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UBC Theses and Dissertations

An experiment in therapeutic planning : learning with the Gwa'sala-'Nakwaxda'xw First Nations Erfan, Aftab


Many of the communities in which planners work are characterized by deeply rooted conflict and collective trauma, a legacy of various forms of injustice, including some that have been enabled by the planning profession itself. In this context, can planning play a healing or therapeutic role, without recreating or perpetuating the cycles of oppression? This dissertation reflects on my community-based action research on Tsulquate, a small First Nations reserve on Vancouver Island, where the Gwa’sala and ‘Nakwaxda’xw people have lived since relocation in 1964. Between 2009 and 2012, and particularly over a year of intensive fieldwork, I engaged in this community to assist in the ambitious task of addressing intergenerational trauma, the importance of which was expressed within the Band’s newly created Comprehensive Community Plan. Written as mixed-genre creative analytic process (CAP) ethnography, the dissertation tells the stories of my engagement, and in particular of a series of public, intergenerational workshops I facilitated using a methodology called Deep Democracy. I document evidence of modest but promising patterns of individual and collective ‘healing’ and ‘transformation’ in the course of the workshops, and evaluate the effectiveness of my tools and approaches using first person (reflective), second person (interpersonal), and third person (informant-based) sources of information. I argue in favour of a role for a therapeutic orientation in planning, suggesting that planning is in fact particularly well-suited to a therapeutic task given its collaborative-community focus, its ability to connect the past to the future, its practical orientation, and its relative lack of ‘baggage’ compared with the other helping professions. The ability to play a therapeutic or healing role is contingent, however, not only on planners learning new skills, but also on developing a set of ‘metaskills’ or personal attitudes –compassion, playfulness and beginner’s mind – that are essential for effective and ethical involvement in such sensitive settings. I argue that reflective practice is key to the making of therapeutic planners, and outline a developmental path based on a combination of personal and assisted reflective practice: journaling, meditation, artistic practice, peer coaching, and supervision.

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