Synergy, Healing, and Empowerment: Insights from Cultural Diversity

Synergy, Healing, and Empowerment: Insights from Cultural Diversity




Guided by the concept of synergy, this groundbreaking collection explores alternatives in the areas of counseling, education, and community health and development. Synergy refers to the process of two or more things coming together to create a new, greater, and often-unexpected whole. When synergy exists, formerly scarce resources can expand and become renewable and accessible to all.

Drawing upon the diverse cultural experiences of Aboriginal groups in North America and around the world, these compelling narratives provide practical insights into the emergence of synergy and obstacles to its existence. Synergy, Healing and Empowerment offers invaluable guidance in the pursuit of a just and equitable society.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781550593860
Publisher: Brush Education
Publication date: 10/08/2012
Pages: 312
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Richard Katz, PhD, received his doctorate in clinical psychology from Harvard University and taught there for nearly 20 years. Over the past 45 years, he has also lived and worked with Indigenous Elders and healers around the world. Richard is currently Professor Emeritus at the First Nations University of Canada and an adjunct professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Saskatchewan.

Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu, PhD, is a psychologist and writer who received a doctorate in counseling and consulting psychology from Harvard University and was a Fulbright scholar in Japan. He is currently a consulting professor in the Stanford University School of Medicine, teaching in the Arts, Humanities, and Medicine Program. He is also in the faculty of the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity at Stanford.

Read an Excerpt


Synergy, Healing, and Empowerment addresses a central issue plaguing efforts to encourage social justice and community health—namely, the apparent scarcity of valuable health and education resources. Resources such as caring providers or liberating and healing social contexts are in short supply, and access to them favours those with power and privilege. But there is an innovative alternative to this scarcity paradigm, an approach based on synergy, whereby valuable resources become renewable, expanding, and accessible. Those previously denied access are empowered as they become active participants in the generation and utilization of these valuable resources.

Though the concept of synergy had been articulated by researchers such as Buckminster Fuller and Ruth Benedict, when Richard Katz was doing fieldwork research with the Ju/'hoansi in the Kalahari Desert., he found a powerful experiential example of this synergy which extended the concept to areas of healing, empowerment, and community development.

The release and distribution of healing energy, or n/om, among the Ju/'hoansi is an exemplar of synergy. As it is activated, n/om expands “like the fire which when stirred sends out flying sparks,” said one Ju/'hoan healer. Not owned by anyone, n/om is activated primarily through a community healing dance, making it accessible to all. In true synergistic fashion, n/om expands in unexpected ways, exponentially and reciprocally, spreading throughout the community, bringing individuals together and beyond themselves into a shared healing journey. Moreover, n/om is renewable—continuously available. As Ju/'hoan communal life, characterized by sharing and egalitarianism, supports the healing dance, it is in turn reaffirmed by the dance. Healing becomes a focal activity for people's growth as well as for the community's development.

As striking as was the experience of synergy among the Ju/'hoansi, equally striking was the Ju/'hoansi general mode of survival. At the time of Katz's fieldwork, the Ju/'hoansi functioned primarily as hunter-gatherers, thereby giving a glimpse into the way the human species adapted to its environment for nearly 99 per cent of human history. Hunting and gathering is the longest successful pattern of human adaptation, characterized by sharing, communal ownership of land and resources, and egalitarian political relations. The Ju/'hoansi therefore could be said to suggest a baseline of human social organization, and thus offer insights with profound evolutionary significance about, for example, the nature of community health and healing.

This led Katz to ask if the Ju/'hoan approach to healing and community, fueled by synergy, could generate insights into what could be a fundamental human approach to adaptation and growth. Did the Ju/'hoan approach offer a paradigmatic model that, though not meant to be copied in any literal manner, could actively inform contemporary problem solving? Could synergy be a basic human need and aspiration? And how does one encourage synergy and synergistic community in contemporary settings? These are questions that provided the initial soil from which this book, Synergy, Healing, and Empowerment, grew.

