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Sweat lodges are important for patient recovery
Sweat lodge can play important role in journey to recovery for patients
Posted on 07/04/2024
building the sweat lodge at waypointExploring and honouring the connection between spirituality and mental health is the important task of Waypoint’s Spiritual Care Team.

The team is comprised of a group of Clinical Multi-Faith Chaplains and a Traditional Healer, all led by Director of Ethics and Spiritual Care Glenn Robitaille. They provide respectful guidance and active listening while facilitating opportunities for people of all faiths to observe their important celebrations.

On July 4, under the supervision of Traditional Healer Austin Mixemong, a new sweat lodge was constructed in the hospital’s Spiritual Care Courtyard, giving patients in the high-secure forensic programs access to a form of therapy based on the sacred values, beliefs and traditions of Indigenous peoples.

“The sweat lodge is an intense spiritual experience for First Nations and Métis peoples who have practised for thousands of years,” said Mixemong. “This sacred ceremony is holistic healing for people who want to start a new journey in their life.”

The sweat lodge is a small, rounded structure made of maple saplings covered by a tarp. Those who enter experience intense heat generated by steam created from pouring water onto heated rocks. This is meant to sweat away the toxins and negative energy that are said to create disorder and imbalance in life. The ceremony can fulfil multiple purposes, including cleansing, healing and coping with loss.
Respecting centuries-old traditions alongside western medical practices is a long-standing practice at Waypoint. In 2004, the hospital created a part-time position called Co-ordinator of Aboriginal and Spiritual Services. It eventually became a full-time job with the title Indigenous Healer, which was a first for a mental health hospital in Canada. In 2017, the first sweat lodge ceremony for a patient in a provincial mental health hospital occurred at Waypoint.

A patient does not have to have an Indigenous background in order to experience a sweat, but Mixemong said it is a privilege and an honour to participate. An offering of tobacco should be made to the sweat lodge conductor. During the ceremony, each person will be given a chance to offer prayers for loved ones.