Effective SEWB & Healing Programs
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples embrace a holistic concept of health, which links mental and physical health within a broader concept of SEWB. This concept recognises the interconnectedness of physical and mental health with spiritual and cultural factors and connection to the land, community and traditions as part of wellbeing.
The adverse and lasting impacts of colonisation has resulted in many people experiencing intergenerational trauma and social and economic disadvantage at individual, family and community levels. This can result in complex and interrelated issues and multiple stressors such as poor quality, overcrowded housing, poverty, trauma, abuse and loss placing unacceptable burden on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s lives that can challenge their mental and physical health and wellbeing.
The SEWB concept recognises the importance of connection to land, culture, spirituality, ancestry, family and community, and how these can affect individual people. SEWB issues can result from unresolved grief and loss, trauma and abuse, domestic violence, removal from family, substance misuse, family breakdown, cultural dislocation, racism and discrimination and social disadvantage. (Social Health Reference Group, 2004, p 9). Trauma, grief and loss as well as alcohol and substance use have been found to be key factors in suicide deaths.
The recent ATSISPEP Report (2016) findings confirm the need for:
Interventions focused on strengthening all domains of SEWB, including culturally based healing programs that connect people with cultural traditions
Early interventions to address alcohol and substance use
Prevention efforts that are evidence based, relevant and address the range of systemic issues that reduce people’s capacity to make positive choices to enhance their health, mental health and wellbeing
Greater focus on supporting and restoring protective factors, such as community connectedness, strengthening the individual and rebuilding family
Policy responses to promote SEWB need to be multidimensional and involve a wide range of stakeholders including families and communities, the health sector, housing, education, employment and economic development, family services, crime prevention and justice, and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS).
Strategies that build on the strengths, resilience and endurance within Indigenous communities and recognise the important historical and cultural diversity within communities are also recommended (SHRG, 2004).
7 SEWB & Healing Programs
Family Wellbeing Program (QLD)
Kalka Healing: Healing starts with you (NT)
National Empowerment Project (WA)
Red Dust Healing (NSW/QLD)
Telling Story (WA/NT)
The Healing Foundation (NSW)
Uti Kulintjaku Project (NT)
Family Wellbeing Program (National)
The Family Wellbeing Program aims to empower individuals, families and communities by developing analytical and problem-solving skills to address life’s challenges.
The Family Wellbeing Program: Empowerment Research
Phone: 03 8341 5555/Email: General enquiries – email@example.com
Research enquiries – firstname.lastname@example.org
The Family Wellbeing Program (FWP) is a Certificate II course, offered by trained facilitators, and which focuses on the empowerment and personal development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (hereon Aboriginal) people through the sharing of stories, discussing relationships and setting future goals. The survival experiences of course facilitators and participants are the program’s main learning resources. Workshops are held for both adults and children to highlight the various health and social wellbeing issues experienced by Aboriginal communities and the steps that can be implemented to deal with them.
The FWP takes a community development approach to address health and the social determinants impacting on health across the continuum of care and is a framework for social and emotional wellbeing (SEWB). Group processes play an important role in facilitating a safe and supportive learning environment in which participants feel comfortable to reflect and express feelings. The FWP articulates the human qualities necessary for leadership and healthy relationships such as vision, respect, empathy, and compassion. It advocates relationships that are based on wisdom, acceptance, freedom and honesty, and provides a safe forum for reflection and learning skills to achieve these personal qualities and relationships.
The FWP was initiated in South Australia in 1998 by a group of Aboriginal people affected by the Stolen Generations policies and practices. The Apunipima Cape York Health Council in Far North Queensland has modified the program to meet the specific needs of the local communities of Hopevale and Wujal Wujal. The FWP has also engaged in sustainability efforts by expanding the number of organisations that are certified to deliver this Certificate II program. In November 2014, the program extended to New South Wales after facilitators from the Griffith Aboriginal Medical Service were trained in its delivery. In 2016, the FWP was delivered in Mildura through the Mallee District Aboriginal Services whilst in 2017, the FWP was first offered in Western Australia (WA) at four locations (Perth, Roebourne, Geraldton and Bunbury) by the Aboriginal Health Council of WA. The program has also been successfully delivered in China where the founder ran workshops at the Shenyang University of Chemical Technology. Subsequently teachers there have engaged in teaching and researching in the area of family wellbeing1.
The Family Wellbeing Program seeks to:
- Engage and support individuals and groups in Aboriginal communities to take greater control and responsibility for their health and wellbeing
- Provide a safe and supportive learning environment and an opportunity for people to reflect on and share stories about important questions for life: Where am I going with my life? Who is benefiting and who is losing out? What can I do to change the situation? What would be the consequences?
- Foster the empowerment and personal development of Aboriginal people through discussing relationships, and identifying goals for the future
- Address the health and social issues experienced by Aboriginal communities and formulate steps that can be implemented
- Provide an ‘inside-out solution’ that builds on Aboriginal strengths
This comprehensive program facilitates empowerment at personal, family, group and community levels. It develops the ability to identify and address systemic level issues and thereby provides greater opportunities for participants and their communities to:
- Facilitate Aboriginal people’s empowerment and capacity to regain SEWB
- Rebuild the cultural and social norms of their families and community
- Address issues such as family violence and abuse, suicide and incarceration
- Take greater charge of issues affecting their health and wellbeing, give and demand more in their relationships, and participate more actively
- Analyse situations more carefully
- Improve skills to break new ground in areas such as values-based Aboriginal workforce development and organisational change
- Share stories and explore issues regarding contemporary Aboriginal spirituality
An extensive evaluation by the University of Queensland and James Cook University in 20062 demonstrated the effectiveness of the FWP empowerment approach as a tool for engaging participants on a wide range of issues affecting their health and wellbeing and those of their families.
Participants’ reported an enhanced sense of self-worth, resilience, problem-solving ability, and ability to address immediate family difficulties and to change their social environment; and a greater capacity to address wider structural issues such as poor school attendance rates, a critical housing shortage, endemic family violence, alcohol and drug misuse, chronic disease, and over-representation of Aboriginal men in the criminal justice system.