Synergy refers to a pattern by which phenomena relate to one another—they come together, creating a new, greater, and often-unexpected whole from disparate, even conflicting parts. When synergy exists, resources become expanding, renewable, and widely accessible.

Guided by synergy's twin dictum of “what is good for one is good for all,” and “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts,” Synergy, Healing, and Empowerment offers innovative and rarely explored insights into the fields of counselling, education, and community health and development. The book details examples where individuals and communities share aims, creating a whole community experience that is far more supportive of health and development than would be the sum of its individual members' contributions.

Synergy, Healing, and Empowerment focuses on resources created by human activity and intention—specifically, processes of healing, including healing knowledge and the training of healers, and processes of empowerment. The book describes how these valuable resources for human development, though conventionally perceived as scarce in settings influenced by Western values, can instead become plentiful and thus serve as a foundation for community mental health and well-being.

For example, mainstream Western healing resources, such as professional therapists, are typically ensconced in a bureaucratic web that promotes their scarcity—scarcity, in fact, is used as a way to establish value. Western therapists' time and energy are in limited supply; the perceived value of a therapist is often tied to the degree of difficulty in getting an appointment. Within a scarcity paradigm, when one person sees a therapist, that typically means another person cannot see that therapist; there is a competition for valued resources. In contrast, within the synergy paradigm, one person seeing a therapist makes it more likely that healing will also be available to others.

Synergy, Healing, and Empowerment argues that healing and empowerment resources are intrinsically renewable. For example, a reciprocal relationship exists between healing and synergy. Synergy provides the vital context within which healing occurs and is renewed, while healing simultaneously becomes a facilitator, even a wellspring, of synergy.

Opportunities for creating synergy exist in many different settings. But when healing and empowerment resources exist within mainstream Western settings, or settings in other parts of the world influenced by Western values, these resources typically function within a scarcity paradigm. Then the challenge becomes how to introduce synergy, turning what is scarce into something that is renewable and expanding.

Synergy, Healing, and Empowerment provides practical insights into the emergence of synergy as well as obstacles to its existence. Of special significance is the fact that the book draws upon a knowledge base that has rarely entered into the Western dialogue about healing and empowerment—namely, Indigenous healing traditions, such as those practiced by the Ju/'hoansi of the Kalahari Desert, and the Cree and Anishnabeq First Nations of Canada. Synergy exists more commonly among these Indigenous peoples. As well, these peoples are typically marginalized within mainstream Western cultures; they know what it means to be unfairly served and underserved by mainstream Western health and education professionals. Therefore, as we listen to these Indigenous teachings, we can hear important and potentially corrective insights for the way mainstream Western approaches create and distribute health and empowerment resources.

Learning from these case studies in non-Western settings where synergy prevails, we can also highlight more effectively the synergy that already exists in the West, as well as identify instances of its unrealized potential. For example, self-help groups are a paradigmatic setting in the West where synergy, healing, and empowerment can prevail. As these self-help groups acknowledge a “power greater than oneself,” or some form of transpersonal power, they lay the groundwork for a synergistic release of healing and empowerment. Without the need for experts, the groups rely on the renewable resource of members willing to talk about their own experience, struggling with the problems they share with other members.

Transformational learning occurs in these self-help groups as members, in sharing their stories, learn not only about how to deal with their problems but also how to take responsibility for guiding future groups. And when the need arises in the community for a new group, whether it be a spin-off from a group when it gets too large or a group dealing with a new set of issues, all that is necessary is the willingness of people to tell their story. As each day creates material for a story, these stories are in inexhaustible supply. The stories are a renewable healing and empowering resource, and so, therefore, are the self-help groups. One person's story feeds not only his or her own healing efforts, but also the healing journeys of others; what is good for one becomes good for all, as synergy is released in the group.

The dimension of cultural diversity pervades Synergy, Healing, and Empowerment. Within the experience of cultural diversity, the unique contributions of cultures are respected and cultivated. Building on this respect, collaborative patterns between cultural approaches to healing can be established, increasing and enhancing options for healing. A network of healing resources greater than the sum of its parts emerges.

