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Dr. Gyda Swaney receives Montana Psychologist award

By Lailani Upham
Char-Koosta News

Dr. Gyda Swaney earned the Charles E. Kelly Memorial Award (file photo). Dr. Gyda Swaney earned the Charles E. Kelly Memorial Award (file photo).

MISSOULA — With a prestigious award from the Montana Psychological Association, Dr. Gyda Swaney loves that her decades of work as researcher and educator in Indigenous psychology has been “under the radar.”

After 18 years of serving at the University of Montana’s Psychology Department as an associate professor, Dr. Swaney said her interpretation of a psychologist is a “quiet field.”

“We get to empower people. There is no attention to us,” she said. “We fly under the radar and get to be a cheerleader for people for their strengths and growth. It is the clients who succeed.”

However, it is the moment for Dr. Swaney to fly in the radar according to Montana Psychologist Association president, Dr. Duncan G. Campbell.

“Dr. Gyda Swaney is a remarkable person and a dear colleague and as an educator, she has touched countless lives and inspired so many more,” Campbell said, adding that in concert with collaborators in research, students, friends and family, Dr. Swaney has made Montana a better place. “Her advocacy and service have elevated the Montana Psychological Association and helped us enact our mission.”

Campbell said MPA holds a debt of gratitude to Swaney and was delighted to announce her to the organization’s highest honor this summer with the Charles E. Kelly Memorial Award.

“I think it is so generous and kind to have been given this award,” Swaney said. “It feels good.”

“She is an extraordinary woman with unique ambition,” said her early years colleague, Kim Azure. Azure and Swaney go way back, the two worked together at the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Health and Human Services Mental Health Division beginning in the late 1970s. Azure described Swaney as “absolutely brilliant, well-rounded, and connected.” “In the early years and throughout, she spent a lot of time with elders, blending western medicine into the Native culture,” Azure sad. “And it worked.”

 “Dr. Swaney’s Curriculum Vitae tells the story of a continuously productive research program,” Campbell said. “Spanning the years, she has contributed to the knowledge base regarding cultural issues in psychological assessment, coping strategies and resilience in Native elders, trauma and traumatic grief, and health psychology.”

According to MPA, Dr. Swaney worked with an array of investigators and secured nearly a half a million dollars in research funding.

Dr. Swaney said her passion from the beginning has always been to address the difference in the worldview of the Native perspective and culture from the western thought worldview.

“Many psychologists see Native people with a high rate of addictions and violence and needing help,” Swaney said. She agreed Native people need help with the issues that arose out of historical trauma, but she believes focusing and bringing out the high rate of resilience and perseverance in Native peoples recovery is key. “Working with the strengths and empowering Native people is critically important as a psychologist.”

Dr. Swaney grew up in the Flathead Reservation community of Hot Springs and completed double majors in psychology and sociology as an undergraduate at The University of Montana. She returned to UM for graduate school, earning her doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology after completing a pre-doctoral internship at Boston City Hospital and Boston University School of Medicine. Between her degrees, Swaney worked as the CSKT THHS Mental Health Clinical director. After a number of years with THHS Mental Health program Swaney went on to join UM’s Psychology Faculty in 2000, where she is currently an associate professor.

“I thought there was no better place (UM) for her; allowing her a chance to recruit Native students” Azure said. “She motivates everyone to be a better person.”

According to MPA, Dr. Swaney supported the graduate level training and education of Native American clinical psychologists through the Indians into Psychology (InPsych) Program at UM. She has led the InPsych program for 17 years, one of three such programs in the nation.

Campbell praised Swaney stating, “Under her leadership the program secured funding from the federal government to support Native students’ education and training. Since 2000, this funding has amounted to nearly $4 million. During the same time period, Dr. Swaney also championed the Mental Health Career Opportunity Program (MHCOP). MHCOP, funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration, was instrumental in building education pathways from Montana’s reservation high schools to the tribal colleges and, ultimately, to UM.”

MPA also recognizes Dr. Swaney’s efforts in all Montana tribal colleges development of psychology programs that facilitate students’ transfer to undergraduate psychology majors. In addition, Salish Kootenai College now has its own BA program in psychology, thanks largely to the support MHCOP.