In 2018, a comprehensive evaluation3 summarised the key findings of several publications about self-reported qualitative and quantitative evaluations of FWP. These papers reflect the achievements of various program outputs including training FWP facilitators and producing research publications, and program level outcomes such as improvements in individual health and outcomes beyond the project level. This reflects the achievement of the program through tangible evaluations. The FWP has prolific outputs and evaluations which consistently demonstrate that it addresses the current needs of the communities it serves. These characteristics confirm the effectiveness and cultural appropriateness of the program in achieving its goals and documented uptake across Australia and beyond. The program is being increasingly incorporated into a range of health interventions, workforce training programs and school curricula.
The Family Wellbeing Program:
- Builds strengths and capacity in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and resilience in individuals and families
- Improves the capacity of communities to initiate, plan, lead and sustain strategies to promote community awareness and to develop and implement community suicide prevention plans
- Provides materials and resources appropriate for the needs of Aboriginal peoples in diverse community settings
- Identifies high levels of suicide and self-harm in communities and facilitate a planned response
- Provides culturally appropriate community activities that engage youth, builds cultural strengths, leadership, life skills and social competencies through the on-country trips, resulting in life promotion and resilience-building
- Is founded on long-term, sustainable prevention strategies that build resilience and promote SEWB
- Builds an evidence-base and strong standards in suicide prevention through the development of a locally accessible capacity to monitor risk behaviours and indicators of functioning for individual communities and regions in order to reduce suicidal behaviour and prevent suicide.
- Provides consistent evaluations of its programs to find ways to improve their effectiveness in meeting the needs of Aboriginal communities
- Develops and supports Aboriginal peoples in the suicide prevention and wellbeing workforce
- Develops high standards for community engagement and cultural awareness in wellbeing and early intervention services.
- Is one of Australia’s pre-eminent empowerment, healing and SEWB programs whose effectiveness and responsiveness has been clearly demonstrated over many years and through a rigorous and comprehensive evaluation process.
The review team rated the FWP very highly as strong evidence of effectiveness and best practice. It is an example of the impact of a sustainable and longer-term program and of the critical importance of empowerment to achieving SEWB.
Kalka Healing: Healing starts with you (NT)
Kalka Healing is an Indigenous led and developed suicide prevention program which provides workshops which are practical, at the grassroots level, and culturally sensitive.
Mobile: Cleavon Davis (Director), 0423512993 Email: email@example.com
Cleavon is a proud Aboriginal man from Mount Isa and an experienced and qualified counsellor with over ten years experience in providing social and emotional well-being counselling to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (hereon Aboriginal). For a long time, he has seen suicide as a devastating issue for Aboriginal people across Australia. Hence, Cleavon has compiled his knowledge, skills and sourced materials to develop workshops which lead to healing and empowerment for participants and their communities.
This Kalka Healing provides training which specifically addresses Aboriginal suicide prevention by providing tools for coping as an individual and responding to suicide in the community. Aboriginal people aged 14 years and older may participate. Further, non-Aboriginal people who want to better understand suicide in Aboriginal people may also attend. Importantly, the workshops are practical, at the grassroots level, and culturally sensitive.
Kalka Healing is wholly owned by Aboriginal people and the workshops are delivered by a qualified and experienced Aboriginal Social and Emotional Wellbeing Counsellor at a local level to ensure relevance to individual communities.
Training offered include a 14-hour suicide prevention, coping and response training program entitled Healing starts with you. Here, participants are supported to create a local prevention strategy. This is done by recording a detailed list of what best addresses the participants’ needs, community needs and the needs of families within that community. Participants are guided to respond and cope with their own suicidal thoughts, feelings of worthlessness and the associated pain. Participants are also guided to build a local and culturally appropriate strategy, designed to empower their community.
The second training session, Passport for life, is a four-hour workshop which is aimed at preventing suicide in at-risk youth. Here, safety plans are developed with young people. These plans aim to provide tools for young people to deal with uncontrolled thoughts by identifying and connecting with their community as well as to identify support networks and safe places.
This workshop is designed to support young people to create individualised safety plans that help to divert risks of harm and suicide ideation. By creating a Passport for Life, young people are guided to identify and connect with support from their families, schools, communities and professionals.
Our overarching goals are to reduce suicide in Aboriginal people by:
- Providing participants with the tools to lead a purposeful life while being connected to country, culture, community and family
- Enabling participants to turn away from suicide ideation and to grow more resilient
- Teaching communities to respond pro-actively to suicide, suicide attempts, suicide ideation and self-harm
Kalka Healing works towards the achievement of these goals through the following objectives within their programs, Healing starts with you and Passport for life by: The
- Showing participants how thoughts determine behaviour and how negative thoughts can lead to suicide ideation and/or suicidal attempts
- Teaching participants to identify and control negative thoughts and to turn them into positive ones
- Overcoming the sensitivities of Aboriginal people towards discussing suicide by providing support, involvement and education
- Providing a Healing Circle
- Strengthening culture and building confidence in participants
- Addressing participants in a culturally appropriate language and culturally safe manner
- Enabling participants to identify signs of an impending suicide attempt and to respond appropriately
- Providing support to those bereaved by suicide
- Providing individuals, families, groups and communities with culturally appropriate and culturally safe prevention strategies that action resilience against suicide
- Building a customised suicide prevention strategy responding to local needs
Workshop participants and their communities are provided with the means to develop a customised Suicide Prevention Plan that best fits themselves and their community. Participants are provided with the means to identify and control negative thoughts and to turn them into positive ones and to better identify with country, culture, community and family. Furthermore, participants are better able to provide support to those bereaved by suicide. In these ways, healthier-minded individuals emerged, and communities are empowered to manage the customised strategies created in the workshops.
This training program has not yet been formally evaluated. However, by community invitation, evaluation of the developed strategy proceeds three-months after the delivery of Healing starts with you. In these instances, Cleavon revisits the community and runs an additional workshop which guides participants to reflect on what has worked well, what has not, and what they would like to do differently. As required, additional information is provided for the group to move forward towards their goals. At the end of the workshops, Cleavon collects feedback forms from participants. These will enable him to continue to improve the workshops and also to monitor the success of the strategies developed and the extent to which people report feeling more empowered and positive about the future. To date feedback received points towards the success of Kalka Healing. Former participants reported better coping, feeling more positive and more able to express their feelings while some reported no longer feeling suicidal. In addition, participants expressed that the program reduced the stigma of talking about issues associated with suicide and affirmed the importance of culture, family and community. A key indicator of the effectiveness of Kalka Healing and the developed strategies is that participants acknowledged that it is their strategy, developed upwards from the grass roots level.
