Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD

By David R. Kopacz, MD & Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow)
Pointer Oak & Millichap Books
ISBN 978-1-937462-32-1

David Kopacz, author of the book, Re-humanizing Medicine: A Holistic Framework for Transforming Your Self, Your Practice, and the Culture of Medicine, defines a holistic approach to healthcare means taking into account all human dimensions that influence health and illness.

These include not just the physical, but also the emotional, relational, mental, creative and spiritual dimensions of the person.

“To be holistic is the opposite of being reductionist. In addition to focussing on the physical body, we also are heart-centred, bringing caring and compassion to our work,” Dr Kopacz says.

Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD has been translated into Vietnamese as: Bánh Xe Y Học: Hành Trình through Tinh Hoa Books.

Visit the Walking the Medicine Wheel website.

Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) & David Kopacz. Photo: Karen Kopacz

Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) & David Kopacz. Photo: Karen Kopacz

David R. Kopacz, MD is a psychiatrist at Seattle VA in primary care mental health integration. He is also board certified in holistic & integrative medicine and is an acting assistant professor at the University of Washington. David has worked in many different practice settings, including VA, holistic private practice, and as clinical director at Buchanan Rehabilitation Centre in Auckland, New Zealand. He is the author of Re-humanizing Medicine: A Holistic Framework for Transforming Your Self, Your Practice, and the Culture of Medicine. He has been working to develop holistic approaches to help Veterans return home and to take charge of their own well-being through classes using a patient-centered, whole health model and adapting Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey as a framework for helping veterans transition home.
Joseph Rael, whose Tiwa name is Tsluu-teh-koh-ay, Beautiful Painted Arrow, is a visionary healer. He brings together in his person the Ute tribe (through his mother) and Picuris Pueblo tribe (through his father) and is a citizen of the United States. He is the author of many books, including Sound, Being & Vibration and Ceremonies of the Living Spirit. He is a graduate of the University of New Mexico and holds a Master’s degree in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin. He has worked to create holistic health care using Native American traditions to help those suffering with addictions. He has been recognized by the United Nations for his work creating Peace Chambers on four continents.

Walking the Medicine Wheel Video

David and Joseph share stories and discuss key artworks within their book that explain healing concepts and highlight personal history. (Length: 10:20)

Table of Contents

X: list of Ceremonies 
XI: Abbreviations 
XII: Foreword 
XV: Acknowledgements 
XIX: Orientation 
XXV: Introduction

Part I: War, Trauma, and PTSD
1 / War
2 / Dimensions of Trauma & PTSD
3 / Innovations In Treating Trauma & PTSD 
4 / Joseph Rael’s View of Trauma & PTSD

Part II: Healing Trauma & PTSD With the Medicine Wheel
5 / The Healing Circle of the Medicine Wheel
6 / The Wheel of Life Creation
7/ Medicine Wheel & Wheel of Life Creation Exercises

Part III: Returning Home to Peace
11 / Coming Home to Peace
12 / Ceremony
13 / Community and Caregiving
14 / Return to the Held-Back Place of Goodness

The Native American Context of the Book 

List of Ceremonies
Nah Meh Neh
Wheel of Life Creation Exercise for Veterans
Life Cycle Visualization
Wheels Within Wheels
Finding Joy In Pain
Getting In Touch With Pain and Suffering
Healing Soldier’s Heart
Giving & Receiving
Drinking Light
Facing Fear/Darkness
Sounding Out the Medicine Wheel
Sitting In the Circle
Chanting the Medicine Wheel
Painting the Medicine Wheel
Four Healing Ceremonies: Chanting, Painting, Journaling, Dancing
Seeing Ordinary & Non-Ordinary Reality
Working With Insomnia
Burying Weapons
Seeking the Heaart
Coming Home


This work of art by Kopacz & Rael is insightful, provocative, challenging, and inspirational. It is a must read for all who need healing, no matter what the nature of their need.