Our emphasis on cultural diversity includes an effort to avoid the often-implicit assimilationist agenda of multiculturalism. Extending its analysis to the mainstream fields of psychology, counselling, education, and community development, Synergy, Healing, and Empowerment demonstrates how these fields are shaped by unexamined Euro-centric assumptions, which are often covered up with claims about universalisms in human functioning. Instead, mainstream Western approaches to healing and education are seen as valid expressions of historically situated cultural settings.

Respecting the interconnections between ways of knowing and levels of social functioning, Synergy, Healing, and Empowerment emphasizes the subtle and complex interweaving between individual and community growth. The book takes a multidisciplinary approach, infusing its primarily psychological focus with perspectives from anthropology, education, sociology, and community and international development studies. Education and healing, for example, are seen as aspects of the same larger process of human growth.

Working within a largely qualitative approach to research, featuring self-reflective, narrative, and community-based methodologies, the authors are participants in the communities they are researching. They demonstrate the validity and value of experiential knowledge and engaged scholarship.

But the challenge remains: how in practice can synergy be created and maintained? More specifically, how can synergy be encouraged in Western-oriented settings, where it is typically not supported? Synergy is currently an overused word in popular Western culture, particularly in the business world, where it is tied to the illusion of easy promises of increased productivity. But if synergy is in fact to exist, there must be a yeast, a factor that yields exponential, expanding, and renewable changes, going beyond the already valuable results of cooperation and sharing. By focusing on healing and empowerment, Synergy, Healing, and Empowerment chooses to tackle the challenge of synergy's practicality in areas of human functioning that are both essential and ripe for the existence of synergy.

How to encourage synergy is a complex issue. There are multiple factors in play—psychological, emotional, and spiritual; individual and community; personal intentions and institutional settings. The structure of Synergy, Healing, and Empowerment expresses this complexity. While Section I lays the theoretical foundation by discussing the concepts of synergy and synergistic community, it quickly introduces the complexities of putting those concepts into practice. For example, we discover that voluntary personal generosity is not an essential requirement in establishing synergy, as social and institutional constraints can establish conditions, which in a sense “demand” that synergy exists. In Section II, the book documents how synergy enhances identities by bringing together disparate elements, merging the personal with the sociopolitical. Education as a transforming experience is the theme of Section III. Transforming consciousness so that one goes beyond individual needs, developing a new perspective with a better understanding of other world views, can be a stimulant for and consequence of synergy. Education alone may be a necessary but insufficient stimulant for synergy. Education as transformation always exists within a sociopolitical context. Section IV, describing synergistic community, deals with synergy in a larger context that remains energized by individual actions. And all four sections of the book interconnect and reverberate with each other. All instances of synergy can be seen as set within and encouraging synergistic community.

Synergy, Healing, and Empowerment raises many questions about the practical existence of synergy. But rather than provide answers or solutions, we emphasize a process-oriented, descriptive approach, offering points to explore, perspectives to consider. Are small-scale face-to-face settings necessary for synergy? Certainly, such settings are common in many non-Western cultures, but also they appear in niches and corners of the West. Can synergy exist within a capitalistic society? Alternative economic structures are more common in Indigenous societies, but at least at the micro level, there are islands of sharing and the pursuit of the common good in the West. And synergy can be especially helpful in creating preventive, community-based mental health approaches, a valued cost-saving emphasis. Will human and natural crises or disasters provide fertile ground for a sharing that develops into a synergy? “Yes,” but whatever synergy does emerge is often short-lived; and “no,” as demonstrated by the acts of selfishness and governmental deceptions that often occur in the wake of disasters. And finally, can principles of synergy, discussed in the book in regard to valuable resources such as healing, knowledge, and empowerment, also be applied to valuable “material” resources, such as food, water, and shelter? Though this remains a most difficult challenge, there are already successful efforts toward making material resources expanding and renewable, such as micro-financing projects. And as Indigenous peoples teach, there are spiritual connections between all things, so that distinctions made between material, social, and psychological realms need not be so radical. The existence of synergy in psychological and social areas, with an influence on public policy, could affect the possible emergence of synergy in more materialistic areas.