Promising program, assessment pending.
National Empowerment Project (WA)
The National Empowerment Project (NEP) is an Indigenous-led empowerment project that promotes positive social and emotional wellbeing and addresses social determinants of health using a Participatory Action Research approach (PAR).
Phone: (08) 6488 6925
The National Empowerment Project (NEP) is an Aboriginal-led community empowerment project that works with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to develop, deliver and evaluate programs that work to promote positive social and emotional wellbeing (SEWB) and address social determinants of health and reduce suicide. Using Participatory Action Research (PAR) the NEP engaged 8 Indigenous communities across Australia in 2012 – 13, and a further 3 sites in 2013-2014, to identify:
- Risk and protective factors influencing mental health and SEWB of these communities
- Develop strategies to respond to these issues through a focus on individuals, families and communities, using the SEWB framework (Social Health Reference Group, 2004; Gee et al., 2014)
The NEP evolved from the Kimberley Empowerment, Healing and Leadership Project in 2012, which identified the need for programs in Indigenous communities that build on cultural strengths, work towards healing at an individual, family, and community level and facilitate active community leadership to address the broader issues that impact on community wellbeing and are precursors to suicide (Cox et al 2014).
With the dual aims to increase resilience and reduce the instances of psychological distress and suicide among Indigenous peoples by the promotion of positive SEWB factors, and the empowerment of communities to take affirmative action to address the social determinants that contribute to psychological distress, suicide and self-harm. This was carried out with strong Aboriginal governance using a community-led and community-based model (Cox et al., 2014; Dudgeon et al., 2014).
The key objectives of the NEP program in two phases are to:
Phase one aims to:
- Identify the main challenges impacting the SEWB of individuals, families, and the community along with strategies to strengthen cultural, social and emotional wellbeing to build resilience in facing these challenges through extensive community consultations
- Conduct a two-day workshop to strengthen the cultural, social and emotional wellbeing for community members by identifying strengths within each SEWB domain, as well as actions to take to increase their connection to these protective factors
Phase two aims to:
- Design and deliver the Cultural, Social and Emotional Wellbeing Program (CSEWB) to implement the community identified strategies to strengthen SEWB, to address the social determinants, as well as SEWB problems that exist in the community such as family violence and substance abuse
- Assist communities to secure funds to implement the program(s) (Cox et al., 2014; Dudgeon et al., 2014)
As the NEP was developed, key stages included:
- A NEP National Advisory Committee was established, comprised of leading Indigenous experts in mental health, suicide prevention and SEWB to ensure that Indigenous communities have an equal and empowered position within the research. The National Advisory Committee oversaw all aspects of the work of the NEP team, including the securing of Ethics approval for the project
- A CRG was formed to guide and assist the implementation of the program, strengthen community ownership, and avoid program duplication. The CRG consisted of senior representatives from each community, the main family groups, relevant service providers and key stakeholders who share the goals of the program
- The NEP team established strong relationships with community members and formal relationships with Aboriginal partner organisations in each community and maintained ongoing liaison and engagement with community stakeholders
- Community consultants were employed as co-researchers in each community and provide training and support through the NEP team to conduct community consultations in each site that involve focus groups and interviews (Cox et al., 2014; Dudgeon et al., 2014)
This process of community consultations took place in eleven diverse communities across Australia. While these communities differed widely, they all had a significant Indigenous population, a readiness to engage in community capacity building and the ability to undertake a community consultation and deliver a short program. Other requirements included the presence of a functional community controlled organisation and/or a Registered Training Organisation (Dudgeon et al., 2014). The NEP sites by State or Territory are as follows:
- Western Australia: Geraldton, Narrogin, Northam/Toodyay, Perth
- Northern Territory: Darwin
- Queensland: Cherbourg, Kuranda
- New South Wales: Toomelah, Sydney/Redfern
- Victoria: Mildura
- South Australia: Mt Gambier
The independent process and outcome evaluations by Walker & Scrine was undertaken to determine the extent to which:
- The key deliverables of STAR and Phase Two have been met
- The recommendations from previous evaluations have been implemented
- The key principles underpinning NEP have been successfully enacted
- The effectiveness and impact of STAR and any identified gaps/areas for improvement
- The outcomes of the key deliverables of Phase Two were evident (Walker & Scrine, 2014, p. 20)
An independent process evaluation of NEP was undertaken in 2014 by Walker & Scrine, which sought to determine whether the stated aims and objectives of the program were met in agreement with evidence-based and culturally informed consultation and development including the Support, Training, Advocacy and Research (STAR) component. A further evaluation of the program was done in 2017 (Dudgeon, Scrine, Cox, & Walker, 2017). The stories of most significant change as a way to capture the quality of importance in a survey and many interviews were used to inform the evaluation.
