The home of the Sacred Circles Center in Whittier is a small white building with a blue border. The building doesn’t have a sign on the front, but co-founder Jerry Tello says, “The people who need to be here will be here.”
The center was created to be a place for people to come together and heal through presentations by indigenous elders, culturally based healing and meditation circles, life coaching and family counseling.
The intimate space hasn’t been used since the pandemic began, but that hasn’t stopped Tello and co-founder Susanna Armijo from continuing their mission of helping their community virtually and hosting sessions via Zoom.
It’s a calling that runs in Tello’s family, which has Mexican, Coahuiltec, and Texas roots.
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Tello, 70, grew up in Compton and remembers his mother and grandmother helping their neighbors and friends sobadas (Indigenous massage) or traditional herbal remedies. He also remembers his mother telling him not to talk to teachers about their healing work because it was not considered part of Western medicine.
This act of wanting to help others but facing the limitations of what is acceptable medical and mental health practices was a turning point in Tello’s adult ministry.
He went to Cal State Dominguez Hills, earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology and worked at community mental health clinics, including the now-defunct El Centro Mental Health. While he was able to help people, he felt that following the assessment and diagnostic protocol was not enough to meet the needs of his community.
Tello and other therapists and community health practitioners, including a psychiatrist, began meeting to explore traditional Indigenous methods of supporting the Chicano and Latino communities. the group called itself Calmecac.
“We began to investigate that in our own culture we had volumes written about healing, constructs, methods, philosophies, remedies and traditions that we were unaware of that our grandmothers used but which were not authenticated,” he said he.
This research, his college background, clinical work, and experience with the Chicano and civil rights movements in Los Angeles pushed him to “explore effective avenues [for] really heal, not just treat, not just intervene, not just medicate and diagnose, but really heal our people.”
In 1988, Tello was part of a group of 90 men who came together to found the National Compadres Network – and its sister organization, the National Comadres Network. Her goal was to empower and reroot individuals, families, and communities to honor, balance, and re-develop the authentic tradition and Indigenous practices of Chicano, Latino, Native American, and other communities of color by merging these cultural practices with Western Integrate mental health practices.
Since the organization’s inception, Tello has delivered keynote speeches, received awards (including the 2015 White House Champions of Change Award), written children’s books, and authored the book Recovering Your Sacredness, a guide to accepting traditions and wisdom found in many cultures are to be found – which can help people return to their “sacred purpose”. “
He sees himself as a naturopath, but the community has given Tello the title of “el maestro” (the teacher).
Inside the dimly lit Sacred Circles Center, surrounded by drums used in healing circles, Tello sat down with The Times to discuss the place traditional Indigenous healing practices play in the mental health field.
This interview has been edited and shortened for clarity.
When it comes to mental health, what does “heal the whole person” mean?
There is a word in my indigenous Nahuatl language, Tloque Nahuaque,
which, loosely translated, means interconnected holiness. In Indigenous thought, our sense of wholeness or well-being is a sense that we are physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually balanced and harmoniously connected with ourselves and all of our relationships.
Basically, Western society only looks at the physical aspects of a person, which can manifest mentally with certain symptoms. Your job is to address the symptoms—remove the pain or discomfort.
In our traditional way [healing practitioners] Do not separate the physical from the emotional, mental and spiritual. It’s all connected. So, from a healer’s perspective, we begin to look at all of the relationships and influences in your life… It may not just be in your present life, but the spirit of what you take with you from your life journey… what we consider today denote generational trauma. And from the spiritual we talk about your purpose in life – how valuable do you feel as a man, woman or teenager? what is your role
Western society and its practitioners categorize people [so] They can establish a treatment plan to deal with the symptoms, which when added to the racial inequities of the system can cause other problems. Not that western health or mental health isn’t necessary [sometimes]but it focuses more on treatment than cure.
From an indigenous perspective, everything is a teacher, a spirit if you will. So we ask [about] what the “so-called” depression or anxiety tells us and where it comes from. From an indigenous perspective, these “spirits” can attach themselves to you and become that overwhelming feeling. It can also be due to the “times” of bad energy someone has [has] projected onto you and things people have said about you that you believe in.
