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Cultural healing to support alcohol and other drugs treatment

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, young people and their parents need their culture to give them strength to heal and recover.

Healing with children and young people

During a 2016 practice conference, Professor Chris Sarra, founder of the Stronger Smarter Institute and a Gurang and Tarilbilang Bunda man from Bundaberg, described a meeting with a group of teachers who talked about the problematic behaviour of a young Aboriginal boy who was grappling with alcohol abuse, transience and leaving school early. They had lost hope and optimism for this young man. He was destined for a path of destruction and destined for juvenile justice.

Professor Sarra asked: ‘What would the Aboriginal elders say this boy needs?’

The teachers answered: ‘They would say his spirit has been broken and he needs to find his way home.’

Professor Sarra said, ‘Who can help him find his way home? Can we bring them together around a table to talk?’

The teachers answered, ‘Yes, we can.’

The shift in conversation was simple yet powerful. It not only gave dignity to the role cultural healing has, but it put it firmly on the table. Asking Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people what it is that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people need and how culture can be harnessed to support healing is self-determination in practice. This is cultural healing for young people.

The resilience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people can be strengthened by harnessing their culture. This will help to reduce their vulnerability to problematic AOD use.

Your support in helping them gain knowledge about who they are, their land and country, and the role they have in their community is an important part of your work.

You can support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, young people and parents in:

  • learning about their connections and belonging
  • finding positive Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mentors, both men and women
  • finding a positive Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander woman to talk to about women’s business
  • finding a positive Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander man to talk to about men’s business
  • having the opportunity to participate in men’s and women’s activities to connect to country and enact the important roles they have been given

You will need to consult with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, Elders and professionals to understand the best way to connect children and young people to their culture and community.

Note

TEDxCanberra—Sam Perry—Mentoring indigenous youth features Sam Perry, who reflects on his work with the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience and how he, a privileged white person, completely changed his life to become a part of the work he now does.

Ice: Recovering Indigenous addicts share their stories is produced by ABC News. It’s the story of Aboriginal men who have reclaimed their life, culture and identity from alcohol and drugs.

Healing from ice use in Victorian Aboriginal communities, produced by Onemda Koori Health, is a short film about how Indigenous people have managed to stop or reduce ice use. The film includes interviews with a worker and ex-ice user, and provides contact details for alcohol and drug services across Victoria.

Healing and recovery with parents

Whether treatment is provided by an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled service or a mainstream service, the following nine guiding principles from the Australian Government’s National Strategic Framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Mental Health and Social and Emotional Wellbeing 2017–2023  provide general guidance about what is needed for effective treatment:

There are nine guiding principles:

  1. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health is viewed in a holistic context that encompasses mental health and physical, cultural and spiritual health. Land (and Water) is central to wellbeing. Crucially, it must be understood that while the harmony of these interrelations is disrupted, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ill health will persist.
  2. Self-determination is central to the provision of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services.
  3. Culturally valid understandings must shape the provision of services and must guide assessment, care and management of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ health problems generally and mental health problems in particular.
  4. It must be recognised that the experiences of trauma and loss, present since European invasion, are a direct outcome of the disruption to cultural wellbeing. Trauma and loss of this magnitude continue to have intergenerational effects.
  5. The human rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples must be recognised and respected. Failure to respect these human rights constitutes continuous disruption to mental health (as against mental ill health). Human rights relevant to mental illness must be specifically addressed.
  6. Racism, stigma, environmental adversity and social disadvantage constitute ongoing stressors and have negative impacts on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ mental health and wellbeing.
  7. The centrality of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family and kinship must be recognised as well as the broader concepts of family and the bonds of reciprocal affection, responsibility and sharing.
  8. There is no single Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander culture or group, but numerous groupings, languages, kinships and tribes, as well as ways of living. Furthermore, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples may currently live in urban, rural or remote settings, in urbanised, traditional or other lifestyles, and frequently move between these ways of living.
  9. It must be recognised that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have great strengths, creativity and endurance and a deep understanding of the relationships between human beings and their environment.

National Strategic Framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ Mental Health and Social and Emotional Wellbeing 2017–2023.

Practice prompt

Ensuring that young people and families are referred to culturally safe and responsive AOD services will assist them and their families to reach their goals in relation to AOD use

Ask yourself:

  • What does an AOD assessment tell me this parent needs? How can we connect their cultural healing alongside this? What cultural healing options are best suited for the type of AOD treatment I am considering? How will the parent’s cultural needs be met in the treatment?
  • What is the range of options available? How does this match a parent’s needs? Who have I consulted with about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander healing ways to support their AOD treatment?
  • How can the parent engage treatment and aftercare support, particularly in remote areas? What support can I arrange to make access easier and more sustainable? How can kin or the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community assist?
  • Where is the parent in the change cycle? (see following diagram) How will I talk about the impacts of AOD use on their spiritual, emotional and physical wellbeing? What does a parent need from me, their kin or community to help them connect with their own reasons for change?
  • Have I used resources developed for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to have conversations about AOD use? Who else can I talk with to give parents the best opportunity possible to connect with their own desire to change? How could connection to country or land support parents here?

Source: Family Relationships Quarterly No. 17

Tip

Use this resource to assist to identify a parent’s stage of change

The strength of the community

In spite of the level of disadvantage, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are vibrant and are actively seeking to address issues that they face. The importance of strong cultural connections is fundamental in increasing resilience in the community.

How can you support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities to reduce the risks?