A 2017 evaluation highlighted similar grounds of the complex interrelationship between the cultural, social, economic, political and historical determinants impacting on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Specifically, the 2017 evaluation focused on the CSEWB Program’s implementation between 2014 and 2016. The evaluation examined the following themes:
- Personal strengths
- Healthcare and healthier lifestyle choices
- Relationships – children, partners, family, and community
- Family/domestic violence and incarceration
- Life skills and life planning
- Education, training and employment
- Cultural, social and emotional wellbeing
- Cultural reconnection, identity, pride and community (Dudgeon, Scrine, Cox, & Walker, 2017)
Key findings of the Walker & Scrine (2015) evaluation included:
- The importance of community-based research with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people leading the direction, development, implementation and accountability of strategies in their own communities. Capacity building and support, training and ongoing mentoring is a critical factor in this aim
- The NEP community consultations have produced a large amount of data about issues around impacts on Indigenous mental health and wellbeing contributing to the evidence base regarding both the effect of adopting a CPAR research approach as empowering and the importance and effectiveness of community-based programs aimed at improving Indigenous mental health and SEWB
- The critical need for continuing the STAR approach for the community co-researchers who work in communities experiencing high levels of trauma and distress. The support of the NEP team was highly advantageous and provided co-researchers with an ability to share their stories and debrief, and support each other in their roles as NEP researchers and frontline personnel involved in suicide prevention
- The NEP reports crystallised the findings for communities including an overview of the identified issues in their communities, as well as plans to move forward
- Formalised processes for communication and dissemination at each site with relevant agencies greatly assisted the effective response of these agencies to community needs
- The STAR concept has great potential to assist NEP in achieving its goal
- The support of partner organisations is a critical determining factor in the effectiveness of the community consultants and the ongoing progress of NEP (Walker & Scrine, 2014)
Key findings of the Dudgeon, Scrine, Cox, & Walker, 2017 evaluation showed that after the CSEWB program, participants:
- Increased confidence, individual assertiveness and strengths in areas such as public speaking and voicing their opinions in discussions in various settings
- Became more conscious of their physical and mental health. Participants noted decreased use of substances such as cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana and noticing how those physical changes improved mental health
- Increased awareness and resolve to nurture more positive relationships with their children, partners, family members and the wider community
- Learned skills to deal with family/domestic violence and family breakdown
- Became more self-aware, recognising negative self-talk and its negative impacts on their behaviours. The program allowed participants to self-assess their behaviours and actions, and develop strategies to change their current lifestyles and situations
- Developed a renewed interest in education and training and the associated benefits of personal and professional development for individual growth
- Recognised the importance of reconnecting with their family, community, history, culture and country and how doing so provided a sense of belonging and enhanced cultural, social and emotional wellbeing
- Recognised the value of strengthening culture and spirituality in bringing a sense of inspiration, connectedness and hope for individuals, families and the collective community (Dudgeon, Scrine, Cox, & Walker, 2017)
Recommendations for Phase Three:
- To undertake in-depth qualitative research to understand the long-term impact of the NEP on peoples’ lives in order to further demonstrate over time the links between the underlying principles (such as: supporting self-determination, promoting context-specific solutions, incorporating Aboriginal knowledges and concepts regarding health and wellbeing, and acknowledging the pivotal role of family and culture) in developing and implementing programs that facilitate community transformation and empowerment (Walker & Scrine, 2014, p. 9)
The NEP builds strengths and capacity in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and resilience in individuals and families. Specifically, it promotes communities to have the capacity to initiate, plan, lead and sustain strategies to promote community awareness and to develop and implement community suicide prevention plans. It provides materials and resources appropriate for the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in diverse community settings. The project also identifies high levels of suicide and self-harm in communities and facilitate a planned response. In addition to prevention, the NEP provides postvention responses to support individuals and families affected by suicide. They provide culturally appropriate community activities that engage youth, build cultural strengths, leadership, life skills and social competencies, resulting in life promotion and resilience-building. The activity is founded on long-term, sustainable prevention strategies that builds resilience and promotes social and emotional wellbeing, specifically, developed for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and children.
NEP provides access to effective strategies to target suicide prevention through targeted and specialist services by all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who are at risk of suicide or self-harm, links and partnerships between mainstream specialist mental health and wellbeing services, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander wellbeing services and community organisations. NEP also provides access to integrated and collaborative approaches across sectors responding to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who are at high risk, such as people experiencing mental illness, substance misuse, incarceration, domestic violence, etc. They have coordinated approaches to prevention through governance and infrastructure to support regional and local coordination of suicide prevention through improved community sector capacity and partnerships between services, agencies and communities.
Furthermore, the NEP has a strong evidence base for its work and provides clear standards and quality in suicide prevention. They provide locally accessible capacity to monitor risk behaviours and indicators of community functioning for individual communities and regions in order to reduce suicidal behaviour and prevent suicide. Their research is led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers to build an improved evidence base on the effectiveness of suicide prevention activity, including effective services and interventions, community initiatives, mental health awareness promotion and training and capacity development. They also have partnerships between researchers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and community organisations to evaluate evidence-based practices and provide support for program implementation and quality improvement. To establish standards and quality, they have comprehensive plans to develop and support Indigenous participation in suicide prevention and wellbeing workforce with a focus on early intervention into systems of quality improvement for social and emotional wellbeing and mental health care. It was rated very highly as strong evidence of effectiveness and best practice. Its community consultation and engagement, planning, implementation, community evaluation and feedback processes align strongly with the guiding principles underpinning the CBPATSISP Evaluation Framework. It aims to increase community capacity by supporting local-based programs that have been consulted and approved by stakeholders in the community. The program is also regularly evaluated to determine the efficacy of the program and provide recommendations towards suicide prevention.
Red Dust Healing (NSW/QLD)
Red Dust Healing is an Aboriginal cultural healing program. It was initially focused on Aboriginal male offenders and those at risk of offending. Currently, it is also delivered directly in response to community suicide and self-harm, as well as addressing the precursors of suicide such as alcohol and substance misuse, incarceration, family violence and poor wellbeing.
The founder, Tom Powell is a proud Warramunga man who grew up in the town of Narromine in the central west of NSW. For fourteen years, he was an Aboriginal Program Officer for the NSW Department of Juvenile Justice. Tom moved on and began his work developing Red Dust Healing1.
Contacts: Tom Powell, Sascha Costigan
Mobile: 0419 489 275 Emails: firstname.lastname@example.org; Sasch.Costigan@gmail.com
Red Dust Healing was originally designed in response to issues within the contemporary juvenile justice system. Tom identified a model of oppression within the system by the removal of the four core values of identity, responsibility, relationships and spirituality from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (hereafter abbreviated as Aboriginal) people. The program addresses this oppression in ways that seek to reverse the colonisation process in terms of an individual’s self-image, their roles and responsibilities and their actions. The program offers an innovative approach to assisting men and women to heal and make better choices for themselves. Like other contemporary Aboriginal healing programs, Red Dust Healing explores the role of history and the associated trauma and invokes Aboriginal culture and spirituality as the core elements of the therapeutic process in an individual’s transformative journey.
