African American Males and Issues of Fatherhood: An Examination of the Sweat Lodge as a Psychosocial and Spiritual Intervention

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Darr, Jay E.
African American; Sweat Lodge; Spiritual; Therapy
article description
The emasculation of African American men is illustrated by disparities in the criminal justice system, education, employment, income, and health care, which has an impact on an African American man's ability to be a father. Researchers, policy-makers, and practitioners have struggled with establishing sustainable programs that address the complex issues that face African American men, especially when they have children (Martinson & Nightingale 2008). The emergence of the Sweat Lodge as an intervention for Native Americans has had some promising results (Cohen, 2003; Edwards, 2003, Noe, Fleming & Manson 2003; Smith, 2005). However, there is limited research on the Sweat Lodge for non-native populations, specifically, African American men. This phenomenon was investigated through the lens of 18 African American males in order to gain greater understanding of how participation in the Sweat Lodge has shaped their development as men and fathers.The primary philosophies that framed this study were the African-centered paradigm (Akbar, 1995, 1998; Asante, 1990, Karanga, 1993; Nobbles & Goddard, 1993); Ryan and Deci's (2006) theory of self-determination theory; Brofenbrenner's (1979, 2004) bio-ecological model of human development, and Generative-fathering (Erikson, 1982; Snarey, 1993). Data were derived from a demographic survey, co-researches' responses to semi-structured focus group and individual interview guides, and the researcher's personal observations and interactions. Seven over arching themes organize meaning and create knowledge of the lived experience of African American males who participated in the Sweat Lodge: initial reactions; changing of worldviews; self reflection; process of confirmation, application, healing and wellbeing; and knowledge and respect for nature.The findings illuminated key indicators of the lived experience for African American males: acknowledging other perspectives, considering alternative information and making a choice to participate in the Sweat Lodge. African American men were able to redefine themselves and were better equipped to engage in productive and rewarding relationships with their children and significant others as a result of Sweat Lodge participation. Finally, the results provided significant evidence that spirit, universal and inclusive, is central to the Sweat Lodge functioning as a psychosocial and spiritual intervention. In light of these findings, researchers, policy-makers and practitioners can create sustainable programs that truly address the needs of African American men.