychiatry and Archaeology/Anthropology for the Benefit of Local Indigenous Communities and Industry.
The arguments below are not new and I take no credit for them. I simply wish to suggest that Professionals in partnership with Indigenous People and others might wish to develop them. I include no references, although there are plenty to be found, as currently all my time and energy is occupied working as a community mental health nurse, guided in my work by an Indigenous Mental Health Worker co-worker.

I argued similar ideas and presented papers on this subject a few years ago when I was the archaeological advisor to the State Government of Bihar in India.

I believe that mental health professionals in partnership with archaeologists and anthropologists should more formally catch up and give assistance to practices already common when Indigenous Communities take part in archaeological surveys. What is more, Indigenous communities in areas where no industry exists may also want to develop such practices with the assistance of social scientists and mental health professionals. For example, they might decide to employ archaeologists, anthropologists and mental health staff to help map their cultural landscape whilst maintaining complete control of that process.

I first noticed the therapeutic benefit of community archaeology whilst working with Aboriginal Elders and Youth in an archaeological survey conducted by the University of Western Australia during my honours year at UWA. I believe that the same would be true of Anthropological surveys.

During the survey I worked on, Elders worked with archaeologists to connect Aboriginal teenagers with their culture. Archaeologists working under the guidance of the Elders (who controlled what knowledge could be shared) taught youth how to recognise stone tools, archaeological sites and how to use camera?s, GPS and computers to record these artefacts and places without disturbing them.

In particular I found my psychiatric nursing skills very useful in carrying out risk assessments and giving informal counselling to the young Aboriginal people taking part in the survey. This was because we were all learning and working with Aboriginal Culture and the power structures normally associated when the young people were involved with non-Indigenous professionals were not present, as quite often they were teaching me and not the other way around. What is more, we were exercising and connecting with ideas about life as their Elders explained how their hunter-gatherer ancestors used to live. Because just about every healthy way of living from nutrition to exercise for all humans can be modelled on our hunter-gatherer ancestry it is obviously a great way of beginning a discussion about peoples health today
Many of the Aboriginal Youth had psychological, substance and conduct problems and had been failed by the education system, and were not very literate. However, because of their love of computer games they grasped the technical side more quickly than highly qualified older professionals. The benefits were obvious since the youth became more connected with their elders, they engaged in much needed exercise ? relieved their boredom and learnt skills which not only made them future candidates for such surveys, but developed IT skills transferable into other area?s of work.

As a community psychiatric nurse and archaeologist, I would like to see the practice of community archaeology developed as a therapeutic process to maintain and improve the mental health of local Indigenous Peoples. This process is already happening informally but I believe formal partnerships between Indigenous Elders and local community leaders, Mental Health Professionals, Archaeologists and Anthropologists and when appropriate, Mining and Petroleum companies would benefit everyone.

Current evidence based practice in Psychiatry recognises that prevention is better than cure and that holistic health promotion should encompass a whole communities physical, psychological and spiritual wellbeing. In addition, community archaeology would benefit many individuals who take medication for their mental health but develop metabolic problems that can increase their chances of developing obesity and diabetes. What is more, the lack of employment for Indigenous youth leads to boredom and this can add to the possibility of these young people developing conduct, substance abuse and psychological problems.

Moreover, within health the current aim of mental health services in order to improve the health of everyone is to engage in partnerships with all manner of Non Government Organisations, community groups and Industry.

Already Indigenous groups involve all members of their communities in land surveys. However, I would suggest that some of the money and skills from the Mental Health sector could be usefully channelled into archaeological and anthropological surveys, in order to have mental health professionals working alongside Indigenous Elders, Archaeologists and Anthropologists and when appropriate Industry.
Archaeologists want archaeology to be popular but they also want it to be, non-invasive and professionally conducted. Community Archaeology where communities not only participate but set their own research questions and collectively plan and implement surveys is now generally accepted as best practice within archaeology. I do not think many archaeologists would object to working alongside sensitive mental health professionals as they help conduct such surveys and monitor the health of their clients.

Industry has often led the way in ensuring that Indigenous communities are consulted and involved in survey work when new industries are developed and these companies would surely want to become involved in having professional mental health involvement in such surveys.

Finally, there is much debate as to how capital can be invested to raise the health outcomes of Indigenous populations and a more formal link between social scientists and the mental health sector could be one small step in the right direction.

Stephen Arthur
Mental Health Nurse & Archaeologist.


Messages In This Thread
Archaeology as Therapy and why archaeologists should connect with mental health proff - by Arthus - 25th April 2010, 08:22 AM

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