Campbell said Dr. Swaney has educated countless undergraduate students at UM on top of scores of graduate students and many colleagues. Her undergraduate classroom-based teaching work over the years included Multicultural Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, and Intergroup Dialogues; and at the graduate level she taught Multicultural Psychology, Ethics and Professional Issues, and she supervised graduate students’ clinical skills development in Applied Clinical Methods.

University of Montana, Department of Psychology, Clinical Psychology Program Native American PhDs -- GRADUATES
1. Billie Jo Kipp, PhD (Blackfeet), President, Blackfeet Community College, Browning, MT
2. Darren Calhoun, PhD (Wind River: Shoshone/Arapahoe), Diabetes Prevention/Behavioral Health, Indian Health Service, Phoenix, AZ
3. Jera Stewart, PhD (Flathead), Director, Behavioral Health Program, CSKT Tribal Health Department
4. Annie Belcourt, PhD (Blackfeet), Associate Professor, Community & Public Health Department, University of Montana, Missoula, MT
5. Michael Trahan, PhD (Flathead), YouthWorks, Bismarck, ND
6. Aaron Morsette, PhD (Rocky Boy: Chippewa Cree), Alter-Care, Rocky Boy Schools, Box Elder, MT
7. Stacy Miller, PhD (Mohican: Stockbridge-Munsee), Indian Health Service, Alberquerqee, NM
8. William “Will” Shunkamolah, PhD (Osage/Kiowa/Navajo), Acting Clinical Director, Behavior Heath, Indian Health Services – Gallup, NM, 1 of “40 under 40” in Indian Country (see Indian Country Today)
9. Jennie Fretts, PhD (Mi’kmaq: Eel Ground Band -- First Nations), Post-doc (Health Psychology and Integrated Primary Care), Northport VA Hospital, Northport, NY

University of Montana, Department of Psychology, Clinical Psychology Program
Native American PhDs -- CURRENT STUDENTS

10. Ann Douglas, MA (Blackfeet), Pre-doc Internship: Counseling Center, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT
11. Ciara Hansen, MA (Shawnee/Cherokee), Pre-doc Internship: Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, Waianae, HI
12. Georgie Ferguson, MA (Pointe au Chien), Pre-doc Internship: Alexandria VA Health Care System, Pineville, LA
13.  Ennis Vaile, MA (Blackfeet), Behavioral Health Program, CSKT Tribal Health Department, St Ignatiius, MT
14. Matthew Croxton, MA (Navajo), Behavioral Health Program, CSKT Tribal Health Department, St Ignatiius, MT
15. Desiree Pierre-Fox, MA (Flathead), Tribal Defenders Office, CSKT, Pablo, MT
16. Kristen Pyke (Mohawk: Akwesasne), InPsych Scholar, Indians Into Psychology Program

“Her work outside the classroom has been equally impressive, as she mentored or chaired/co-chaired dissertations for ten doctoral students. To date she has chaired more than a dozen Masters and Honor’s thesis projects for graduate and undergraduate students. On more than ten occasions programs at the University of Montana, including the Office of Student Affairs, The McNair Scholars Program, and Bridges to the Baccalaureate, recognized Dr. Swaney’s mentorship with formal awards and certificates of appreciation,” Campbell said. “Dr. Swaney is generous with her time and expertise, donating both to tireless advocacy and public service.”

Dr. Swaney currently serves as the Montana representative to the APA’s Council, where she represents the state’s interests and chairs the elections committee for the Ethnic Minority Issues Caucus; and served on the MPA’s Board of Directors for over a decade as an academic/scientific officer and Diversity Coordinator.

“Dr. Swaney’s contributions to the community are staggering in extent and scope,” Campbell said. “Between other numerous and diverse service activities, she has occupied board seats for Missoula’s YWCA, the Partnership for Children, and Nkwusm, the Salish Language Institute. I could go on and on. Trust me.”

The list does go on; and will continue to go on as Dr. Swaney continues to soar under the radar, even at retirement. Her plans are to retire next summer in 2018; and at this time she doesn’t know what lies ahead, but what she does know she appreciates the opportunity from The University of Montana for allowing her the chance to cheerlead more Indigenous psychology scholars and researchers from the program in the past two decades.

However, “It’s time to move on,” she said. “There are so many talented young people, and I am eager to pass on the baton.”

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