Tom describes Red Dust Healing as a:
self-evaluating awareness program coming from an ancient Aboriginal perspective that gives individuals tools that empower them to be part of their own solutions.
Program personnel have delivered the program directly in response to community suicide and self-harm, as well as addressing the precursors of suicide such as alcohol and substance misuse, incarceration, family violence and poor wellbeing.
In addition to delivering the program in communities, the organisation trains former program participants to become community workers. After training, these workers receive the intellectual property rights to deliver the program within their community whilst emphasising the program’s aim to empower local communities and provide sustainability to the work of Red Dust Healing.
Red Dust Healing examines the intergenerational effects of colonisation on the mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing of Aboriginal people and families and directly addresses the determinants of wellbeing. In particular, many Aboriginal men lost their identity, responsibility and relationships through colonisation2. In response, this program targets Aboriginal males in recognition of the disproportionately high suicide rate among this group due to their heavy load of oppression and loss. Because of the authority of the father figure in Aboriginal culture, addressing the high suicide rates of Aboriginal males encourages the establishment of family harmony.
This program provides a culturally safe environment, mechanisms for healing, a shared discourse, along with language and tools to enable participants to gain a sense of understanding and control in their lives. The program also encourages individuals to confront and deal strategically with the impact of rejection, hurt and anger in their lives and to understand that rejection is the foundation of all hurt. Participants examine their hurt and rejection and reflect on how this is manifested in their actions towards the people around them. Participants are also encouraged to examine their own personal hurt in order to heal themselves. This is seen as the first step in addressing the hurt they inflict on others within their personal relationships, their family and the overall patterns of violence and abuse in their lives.
Participants engage with contemporary forms of Aboriginal knowledge and reconnect with aspects of culture in order to strengthen their sense of self and their Aboriginal identity. This reorients participants to a new meaningful existence. Cultural knowledge is seen as a mechanism for Aboriginal people to understand their actions, their work and how to live their lives. Although the main target of the program is Aboriginal people, the program will also assist non-Aboriginal people. Red Dust Healing emphasises the importance of personal responsibility for making the best possible choices as essential to the healing process, an individual’s transformation and the generation of self-respect and meaningful connections to others.
The design of the program acknowledges the need to approach the healing journey in an individualised and personalised manner so that participants can apply their new tools and knowledge to their own circumstances. This is done using narratives from an individual’s life and encouraging them to reflect on their own situation whilst applying the program’s messages.
Red Dust Healing promotes an individual’s empowerment to find their own solutions. A tool has been developed called POUCH which is a solution-based, problem solving concept allowing participants to deal with issues in their own lives. The name, POUCH is an acronym for identifying what Problems U have, what Options U have, what Choices U have and How U are going to deal with them. Discussing this tool encourages participants to look at solving some of their concerns and gives them the responsibility without blame.
The main objectives of Red Dust Healing are to:
- Restore the role of Aboriginal men in their families and communities by providing an understanding of rejection and an avenue for healing
- Provide Aboriginal people with an understanding of identity to equip them with self-evaluation skills, to develop future role models for fathers, and to restore family relationships
- Equip Aboriginal people with the tools to confront problems relevant to their lives
- Address ongoing patterns of negative behaviour
More than 15,000 people from almost 300 communities have now completed different stages of the program3. Outcomes include:
- Improved understanding of the impact of rejection, grief and loss, along with the impacts of colonialism and oppression along with the tools to overcome those impacts
- Restoring broken relationships and the strengthening existing ones
- Better understanding of self and the opportunity to address the hurt within their lives
- Improved self-esteem
- The ability to identify the links between emotions with behaviours and actions
- The ability to identify pathways for their families to access relevant service providers
- Increasing the capacity of Aboriginal men to contribute, plan, implement and evaluate a variety of strategies, projects and programs in their community4
In 2017 and 2018, Red Dust Healing was recognised nationally by the receipt of two awards. The first was the United Nations of Australia Award for services to human rights and the second, the Mental Health Matters Award in the category of Aboriginal Social and Emotional Wellbeing awarded by the Mental Health Association of NSW.
Caritas Australia undertook a formal evaluation of this project in 20185 using a mixed method approach while being primarily qualitative in nature. The qualitative evaluation used a participatory method, including semi-structured interviews which optimized the role of stakeholders in the evaluation process. Interviews were conducted with participants and the evaluators deduced that participants had an improved understanding of the impact of rejection, grief and loss, along with the impacts of colonialism and oppression and the learning tools to circumvent these hurdles. Other findings were improved self-esteem, the restoring broken relationships and strengthening existing ones. At a community level, families were connected to service providers and the capacity of Aboriginal men to contribute, plan, implement and evaluate a variety of strategies, projects and programs in their community increased5.
In a meta-evaluation of programs for Aboriginal healing and suicide prevention, Red Dust Healing was rated very highly as strong evidence of effectiveness and good practice. It is culturally responsive and supports Aboriginal social and emotional wellbeing and self-determination. It is also an example of an Aboriginal initiative aiming to equip participants with the skills to reassert their Aboriginal identity, responsibilities and roles within in a post-colonial society6.
In summary, the evaluators described Red Dust Healing as a program which can provide people with a means of dealing with severe trauma and in so doing, make transformations to their own lives to the benefit of themselves and the people in their lives5.
Red Dust Healing is rated very highly as strong evidence of effectiveness, commitment and alignment with CBPATSISP best practice principles. Importantly, the program is only delivered to communities where members have invited their assistance which respects the community’s rights of self-determination. Red Dust Healing builds strength and capacity in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, especially through providing materials and resources that are appropriate for the needs of Aboriginal peoples in diverse community settings.
Telling Story (WA/NT)
Telling Story are collaborative, place based mental health projects based on Narrative Therapy principles delivered in Western Australia and the Northern Territory. Telling Story commenced in 2015 in Kalumburu, following a request from community Elders for community members to meet, talk, heal and share hopeful stories.
Sudha Coutinho email@example.com 0403840293
Clare Wood firstname.lastname@example.org 0438859727
Telling Story supports people and communities to uncover and celebrate stories of strength, hope and resilience. The sharing of these stories supports people to stay strong in the face of community problems such as suicide and alcohol and drug misuse 1. 2. Telling Story facilitates intensive week-long projects in communities and provides a series of workshops to reach different groups in the community depending on community context. Telling Story and the narrative ideas used in these projects can be utilized across age groups and genders.