Synergy, Healing, and Empowerment seeks to employ a realistic perspective, avoiding any romanticizing or essentializing. As many examples of synergy come from non-Western settings, it would be facile to portray these settings in idealistic terms; and Western settings, which very often do not support synergy, in negative terms. We will look at the costs and benefits of both non-Western and Western settings, the ways in which both settings can either support or discourage synergy. As well, alongside examples of synergy and healing from non-Western settings, the book offers examples from Western settings—for example, a women's health collective, self-help groups, counsellor training programs, and community development projects. Finally, when examples of synergy are described, including the Ju/'hoan approach to healing, they are offered not as cases of pure synergy, but as illustrations of its practical existence.

Synergy, Healing, and Empowerment looks to a variety of cultures for ideas and practices. In the spirit of synergy, the book seeks to create a new and more respectful whole from richly diverse parts, whose unique contributions remain valued and cultivated. Guided by the potential of synergy, we seek to develop a way of thinking and acting in the areas of counselling, education, and community development that is liberating and fulfilling for all people.

Table of Contents

Section I: Synergy, Healing, and Empowerment: Starting Points
1. Synergy and empowerment: Renewing and expanding the community's healing resources, Richard Katz
2. Synergy and healing: A perspective on Western health care, Richard Katz and Niti Seth
Section II: Synergistic Identities
3. Balancing world views and identities in becoming a culturally divewse counsellor, Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu
4. Feminism is for everybody: Aboriginal Women, feminism, and diversity, Verna St. Denis
5. Teacher as healer: Expanding educational resources, Richard Katz and Verna St. Denis
Section III: Education as Transformation: A Pathway toward Synergy
6. Education as transformation: An approach to training healers, Richard Katz
7. The experience of vulnerability: A key to the education of health professionals, Richard Katz and Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu
8. A narrative approach to transformational education: Cultural training for health care providers, Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu
9. Training culturally sensitive counsellors: A case study of the Masters of Aboriginal Social Work (MASW) program, Richard Katz, Danny Musqua, and Tania Lafontaine
Section IV: Synergistic Community
10. Breaking psychology's stranglehold over therapeutic services to Indigenous peoples: Developing pathways toward collaboration, Richard Katz
11. The contribution of synergy to the experience of empowerment, Peter Cornish
12. Women's talk (baira ni vato): A community-based Gujarati village structure for empowering communications, Niti Seth
13. Will there always be enough? Self-help groups as a renewable healing resource, Richard Katz and Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu

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Synergy, Healing and Empowerment: Insights from Cultural Diversity 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
agingprophet More than 1 year ago
Richard Katz and Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu have written a wonderful book about the presence of synergistic healing networks in Indigenous communities. The authors have spent years working closely with native peoples to learn about the various ways they approach matters of health and healing to produce a practical, accessible and life-changing manual that is a “must read” for anyone interested in emerging systems of public health. By juxtaposing synergistic, Indigenous models of healing with those of scarcity and competition that have been institutionalized in modern societies, Katz and Murphy-Shigematsu have substantively and beautifully challenged  the “zero sum” game of modern medicine that has individuated and monetized health and healing networks to the point of near collapse. Drawing on insights from counseling, educational theory, ecopsychology, community health and development, and narrative medicine, the authors reveal how modern societies can reorient health systems along synergistic lines to increase access and opportunity to healing and empowerment, and to create sustainable healing networks that only strengthen as they are used. Compassionate, insightful and timely,  “Synergy, Healing and Empowerment” illustrates with loving detail how healing is a shared, dialectical exercise in communal responsibility and Gaian interconnectivity. It is a book I will return to regularly for guidance and  transformative knowledge. The authors have reminded us of the ancient, intuitive wisdom that our Indigenous brothers and sisters have never forgotten: namely, that our health and personal freedom are rooted in the negotiation of collective identity and a shared story of regenerative power, healing and light.