australian outback

‘Connecting in Time and Place’ With Michelle Bates

Michelle Bates had spent most of her life in Sydney’s South West raising a family, but something else was calling her to the outback.  Moving to Tennant Creek for a short stint helping Aboriginal people understand and implement the National Disability Insurance Scheme Plan, Michelle found herself putting down roots after falling in the love with the colours, the country and the stories of the Warumungu people.

Among her various roles in Tennant Creek, Michelle is a counsellor and narrative practitioner, advocate, mentor and leader.  She volunteers at the Paterson Street Hub, a collective space in the main street of Tennant Creek which offers safety and opportunities for learning, sharing and contribution.  This is a delightful interview of what its like to fall in love with a place and do the work that you really love.

In Episode 34 of ‘Talk the Walk’ we explore:

  • What drew Michelle to Tennant Creek to find an anchored adventure and what keeps her there
  • The history of Michelle’s connection to working towards systems change and living well in community together
  • The impact of connection to place and the role of nurturing women on Michelle’s early life and its resonance in remote Australia
  • A narrative project unearthing the wisdom of Aboriginal children in story and play, witnessed by important adults in their lives
  • What it means to children to uncover stories about the things that are important to them in childhood 
  •  An opportunity for listeners to provide outsider witness responses to the stories of Tennant Creek children
  • Key values and qualities needed to work with children in remote communities
  • The story of Patterson St Hub, a thriving inspiring gathering place for community members
  • The challenges of living and working remotely and how struggles become rich opportunities for growth
  • The small sparkling moments of resistance that makes Michelle’s day
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Don’t forget, if you or someone you know would make a great interview on ‘Talk the Walk’, send us an email from the Contact Page.

Things to Follow up After the Episode

Michelle’s Masters project through The Dulwich Centre (link to be provided when available)

Patterson St Hub, Tennant Creek website

Patterson St hub on Instagram

Michelle Bates on Instagram

Connect with Michelle Bates on LinkedIn

Email Michelle at michelle.bates@ymail.com

Surviving the Child Protection system

From Victim to Survivor to Teacher

Alicia is one of those people that knew from the beginning of our work together, she wanted to share her story with a wider audience.  Having re-authored her narrative from a problem mother as defined by the Child Protection system to one that never gave up loving her children, Alicia then decided to publish her story with a view to helping others.  Alicia believed her skills and knowledge for surviving the Child Protection system would be useful for other parents who are trying to get their children back. 

In narrative therapy, finding another audience beyond the therapist for people’s preferred stories makes a big difference in how people experience themselves (Denborough 2014).  The story teller not only has this new version of their story validated, but feels a sense of contribution to the life of another; that in some way their life will be changed too by reading about the author’s experience.  

Being heard by outsider witnesses can also feel like a small step towards justice for someone who feels like the system let them down.  Putting one’s story out for others to read turns a personal experience into a political issue, highlighting where systems are failing people instead of continuing to blame mothers for failing their children.

This therapeutic process moves people not only from a position of victim to survivor, but through to an influential teacher who has hard-won knowledge and skills that are of benefit to others.  What an empowering position to be in for someone who has felt completely powerless over their life!

For anyone out there who is currently in a situation where their children have been removed, feeling devastated by the separation, and have lost hope, what more powerful way of reaching out to them than reading a real-life story from someone who has already ridden that roller-coaster.

On that note, I am privileged to be able to share in Alicia’s own words, her tips for parents who are currently riding the roller-coaster that is ‘surviving the child protection system’. 

And if you haven’t already, you can read Alicia’s full story here.

I hope Alicia’s words bring comfort, support and hope to those who are possibly on the worst ride of their life right now.

References: 

Denborough, D., 2014, ‘Retelling the Stories of Our Lives:  Everyday Narrative Therapy to Draw Inspiration and Transform Experience’, W. W. Norton & Company, N.Y.

nature-therapy

7 Reasons for Choosing Me as Your Therapist

So it is just about to clock over into a new year and a new decade.  Are you filled with excitement or dread?

Perhaps it’s time to finally do something about that Anxiety that has stopped you from getting a job or going outside.  Or maybe you want to shine the spotlight on the plans Depression has had for your life, because it doesn’t fit for you anymore.  Or perhaps your life experiences or the state of planet have you believing that life will never be safe again?

If the idea of therapy, freaks you out (yeah, Anxiety can stop you from getting help too!), then here are 7 reasons why you might like to consider reaching out to me.  Unlike other counsellors, I do have a few unique features that you won’t find elsewhere, as an alternative from traditional talk therapies.