  • Develop a strong partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander alcohol and drug workers and services in your district.
  • Show a genuine respect and give dignity to the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people when talking about their AOD use.
  • Consult with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders, professionals and your colleagues about real ways to talk about alcohol and drug problems with families and communities.
  • Look for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander solutions in participation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities.
  • Support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, women and men in engaging in genuine opportunities to connect with their country, land and roles within their community.
  • Provide information and education about the impacts of AOD on health and parenting in a way that is meaningful and culturally appropriate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
  • Embrace Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander beliefs about spiritual, emotional and physical wellbeing to guide AOD interventions.
  • Look for opportunities to involve and connect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mentors.
  • Look for opportunities to engage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elders or professionals in your conversations with parents, family, kin and community to help communicate the worries and develop a solution.
  • Find out about men’s and women’s business, and how AOD use should be discussed with parents.
  • Find out about traditional healing methods that may be important. If a parent does not know, help them learn about it or connect them with someone who can support them on their journey.

Indigenous solutions for alcohol and other drugs treatment

Greg Phillips, the chair of the interim board of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation, described healing as ‘a spiritual process that includes addictions recovery, therapeutic change and cultural renewal’, and involving reclamation of identity (Phillips, 2008, 2007).

Remember that:

  • interventions need to be delivered in culturally meaningful ways
  • traditional healing practices should be used
  • respect for cultural differences is important.(Draguns in Smith et al., 2011)

Consider how an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community may assist your service centre or region to respond to alcohol and other drugs issues with Aboriginal parents in your community. Ask for ideas on the best way to talk about the impacts on wellbeing and the safety of children. Consider ways Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elders or respected community leaders can support conversations or be involved.

Introduce yourself, say where you are from, a bit about yourself and who invited you, and ask permission to talk about the AOD use and how you may go about sharing information and getting ideas, or how to plan an event on drug and alcohol issues. They will tell you what you can talk about and what you cannot, and will also advise on any other cultural barriers you may face.

Read more about working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families in the Safe care and connection section

How you can do this

Print the below table

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identity and connection to culture

Always talk with an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person about whether they identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and whether they hold close to their culture and traditional healing ways

How are you connected with your traditional culture?

What would healing be like in your culture?

How do you see this playing a part in your AOD treatment?

How is traditional culture and healing important for you in our work together?

Is this something you want to embrace now to support your healing from AOD?

What opportunities have you had to connect with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander healing ways before?

Could traditional healing be useful to you now?

Yarn about problems

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander may not like talking about family or community problems within groups or over the phone.

What would it be like for you talking about this in a group?

What do you need to make this safe enough for you to talk in a group?

What would work best for you, talking in a group or one to one with someone?

The best fit of mainstream and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD services

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people may be worried that they know someone in a Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service or an AOD support worker. For some, they will worry about confidentiality and information about them going back to their family of community, adding to their shame and possible backlash.

Always ask Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people what services they would prefer and how you can address any concerns they may have. Never make assumptions.

It is really important that you feel comfortable and safe with any services, and that treatment embraces your Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and healing ways, if that is what you want.

How do you feel about working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD services or workers?

Are there any issues we would need to work out with them so you feel good about confidentiality?

How do you want Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services or workers to support your treatment and healing?

You prefer to work with a non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service. How can we make sure your cultural needs and healing ways are met, if this is what you want?

Look for cultural healing ways to support treatment

How can I support cultural healing with AOD treatment? How can I find out what culturally appropriate supports are available for the parent?

Who can I consult with to learn more about this?

If there is not a specific Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD program, how can I get creative to support the parent?

Are there programs out of my area that I can talk to for ideas? Who can I talk to in the Aboriginal community to get ideas about how best to support the young person or parent's cultural healing?

 

Traditional healing and alcohol and other drugs treatment

To help parents with problematic AOD use access treatment that is culturally responsive, you will need to know how the parent would prefer Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander healing to be incorporated into their AOD treatment plan. You will need to know what options are available for them.

Find out what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AOD services are available. Services that include restoring spirit will be the most effective for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents and will benefit their child and their community.

For example:

Gallang Place in Brisbane is an independent Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation and provides Indigenous counselling for families with a focus on enhancing the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

If a parent does not want a specific Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service or there is not one available to access, you will need to find out what AOD local services are available and how they can meet the cultural needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Learn about how men’s programs and women’s programs differ in meeting traditional healing ways within AOD recovery. If you do not have a local service, consider consulting with others from other regions to explore options and how they may be able to support your work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents and young people.

Partnering with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander alcohol and other drugs services

You will need to build ongoing relationships and partnerships to meet the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families.

There may be some barriers that you will need to consider for you, your Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander colleagues and Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander community partners.

Be aware that there are cultural reasons why some professionals may not be able to work with other professionals. A person may not be able to talk to particular people because of family relationships (kinship), for example, they cannot talk to their cousin or father-in-law because of cultural reasons. Do not assume that the worker is not doing their job, as there may be other reasons why they appear to not want to talk to a particular community member.

You can read more about questions to ask in a consultation about an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family, community, cultural roles and traditions in the Safe care and connection section.

Here are some things to keep in mind when working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander alcohol and other drug services.

Strong partnerships, strong solutions How I can do it

Include all services working with the family in all meetings. Do not exclude services. One in all in.

Develop a shared understanding of confidentiality.

Establish regular phone contact and regular face to face meetings with AOD and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services

Understand how partner agencies record information and how they discuss child protection concerns with family and community members.

What information is shared and who with?

Be clear about mandatory reporting responsibilities, but acknowledge the difficulties for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers doing this. Ask what will help or support them.

Talk to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services, such as AOD-specific services or lands councils.

Learn the local knowledge about problematic substance use in the community.

Consider the following questions:

How do they respond when they hear about family substance use on the grapevine?

Are they aware of certain children or families where parental substance use is a concern?

Are they aware of certain geographical areas where use and dealing is occurring?

How do they believe the community is responding to the concerns?

What are the barriers to reporting that need to be addressed in this community?

 

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