The methodology uses the principles of Narrative Practice and centers on people as the experts in their own lives viewing problems as separate from people. Narrative Therapy assumes that people have many skills, competencies, beliefs, values, commitments, and abilities that will assist them to navigate the problems in their lives 3. Telling Story is a strengths-based practice that honours the individual’s and community’s agency, focusing on the development and enhancement of people’s social and emotional competencies.
Telling Story collaborates with local clinical and community workers to help shape the project workshops to the local context and, where possible, co-facilitates with local health and community workers providing capacity building in narrative methodology. The workshops are held at a variety of community venues as well as ‘on country’ depending on community needs and wishes. Activity based workshops which use collective Narrative Therapy methodologies such as the ‘Tree of Life’ or the ‘Team of Life’ are facilitated at times within the project 3. These methodologies use the richness of meaning which can be found in ‘tree’ and ‘sport’ metaphors fostering connection to cultural practices and identity.3, 4. Stories arising out of conversations during the workshop are documented and returned to participants in variety of ways including the writing of therapeutic letters, audio and video recordings, as well as creation of posters.
Telling Story facilitators seek permission from storytellers to invite community members and people outside the community to listen and witness the audio and video stories as an ‘Outsider Witness Process’ 5, 6.
The sharing of the stories via online video platforms enables a broader audience to view and witness the stories and responses to be collected to return to the storytellers. 7.
Program objectives are determined in collaboration with local community navigators, who consult with Elders and the local context. Telling Story aims to:
- build capacity within individuals and the community by exploring their responses to loss, grief and trauma and the impact these experiences have had on their lives
- uncover stories of hope, strength and resilience to better equip individuals and communities to navigate the issues they are facing in their lives such as mental health concerns and suicide.
- Participants at the end of the workshop are able to identify the skills, knowledge and wisdom they possess to navigate and respond to problems in their own lives as well as issues impacting their families and communities.
- Participating communities create an archive of stories which lay testimony to their skills, knowledge and wisdom.
- Community members have the opportunity to learn from each other, provide peer support both within communities as well as between communities.
- Participants identified at the workshops as requiring additional support are linked to local networks of support. This includes physical health, mental health and community services providers.
Telling Story aligns with the principles outlined in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP)1. Specifically, the program establishes a cultural and community focus by involving Elders and senior community members where possible and tailoring of the content to local customs and languages. The program strengthens Indigenous governance and capacity by using, where possible, local community members to co-facilitate the workshops. The program builds resilience and promotes social and emotional wellbeing within individuals and the community.
Telling Story is only delivered to communities where members have invited the facilitators’ assistance which respects the community’s rights of self-determination, governance and promotes a continued connection to culture and land. The program is inclusive of gender and LBGTI community members.
Telling Story uses primary healthcare organisations and considers the individuals’ health holistically by including community engagement and cultural awareness in wellbeing and early intervention services. The program has at its core the ability to refer those at risk to these services.
In summary, Telling Story is promising evidence of effectiveness and practice. It is a program designed to respond to local needs and the interests of community members. Ideally a formal and independent evaluation should be undertaken to better advise the program managers of the effectiveness and long-term benefits to the community and social and emotional wellbeing.
1. Wingard, B. (2001). Introduction. In B. Wingard & J. Lester (Eds.), Telling our stories in ways that make us stronger (pp. v–vii). Adelaide, Australia: Dulwich Centre Publications
2.Wood, C. (2014). The stories we need to tell. ABC Open: Real stories made by real people from all around Australia. Retrieved from open.abc.net.au/explore/80848
3. Denborough, D. (2008). Collective narrative practice: Responding to individuals, groups, and communities who have experienced trauma. Adelaide, Australia: Dulwich Centre Publications.
4. Chandler, M. J., & Lalonde, C. E. (2008). Cultural continuity as a protective factor against suicide in First Nations youth. Horizons – A Special Issue on Aboriginal Youth, Hope or Heartbreak: Aboriginal Youth and Canada’s Future. 10(1), 68–72. Retrieved from www2.psych.ubc.ca/~chandlerlab/Chandler%20&%20 Lalonde%20(2008).pdf
5. Hernandez, R. (2008). Reflections across time and space: Using voice recording to facilitate ‘long-distance’ definitional ceremonies. The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, (3), 35–40
6. Denborough, D. (2014). Narrative therapy charter of story-telling rights. Retrieved from dulwichcentre.com.au/narrative-justice-and-human-rights/
7. Adelson, N., & Olding, M. (2013). Narrating Aboriginality on-line: Digital storytelling, identity and healing. The Journal of Community Informatics, 9(2). Retrieved from ci-journal.net/index.php/ciej/ article/view/740/1004
8. ATSISPEP Website
The Healing Foundation (NSW)
The Healing Foundation is a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation that partners with communities to address the ongoing trauma caused by colonisation and to support the healing and reconnection to culture.
Phone: (02) 6272 7500/Email: email@example.com
The Healing Foundation provides a critical role in supporting the healing and reconnection to culture for Indigenous individuals, families and communities – which is arguably a national priority to reducing the high rates of suicide in Australia. By funding locally driven, culturally strong healing initiatives across the country, The Healing Foundation is enabling Indigenous peoples to more effectively participate in employment, education, parenting, cultural and community life and self-determining health and wellbeing outcomes. As part of its overall evaluation and performance reporting process, The Healing Foundation requires all funded projects provide to data on agreed national outcomes and associated indicators. It also collects in-depth information through case studies. This data and the case studies provide a picture of the healing work and its effectiveness. A number of projects also undertake more in-depth evaluations with external organisations.
The Healing Foundation funds a large number of projects across Australia that aim to address the impacts of social determinants on social and emotional wellbeing of individuals, families and communities at key points across the life course. For example, they support parents and carers to create healthy, positive environments for children and young people to reconnect with schooling or prepare them for entering the workforce. Several projects work in partnership with government and community organisations to ensure communities are safe, by supporting families to address the role violence, gambling or substance misuse plays in their lives. All projects contribute to improving the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples by creating healing from pain, suffering and trauma.