Chief Roy I. Rochon Wilson, Cowlitz Tribe 
Author of Medicine Wheels: Ancient Teaching for Modern Times and The Medicine Wheel Workbook

Best book available for real PTSD healing! PTSD is attacked and defeated by using old wisdom and new mythologies together. Reading this book will give the veterans, their families, and those who treat them a new tool for healing. Old wisdom made new for today’s warriors! 

William “Rev. Bill” McDonald Jr.

Vietnam Veteran, Minister, Founder of The Military Writers Society of America 
Author of Warrior a Spiritual Odyssey and Alchemy of a Warrior’s Heart

This important book helped me to not only better listen, but also to better see, feel, and understand those with PTSD and my role in helping them move along their path towards transformation and recovery. I highly recommend this thoughtful book to anyone struggling with PTSD or interested in helping those with PTSD.

Bradford Felker MD

Director Tele-Mental Health Service VA Puget Sound
Professor University of Washington Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science
Captain United States Navy Reserve, Operation Iraqi Freedom Veteran

To look for healing using the medicine wheel for modern day illness, the authors used a diverse group of visionaries in the book, while maintaining the sacredness of the medicine wheel as the focus in dealing with PTSD and Trauma issues. The incessant aspiration of visionaries such as Beautiful Painted Arrow, and Dr. Kopacz to cultivate this into a healing pathway is to be honored. 

Michael Aubrey/Lee

Ceremonial Elder American Lake VA Hospital Sweat Lodge
Blackfeet Nation, root tiospeye Thunder Elk Valley-Lakota Nation

This is a particularly wise book! Here a skilled psychiatrist, David Kopacz, contemplates the experience of Joseph Rael, a Native American, and discovers crucial insights about how war veterans may regain inner peace. Joseph reminds us of two fundamental truths: mental, physical, and social health are profoundly interrelated; the passage from one culture to another calls for a ritual process of initiation in which each person works through their suffering in a transformative way. Veterans have interiorised a culture of war; on return they are challenged to undergo an initiation into a culture of peace. Initiation is a tough process of letting go the powerful pull of one culture in order to be open to another. Comrades, families, and specialists can assist, but the process can only be productive to the degree that each veteran owns their suffering in order to re-own their inner goodness and dignity. This is a ‘must read’ book because its insights are applicable to every person’s journey in life.

Gerald A. Arbuckle, Ph.D. 

Anthropologist and Author: Humanizing Healthcare Reforms

This book brings to mind the scripture from Joel 2:28 (ISV): “Then it will come about at a later time that I will pour out my Spirit on every person. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy. Your elderly people will dream dreams and your young people will see visions.”

It is a book of hope, written from the binocular perspectives of two visionary Medicine men from different cultural heritages. It reads almost like a ballad, with themes and stories, like choruses, repeatedly presented, emphasising the circular nature of the lived experience of recovery from PTSD and trauma, as the authors creatively describe. As we read, we imaginatively walk the visionary Medicine Wheel and explore the circular Hero's Journey of transformation and healing. We find new possibilities and gifts as the losses endured in the experience of learning to wage war transform into the boon of learning to wage peace. In publishing this book, may the authors' vision of peace, spiritual unity and healing be richly fulfilled, particularly for the men and women veterans who have given, and lost, so much.

Dr. Patte Randal

Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians (LRCP)
Membership of the Royal College of Surgeons (MRCS), DPhil
Co-editor and co-author of Experiencing Psychosis: Personal and Professional Perspectives

I commend Dave Kopacz and Joseph Rael for their work on Walking the Medicine Wheel. I feel, as do many others, that American Indian spirituality is the key to establishing peace in the world. It all starts with the individual and builds up into a collective consciousness that guides us into a balance of nature. To do this everyone has to recognize that we are all part of a nature that is so intimately interconnected that for the whole to be balanced each part has to be balanced.

