Navigating Thanksgiving: Culturally Inclusive Strategies for Therapists to Support Clients

Approaching the Thanksgiving holiday, therapists are poised to offer support to a diverse clientele. It’s crucial to recognize that Thanksgiving can be a triggering time, particularly for individuals from Indigenous […]


Approaching the Thanksgiving holiday, therapists are poised to offer support to a diverse clientele. It’s crucial to recognize that Thanksgiving can be a triggering time, particularly for individuals from Indigenous cultures who have experienced historical trauma and the impact of colonization. This article aims to provide culturally inclusive, empirically proven strategies for therapists to guide their clients through potential challenges, acknowledging the sensitivity surrounding this holiday.

  1. Acknowledging Historical Trauma: For clients from Indigenous backgrounds, Thanksgiving may bring up historical trauma associated with colonization. Therapists should create a safe space for clients to express their feelings, validating their experiences and acknowledging the complexity of emotions tied to this holiday.
  2. Cultural Sensitivity and Awareness: Therapists can enhance their cultural competence by staying informed about the historical context of Thanksgiving and its implications for Indigenous communities. This awareness fosters a more empathetic therapeutic relationship, allowing therapists to navigate discussions with sensitivity.
  3. Cultivating Resilience through Cultural Practices: Encourage clients to engage in culturally significant practices that promote resilience. This could include reconnecting with traditional rituals, participating in community events, or exploring activities that celebrate their cultural identity.
  4. Creating a Safe Space for Dialogue: Initiate open conversations about the challenges clients may face during the holiday season. Discussing cultural and historical aspects allows therapists to tailor their support, helping clients process emotions related to Thanksgiving.
  5. Validating Grief and Emotions: Begin by validating the client’s grief and acknowledging the spectrum of emotions they may experience during Thanksgiving. Creating a safe space for clients to express their feelings is foundational to the therapeutic process or helping clients develop coping strategies around grief. This may include establishing rituals to honor the memory of a loved one, creating a gratitude journal, or engaging in activities that bring solace.
  6. Coping with Family Dynamics: Family gatherings can bring both joy and tension. Therapists can guide clients in setting realistic expectations, establishing healthy boundaries, and developing effective communication skills to navigate family dynamics. Encouraging open dialogues about expectations and concerns can contribute to smoother interactions.
  7. Gratitude Practices: Thanksgiving revolves around gratitude, and therapists can introduce evidence-based gratitude exercises. Research suggests that regularly practicing gratitude can improve mental well-being. Therapists may guide clients in keeping a gratitude journal, focusing on positive aspects of their lives to counterbalance stressors.
  8. Mindfulness and Cultural Healing: Incorporate mindfulness techniques that align with Indigenous cultural practices. This may involve grounding exercises rooted in nature, incorporating traditional meditation, or utilizing rituals that promote a sense of connection to heritage.
  9. Managing Food-Related Concerns: Thanksgiving often revolves around food, and clients with eating-related concerns may find this challenging. Therapists can assist clients in developing coping strategies, fostering a healthy relationship with food, and establishing a balanced approach to holiday meals.
  10. Managing Alcohol-Related Concerns: Thanksgiving may also revolves around drinking, and clients with alcohol use concerns may find this challenging and may lead to relapse in substance use. Therapists can assist clients in developing coping strategies, such as developing a relapse prevention plan, establishing clear boundaries regarding alcohol consumption, engaging in alternative activities that do not involve alcohol, utilizing support systems like AA sponsors, or preparing a responses to peer pressure.
  11. Educational Resources: Provide clients with educational resources that validate their experiences and offer historical context. Understanding the roots of Thanksgiving allows clients to navigate the holiday with a more informed perspective, empowering them to make choices aligned with their values.
  12. Supporting Activism and Advocacy: Some clients may find empowerment in engaging with activism or advocacy work related to Indigenous rights during the Thanksgiving season. Therapists can guide clients in finding constructive ways to channel their energy into initiatives that align with their values.
  13. Culturally Inclusive Self-Care Practices: Assist clients in developing self-care practices that honor their cultural background. This may involve integrating traditional healing methods, engaging in cultural activities, or seeking support from within their community.
  14. Setting Realistic Expectations: The pressure to create a perfect holiday experience can be overwhelming. Therapists should work with clients to set realistic expectations, emphasizing the importance of self-care and the acceptance of imperfections. Encouraging clients to prioritize their well-being can lead to a more fulfilling holiday experience.
  15. Establishing a Support System: The holiday season can be lonely for some. Therapists can help clients identify and strengthen their support systems. This may involve reaching out to friends, joining community events, or engaging in activities that foster a sense of connection and belonging.

As therapists within Sana Network, the commitment to inclusivity is paramount, especially during sensitive periods such as Thanksgiving. By incorporating these culturally inclusive strategies, therapists can provide support that respects the diverse experiences of their clients, fostering healing, resilience, and a sense of cultural identity. It’s an opportunity to acknowledge the complexities surrounding Thanksgiving and work collaboratively towards promoting emotional well-being in a culturally sensitive manner.

Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

Written by ChatGPT & Reviewed by Clinical Psychologist: Yoendry Torres, Psy.D.