A core aspect underpinning best practice in programs funded through The Healing Foundation (HF) is the notion of cultural continuity and identity in Aboriginal communities. Cultural continuity is enabled where communities have an understanding and access to their past and share and have ownership of a common future. The Healing Foundation supports the delivery of services that are:
• Founded on strong culture and traditional ways of healing from trauma and loss
• Enabling self-determination
• Building stronger health, education and social services
• Working with women to participate in leadership and governance roles
• Supporting language
The HF draws heavily on international suicide prevention research which has compelling evidence to show that culture, cultural continuity and self-determination act as protection against youth suicide (Chandler & Lalonde 2008).
• Increased the number of people who have understanding and access to a wide range of healing services
• 137 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people employed in 17 projects
• 100 per cent of projects designed, developed and delivered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people ensuring contextually appropriate healing services for participants
• 2465 children, young people, families, men, women and Elders participated in healing activities, demonstrating the need for and importance of healing work
• Almost 650 cultural activities provided, helping people reconnect with culture and support, strengthening cultural identity and pride
• 99 per cent of participants reported improved physical, emotional, social, spiritual and cultural wellbeing as a result of participation in the healing projects
• Development of strong organisational partnerships and linked-up service delivery allowing for holistic services and interventions
• Positive publicity that has celebrated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and educates the wider community about healing
• Significant contributions to the Closing the Gap agenda in the areas of health, economic participation, safe communities and governance and leadership. (Healing Foundation 2013).
The Healing Foundation was rated very highly as strong evidence of effectiveness and best practice. It provides high quality integrated services, culturally appropriate community activities, engages youth, builds cultural strengths, supports leadership, life skills and social competencies, meets many objectives with regard to Life promotion and resilience-building strategies and emotional wellbeing, addressing racism, partnerships with community organisations and increased support for Indigenous.
The Healing Foundation is committed to developing an evidence base and disseminating information on best practice is described in a number of healing programs and initiatives available on their website.
Uti Kulintjaku Project (NT)
The Uti Kulintjaku Project is under the direction of Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women’s Council. Now in its sixth year, it is an innovative mental health literacy, capacity, and resilience-building initiative led by respected Anangu (Aboriginal) cultural and community leaders who are working at the interface of two knowledge systems, Anangu and Western.
Liza Balmer (CEO)
Phone: (08) 8958 2345/Email: Liza.Balmer@npywc.org.au
Organisation Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Postal address: PO Box 8921, Alice Springs, NT 0871
Uti Kulintjaku is an innovative mental health literacy, capacity and resilience-building initiative led by respected Anangu (Aboriginal) cultural and community leaders who work collaboratively with mental health professionals. The program operates at the interface of two knowledge systems which operate in three languages (Pitjantjatjara, Ngaanyatjarra and English) and draws on the best of both knowledge systems to find new ways to address the challenging issues related to improving Anangu social and emotional wellbeing (SEWB).
The Uti Kulintjaku Project is grounded in cultural knowledge and focuses on healing, the strengthening of SEWB, community capacity and resilience, whilst also encouraging help-seeking behaviour. Its reach and sphere of influence extends beyond the Anangu domain to the local non-Aboriginal domain to support both universal and selective improvement of SEWB. Anangu team members share stories of supporting young people in their communities experiencing distress which are likely to be preventing suicide and encouraging help seeking behaviour.
A key aim of the Project is to develop mental health literacy and promote the discussion of mental health issues using animated drawings with English sub-titles. Each animation has two versions, one in Pitjantjatjara and another in Ngaanyatjarra. Young people from the Anangu community are the key audience for these animations which are shown on ICTV, the program website or by video recordings. Within program workshops, participants are provided with nurturing therapies and art to support healing.
Identifying the protective factors that enhance the SEWB of Aboriginal communities, as well as those factors that contribute to community distress and suicide, is paramount. It requires an in-depth knowledge of the historic, social, cultural and economic risk factors at play in each community, which are best known and understood by community residents themselves The Uti Kulintjaku Project takes a long-term view on achieving change to improve Anangu mental health and wellbeing. It recognizes that while external change agents can help to catalyse action or create spaces for people to undertake a change process, healing and empowerment can occur only by communities creating their own momentum.
The overarching objectives are to:
- Develop a team of Anangu experts in mental health and wellbeing who will take their knowledge into their leadership roles in other organisations and communities, to their families and workplaces and to young people on bush camps.
- Encourage and enable Anangu team members to share their understanding or experience in mental health and wellbeing, including traditional and cultural knowledge as well as contemporary and lived experience.
- Encourage and enable Anangu team members to deconstruct and combine western mental health knowledge with Anangu knowledge.
Essentially, the Anangu team deconstructs western mental health knowledge, compares and combines it with Anangu cultural and traditional knowledge, and reconstructs it into meaningful information in their own languages that also draw on Anangu knowledge. The team encourage Anangu to use this information to make informed decisions in their various roles and workplaces. They also offer a two-way knowledge exchange with western mental health services in the area so that they may better understand and respond to the Anangu experience.
The Uti Kulintjaku Project has created a unique space for Anangu and non-Aboriginal people, who share a commitment to make a difference, come together and discuss issues, share knowledge and learn how to unite and better respond to improve Anangu wellbeing.
In addition, the team has responded to a need for Anangu leaders to be engaged in considering and addressing the complex and concerning issues in their communities. A model, Uti Kulintjaku Iwara which translates as the path to clear thinking, has been developed which facilitates safe ways to talk about difficult issues, nurtures healing and empowerment, and finds new ways of enhancing mental health and wellbeing. A multi‐lingual dictionary of words and phrases has been created and other novel resources have been produced. Very importantly, partnerships with mental health services have been strengthened1.
A developmental evaluation conducted by Togni1 utilised data collected through ten three‐ to four‐day workshops over three years, reflective practice, participant observation, focussed discussion groups with Aboriginal participants, and 21 semi‐structured, in‐depth key stakeholder interviews. The evaluator concluded that the healing, empowerment and leadership outcomes for the Aboriginal participants were consistent with programs identified as most effective in enhancing the social and emotional wellbeing and suicide reduction in Aboriginal communities. Further, it was confirmed that the program had resulted in a range of outcomes at personal, group and project levels including the capacity development of a team of senior Aboriginal women, and the achievement of bi‐cultural understanding of mental health and an acknowledgement of culture as enhancing Aboriginal mental health and wellbeing.
