‘People Have the Ability to Heal and to Let Go. Healers Help You With That’


From the Los Angeles Times: “[Compton native Jerry] Tello and fellow therapists and community health practitioners, including a psychiatrist, began meeting to explore traditional Indigenous methods of helping the Chicano and Latino community; the group called itself Calmecac.

‘We began exploring that, within our own culture, we had volumes that were written about healing, constructs, methodologies, philosophies, remedies and traditions that we didn’t know about that our grandmothers used but that were not validated,’ he said.

This research, his college background, his clinical work and his experience of the Chicano and civil rights movements in Los Angeles pushed him to ‘explore effective ways [for] really healing, not just treating, not just intervening, not just medicating and diagnosing but truly healing our people’ . . .

Regarding mental health, what does ‘healing the whole person’ mean?

There is a word in my Indigenous Nahuatl language, Tloque Nahuaque, which, loosely translated, means interconnected sacredness. In Indigenous thought, our sense of wholeness or well-being is a sense of us being physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually balanced and harmoniously connected to ourselves and all our relations.

. . . In our traditional way, [healing practitioners] don’t separate the physical from the emotional, mental and spiritual. It’s all interconnected. So, from a healer’s point of view, we begin to look at all relationships and influences in your life… It may not be just in your present life but the spirit of what you carry from your life journey … what we refer to now as generational trauma. And from the spiritual, we talk about your meaning in life — how worthwhile do you feel as a man, woman or teenager? What’s your role?

. . . From an Indigenous point of view everything is a teacher, a spirit, if you will. So we ask [about] what the ‘so-called’ depression or anxiety tells us and where is it coming from. In an Indigenous point of view, those ‘spirits’ can get attached to you and can become that overwhelming feeling. It also may be due to the ‘mal’ bad energy that someone [has] projected on you and things that people have said about you that you are believing.

That may seem strange or mystical, but all of us have at one time or another been in a good mood, walked into someone’s office who is in a bad mood and then walked out feeling all messed up… It may necessitate a limpia —cleansing or the clearing of those burdensome thoughts or energy . . .

How do you apply your clinical background in your traditional healing work?

We must recognize that this society is sick. The pandemic showed this. The racism, colonization, injustice and system inequities that exist in communities produce stress, trauma [and] fear and literally kill people. So, although individual intervention and treatment is important, healing at the community and societal level is imperative . . .

How could our mental health system help more people?

Once you put a diagnosis on someone, it’s almost like you’re putting a spell on them. [If someone says,] ‘[You have] attention deficit,’ [you think]: ‘Oh, shoot, that’s what I am.’ No, you’re not. That’s your woundedness, because you’re much more than that. Western science will label people and categorize them based on their woundedness. In [our] traditional medicine, we see their wholeness.

Maybe one of your wounds or cargas (your burden, or what you’re carrying) is alcohol. The alcohol can take over your spirit and we [as healers] understand that. In reference to alcohol … it’s no coincidence that they call alcohol a spirit. We know the substance or spirit of alcohol changes you. And the more it becomes part of who you are and what you do, that ‘spirit’ can begin controlling you.

It is important in the most serious cases to recognize that … you have invited that spirit to take over your life. Many people have ‘lost touch’ with who they really are, but even in those cases, in order for them to truly heal, we must ‘call their spirits back’ to the sacredness of who they really are and at the same time acknowledge the spirit of the substance that continues to challenge them everyday.

Unfortunately, Western treatment reverses the order and makes the disease their identity, as if they are nothing without the disease. A central part of Indigenous thought and healing is that the Creator and our ancestors are always present and our sacredness is always in us just waiting to be healed, blessed and released to do its sacred purpose.”

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  1. It will be good when we dispense with the myth of the perfect fixed person. We ought to be aware that this powerful myth can sweep into modern medicine AND in more indigenous places also. The myth is a romanticisation of healing. Animals do not make a complicated ritual out of their healing. Animals just recognise they are in pain and they take themselves off to a quiet den and doze and rest until they get their balance back. Humans are animals. The mind always wants to make a fancy complex ideology out of “healing”, one that requires courses and books and slide shows and indoctrinations and certificates of perfectly fixed logical education, all with plenty of “lessons”. Until the healers become “experts in you”.

    An animal is its own expert…by staying stupid enough to respond to the sick body immediately.

    The human mind loathes the vulnerable sick body.

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  2. How do reconcile these two statements from the article…

    1) “We must recognize that this society is sick.” … “although individual intervention and treatment is important, healing at the community and societal level is imperative”

    2) “you have invited that spirit to take over your life”

    Really dislike the term “invited” given point #1. Also, it’s very challenging and nuanced to attempt to dissemble the complex suite of all of…

    – inherent traits (such as autism, ADHD, etc.)
    – social versus self versus mixed model of distress

    It’s also not true that all of us all have been in a good mood. I’ve worked with peers who genuinely haven’t had a good day or even moment in their whole lives. Which doesn’t mean they’re not capable and it’s a forgivable oversight of using generalizing language. I also see the broader point attempting to be made. Changing “all” to “most” is an easy fix there.

    I also feel so mixed about the role of identity and illness. Working as I do with chronically ill and disabled, the person’s role within society does become, even authentically, a defining part of themselves. Can look to, for example, the recapturing of the term “cripple” and especially “crip” and a recolonized mark of pride for some portion of that community. Crip is a proud thing. Can also see, for example, the so-called “mad pride” movement.

    That’s perhaps aside from the thrust the article is trying to make (which I agree with). Maybe it’s to say, instead of yet another article trying to tell people which identity is “healthy” and which isn’t, it’s to neutrally unpack problems with certain systems and then let people themselves decide what to do with terms, frameworks, and systems that feel most authentic to them.

    Maybe I’m just being bitter. I probably need to give this article a thorough second reading. And I also think sometimes it’s the words themselves that often fail us. We simply aren’t being equipped with an efficient set of concepts to fully or effectively describe the underlying phenomena we want to discuss, and that sometimes, for me at least, plays out in finding articles like this challenging to read.

    Did enjoy the read and took away some helpful observations and self-questioning, despite my many critiques above. Enjoyed learning about “interconnected sacredness”. Enjoying learning about a very different sort of cultural approach to asking and answering what “healing” and “illness” are. Great reminder that dominant Western medicine is not the be-all end-all authority on this.

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  3. I reread this article and enjoyed it better for doing so. I stand by my prior comment but I am liking a lot of this article’s approach.

    I guess animals can be “spooked”. A horse can bolt off at seeing a wizen tree. A cat can be bristling at seeing a dog shaped log pile. A fish can flick off by seeing a dapple of light. These fears are taken as real beings and are warded off or fled from. So yeah I can see the parallel with animals and the way humans “spook” at being followed or inhebriated with the “being” that is alcohol.

    I must apologize if I barked. There must be a “spirit” of “comment section addiction” that I should like you to drum me free of.

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