This may seem strange or mystical, but we have all been in a good mood, walked into someone’s office in a bad mood, and then walked out feeling agitated… It may be necessary to a limpia – Purification or clearing of those troublesome thoughts or energies.
Humans have the ability to heal and let go. Healers are here to help – help and support you in restoring your balance and reconnecting with the sacredness of who you are. But then it’s your job to maintain that. We can also ground you, bless you (remind you that you are a blessing) through rituals, sharing healing stories, using healing songs [and] chants and give you something consejos [counsel or advice] what herbs you can use and what practices you should incorporate into your life. then [we] Giving you the responsibility to stay on the healing path.
How do you apply your clinical background in your traditional healing work?
We have to realize that this society is sick. The pandemic has shown that. The racism, colonization, injustice and systemic inequalities that exist in communities create stress and trauma [and] Be scared and literally kill people. So while individual intervention and treatment are important, community and societal healing is essential.
This is the work we do in the National Compadres Network. We have a big initiative [connected with the Sacred Circles Center] called out the Healing Generations Institute to address the generational wounds that have been exacerbated by society among Black, Brown, Asian, Indigenous and other oppressed populations by uplifting and integrating the generational medicine, teachings and healers that our communities have.
What would you say to people who know they need mental health care but are afraid to use the system?
Many of our people don’t trust the western system – and with good reason. All sorts of horrific medical experiments have been performed on people of color [like] the harmful eugenics movement. Experimentation has been carried out on many indigenous peoples and people of color. There bodies [were] mutilated & [they were] Medications and treatments given….Later, [we] realize that there are serious long-term side effects.
Research will show you that black and brown boys are four to five times more likely to be treated for something called ADHD than white boys. Why is that? It’s been like this for generations and hopefully it will get better, but then the pandemic comes and the injustices show up again.
There are also drug companies that control what kind of drugs are out there and how much they charge, so we have capitalism that affects western health and mental health. So of course there is no trust – but I’m not saying there isn’t a place for it.
Western medicine and conventional mental health have their place, for emergencies and crisis situations. There are imbalances and diseases that are so pervasive that the symptoms interrupt the individual’s proper functioning and cause tremendous discomfort. You need [that] Medications or specific clinical interventions to treat the problems.
And there are certain people who carry very deep generational trauma [and] You may need to continue taking medication. But even then it is important to understand the role of community healers and indigenous practices and treatments, herbs, sobadas, LimpiasSweat Lodges and Healing Circles to continue the healing process.
How could our mental health system help more people?
Once you’ve diagnosed someone, it’s almost like putting a spell on them. [If someone says,] “[You have] attention deficit,” [you think]: “Oh, shoot, that’s me.” No, you’re not. This is your wound because you are much more than that. Western science will label people and categorize them based on their wound. in the [our] traditional We see medicine as a whole.
Maybe one of your wounds charge (your burden or what you carry) is alcohol. The alcohol can take over your spirit and us [as healers] understand that. Regarding alcohol… it’s no coincidence that they call alcohol a spirit. We know that the substance or spirit of alcohol changes you. And the more it becomes part of who you are and what you do, the more that “ghost” can begin to control you.
In the most serious cases, it is important to realize that… you have invited this spirit to take over your life. Many people have “lost touch” with who they really are, but even in these cases, for them to truly heal, we must “recall their souls” to the sanctity of who they really are while also acknowledging that Spirit of substance that challenges you every day.
Unfortunately, Western treatment reverses the order and makes the disease their identity, as if without the disease they were nothing. A central part of Indigenous thinking and healing is that the Creator and our ancestors are always present and our holiness is always within us, just waiting to be healed, blessed and freed to fulfill its sacred purpose.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-09-27/elder-jerry-tello-talks-about-integrating-traditional-healing-in-the-la-community-how-to-save-a-life ‘People have the ability to heal and to let go. Healers help you with that’