Each individual has to recognize he is a spirit residing in a space vehicle called a human body. My Dad, Moses, said the Salish word for this is “Sqool-lel” which means going into goodness. We have many tools for doing this such as sweat houses, winter dances and ceremonial smokes using cedar. We recognize green as the healing color because it is at the center of the color frequency spectrum. Science is beginning to validate these beliefs.

Astronaut Edgar Mitchel formed the Institute of Noetic Sciences in 1973 after experiencing a sense of universal connectedness in 1971 on the return trip of Apollo 14 from the moon. In his words, “I realize that the story of ourselves as told by science, our cosmology, our religion – was incomplete and likely flawed. I recognized that the Newtonian idea of separate, independent, discreet things in the universe wasn’t a fully accurate description. What was needed was a new story of who we are and what we are capable of becoming.”

The vision of his institute is in part “We encourage open-minded explorations of consciousness through the meeting of science and spirit.”

More recently “The Consciousness Project” was started by Deepak Chopra M.D. on July 3, 2013. In his LinkedIn website “Cracking the Cosmic Code” he said we are faced with economic upheaval and wars that are due to the collective mind of our world. We believe this can only be solved by understanding consciousness. To do this science needs to expand their role to include views of philosophy, religion and quantum physics. We look at the natural world through consciousness based eyes placing the mind first and matter second which is just the opposite of today’s science.

American Indian spirituality is hidden in such places as the 10,000 year old petroglyphs on the Columbia River. A halo-type aura is drawn on the rocks to demonstrate how humans are luminous beings tied to the sun. In addition, the concentric circles are spirals viewed from the top. Spirals are the tie to all nature as shown in sunflowers, nautilus sea shells, hurricanes and galaxies. These petroglyphs were formed by Indians meditating to achieve an altered state of consciousness and became aware of the transition from the physical world to the spiritual.

David, I thank you for the opportunity to participate in your project. We both are trying to turn a big ship. We need to get more people thinking the same way to get a critical mass that will be effective. I hope your project is successful.

Wendell George
Former member of the Colville Confederated Tribes Business Council
Author of Coyote Finishes the People and Go-La'-Ka Wa-Wal-Sh (Raven Speaks)

Walking the Medicine Wheel is a truly remarkable read — a hero’s journey into the soul that leads to a greater understanding of the living journey that we all undertake during our incarnation on earth. Dave and Joseph have eloquently, set out a map, with a series of collaborative tools that helps us along the way. I can recommend that the wisdom, compassion, and empathy shared across these pages is helpful, hopeful and has applicability for all of us taking part in living – indeed, if we feel that we have stepped to the sidewalks of life, and are looking for something to help us re-engage with living then this is a helpful roadmap that can get us back on the path of wellness, to being a truly whole human being.

Dr. Gary Orr MB BS, MSc. DIC, MRCPsych. 
Lifestyle Designer and Psychiatrist (London, Melbourne, Wellington)

Dr. Kopacz, a naturally inclined psychiatrist working with veterans from all wars, has teamed with one of my favorite teachers, Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow), to author this profound look at not only coping with PTSD, but also showing a healing path for those dealing with post-war/combat trauma. The long road home after conflict may last for a veteran’s lifetime, however the spiritual path found by walking and living within the medicine wheel can have a profound effect for a healing experience. Mainstream psychotherapy deals primarily with the emotional mind when regarding PTSD with little regard for the patient’s identity or spirit estrangement during war. Veterans often relay that, “something is missing,” but can’t put their finger on what that is or even what it means. In ancient times, American Indians had a protocol for warrior hood and it wasn’t just about going to war, but what the brave did post-war to heal, as well. This book recaptures some of this disregarded wisdom for the modern veteran’s path to recreating an identity and spiritual grounding necessary for homecoming.

John Wesley Fisher, DC

Vietnam veteran, Director—CORE (Community Reconciliation) Viet Nam
Author—Angels in Vietnam, Not Welcome Home, The War After the War, and With the Flip of a Coin