A follow-up evaluation was completed in late 20182. This report described the way of working developed through the Uti Kulintjaku Project as effective in supporting Anangu and non-Aboriginal people to learn from each other and work together to identify ways to respond to challenging issues related to mental health and wellbeing in communities. The essence of this way of working comes from the Pitjantjatjara and Ngaanyatjarra phrase ngapartji ngapartji meaning reciprocity in relationships.
Importantly, the 2018 evaluation indicated that the risks associated with suicide had been reduced by the sharing of bi-cultural learning with Anangu families and mainstream mental health and social service providers.
The Project’s model and the healing, empowerment and leadership outcomes for the Aboriginal participants are consistent with programs identified as most effective in enhancing the social and emotional wellbeing and ‘suicide proofing’ of Aboriginal communities. The Uti Kulintjaku Project has secured six years of funding for suicide prevention. The model developed has potential application to address other complex social and health issues in various contexts1.
Promising program, assessment pending
- Togni SJ. The Uti Kulintjaku Project: The Path to Clear Thinking. An Evaluation of an Innovative, Aboriginal‐Led Approach to Developing Bi‐Cultural Understanding of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Australian Psychologist 2017;52(4):268-79.
- Togni SJ. Uti Kulintjaku Project | Summary Report. Available upon request from Angela Lynch, Manager Ngangkari Program, NPYWC via Angela.Lynch@npywc.org.au.
Youth Empowerment and Healing Cultural Camp (YEaHCC)
The one-week camps led by the Burrongglo Aboriginal Corporation provides the opportunity to focus on the protective, cultural factors young people who are considered at risk by learning about sharing, caring and community values through greater connection to culture and country.
Contact Number: 0487 249 145
Contact: Geraldine Shadforth
The Burrongglo Aboriginal Corporation (BAC) hosts the Youth Empowerment and Healing Cultural Camp (YEaHCC)1 which is run as six independent one-week camps during school holidays. The camp is located on the Dampier Peninsula approximately 190kms north of Broome, Western Australia. In response to having experienced the trauma of suicide in the communities in the Kimberley, the BAC recognised the need to offer assistance to those children and youth who were at-risk throughout the Kimberly region of Western Australia.
The content of the camp emphasises importance of strengthening wellbeing and resilience through social empowerment and healing which centres on re-establishing young people’s sense of identity and spiritual and cultural connection with self, family, community, country and sea. Additionally, the camp offers training and guidance with the development of leadership skills, learning about bush medicine, bush food and hunting.
Potential participants are referred through a form which includes descriptions of the:
- risk factors for client / family
- services provided by referral Agency to date
- services provided by other known Agencies / Organisations to date
- behavioural issues for staff OH&S (if applicable)
- special requirements (medical, dietary, cultural)
Between seven and ten youth attend each camp at a cost of approximately $1,500 per participant which includes food, transport, supervision and activities. Two community-nominated participants may attend without charge.
The YEaHCC camps for young people considered at risk aim to:
- increase engagement by providing a culturally safe and inclusive space that fosters support and imparts life skills
- promote and strengthen cultural, social, emotional, health and wellbeing by engaging young people in cultural and social activities and outings on country
- enhance and promote cultural identity, belonging and knowledge
- encourage and strengthen peer support amongst young people
- develop, empower and nurture leadership, resilience, confidence and healing,
- increase awareness of local youth support services and programs available; and strengthen young people’s natural support networks, and
- promote the process of recovery, empowerment and healing from the trauma, grief and loss associated with suicide.2
The camps provide the chance to increase the understanding of the harmful impacts of suicide as well as the importance of life preservation. The camps build an understanding of the importance of:
- belonging and culture
- acknowledgement and worth of self
- respecting others and Elders and,
- capacity building of resilience and self-leadership
Additionally, the camps:
- strengthen traditional and contemporary Aboriginal culture and
- ensure that the participants have the skills and ability to successfully coexist as a young Indigenous person living in modern and traditional societies.
An internal evaluation of the two years that the program had run was undertaken towards the end of 20183. The ages of participants were between 8 and 18 years, comprising both male and female participants. Self-report measures showed that 70% of the participants perceived that the causes of suicide were due to bullying, family issues and loneliness with the other factors of academic pressure and stress comprising the remaining 30%.
Feelings of the participants were measured with eight categories being mentioned. All participants expressed experiencing feelings of being alone and sad. The more common of these range from damaging property, feelings of uselessness, self-harm, making one’s self ill and causing injury to others. The less common feeling that was mentioned were feelings of anger.
As mentioned above, access to this program is through referral where it is known that the young person is a risk and all participants had had first-hand experiences of suicide. The participants reported that they were better able to deal with these feelings after attending the camp. However the participants also reported that suicide prevention and awareness within their community was lacking as were anti-bullying strategies.
The YEaHCC is rated very highly as strong evidence of effectiveness, commitment and alignment to CBPATSISP best practice principles. The self-sustaining program has been developed and managed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The program establishes an increased sense of community belonging through providing a greater connection to culture and country to enhance young people’s social and emotional wellbeing. The process is community-led and directed using formal partnerships. The YEaHCC addresses the important, local issues of dealing with the devastating after effects of suicide by promoting healing and hope for the future. All of the participants attending YEaHCC are identified by the communities that it serves.
- Youth Empowerment and Healing Cultural Camp (YEaHCC) Newletter Vol 1 Issue 1. 7 November 2017.
- Youth Empowerment and Healing Cultural Camp (YEaHCC): A Youth Suicide Prevention initiative at a grassroots level to lead real action and mobilise change. Information brochure 2019.
- Youth Empowerment and Healing Cultural Camp (YEaHCC): A Youth Suicide Prevention Initiative at a grassroots level to lead real action and mobilise change. Geraldine and Shonelle Shadforth, Burrongglo Aboriginal Corporation 2018.