  1. I come to you. 
    If transport is an issue or the idea of meeting a stranger in an office doesn’t float your boat, no problem.  I can meet you at your home, your workplace (if there is a suitable private space), or school (so you don’t have to run around delivering kids to their appointment)
  2. You are not the problem here.  Your problem is the problem.   
    Your problem is not inside of you, but perhaps it has been coming and going for so long now, it has you convinced there must be something wrong with you.  Maybe other people also think that you need fixing.  Together we will expose the problem for what it really is – something external to you.  Something you can have control over.  Something you can change.
  3. I will meet you outside (if you like). 
    From a Western viewpoint, it’s called eco-therapy.  If you’re from an Indigenous cultural background, yarning on country is what you have always done.  And it’s a much better option for people who don’t feel comfortable eyeballing their therapist between four enclosed walls.  I meet people on beaches, riverbanks and in parks, while taking the utmost care to maintain your privacy as much as possible.  Being in nature provides a whole host of health and well-being benefits. I learned all about the healing aspects of being connected to the land from my time working in remote communities of the Northern Territory.
  4. You may not have to pay. 
    I am committed to offering therapeutic experiences to people who can least afford it.  If you have a mild to moderate mental health issue and are experiencing financial hardship, you may be eligible for 12 free sessions over 12 months through the Connect To Well-being program.  A further 10 sessions per year are available through Medicare’s Better Access, with a Mental Health Care Plan and referral from your GP.  Check your eligibility here.
  5. I am here to stay.  
    There is nothing worse than building a relationship with a therapist, then learning that they are leaving their job or moving away.  The Nambucca Valley is my home and my work space.  I am really passionate about my community and making it a great place for everyone to live, work and play.  I would be crazy to leave what is the best micro-climate in the country that makes me thrive.
  6. I will ‘Walk and Talk’.   
    Sitting still doesn’t suit everyone especially if you feel fidgety or restless.  Sometimes moving your body is part of what’s needed to help you relax or express yourself.  We can do this in private or you can join a group.  Why not try a whole day of bush walking along the coast, while working on a problem in our Narrative Walks program!
  7. I am the only Certified Nature and Forest Therapy Guide in the region. 
    If the stress of daily life has taken its toll, let me guide you into the forest to help you slow down and reconnect mindfully with yourself and nature.  You can book a private walk with a group of friends, colleagues or just yourself.

So what are your plans for your life in the decade to come?  Let’s work together to make it happen. Get in touch.

therapeutic letter writing

“Unearthing Unspoken Words” with Annette Dudley

Annette Dudley stumbled her way into the therapy world after being supported by her foster carers to pursue her passion for education and having a number of mentors, supervisors and children cheering her on from the sidelines.  A significant milestone was the completion of her Masters of Narrative Therapy and Community Work in 2015.   In this interview, Annette reflects on her project ‘Unspoken Words’: Creative Letters to Elders of my Past and Present’ utilising the narrative practice of therapeutic letter writing.

Annette Dudley

Annette is a descendent of the Bailai Nation from the Gladstone area in Central Queensland, Tanna Island in Vanuatu and Murray Island in the Torres Strait Islands.  Annette has held a variety of therapeutic and support roles within mental health, Aboriginal health, family violence legal services, criminal justice, sexual assault and youth services.  She currently supports youth and families as a Project Officer for Indigenous Wellbeing at Central Queensland University in Rockhampton. 

This is what we explore in episode 32 of ‘Talk the Walk’:

  • How Annette came to study narrative therapy and community work, and why she thinks it is a culturally sensitive approach to working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people
  • What led to Annette undertaking her ‘Unspoken Word’ letter writing project with Elders of her community, and the impact it had on her work and life
  • Reflections on her work on Healing Camps with the Woorabinda community and the Taroom to Woorabinda Trek
  • The impact narrative letter writing honouring people’s legacies can have on recipients and their families
  • The significance of writing a letter from an oral culture perspective
  • How the ‘Unspoken Words’ project shaped Annette’s therapeutic practice with clients
  • Exploring the fit of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy with Indigenous clients
  • What Annette loves about using the Tree of Life methodology with clients
  • Reflections on Annette’s journey from foster child to therapist
  • Rolemodels, motivators and admirers
  • Annette’s career highlight – a sparkling moment!

To listen, simply click on the Play button below or listen via the Stitcher App for iOS, Android, Nook and iPad.

Listen to Stitcher

You can subscribe to future podcast episodes from our Subscription page. Don’t forget, if you or someone you know would make a great interview on ‘Talk the Walk’, send us an email from the Contact Page.

Things to follow up after the episode:

‘Unspoken Words’: Creative Letters to Elders of my Past and Present”

David Denborough
Cheryl White
David Epston
Ncazelo Ncube-Mlilo and The Tree of Life

Contact Annette at dlzmmettswplsg(at)gmail(dot)com

mum-and-child

Re-writing Stories of Identity: Alicia’s Story

The first day I met Alicia, not that long ago, she said ‘I want to share my story with other people.  I want to help others who are going through similar struggles.’

In the few months that followed, I sat down to interview Alicia on her experience of having her children removed and the many years that followed, fighting to get them back.  This alone appeared to be a very powerful and healing experience for Alicia.  Our narrative conversations allowed Alicia to reclaiming her identity from one which was defined by the Child Protection system as ‘a worthless mother who was not going to get better’ to her preferred identity as a ‘strong-willed, stubborn but patient fighter who never stopped loving her kids’.

In narrative therapy, Denborough says “while we can’t always change the stories that others have about us, we can influence the stories we tell about ourselves and those we care about”.  In telling our stories in ways that focus on our strengths for getting through difficult times, we have the power to re-author our lives.  No longer are we trapped by the problem story that we have come to believe is true; we now have a new and different story of what we stand for and value in life.

Our therapy together has allowed Alicia to reclaim her ‘storytelling rights’ (Denborough 2017) and tell her story in a way that fits for her, not defined by others.  The Charter of Storytelling Rights includes:

  • the right to define their experiences and problem in their own words and terms.
  • the right not to have problems caused by trauma and injustice, located inside them, internally, as if there were some deficit in them.  The person is not the problem; the problem is the problem.
  • The right to have their responses to hard times acknowledged.
  • The right to know and experience that what they have learned through hard times can make a contribution to the lives of others in similar situations.

It is this last right, that Alicia now wishes to exercise.  Today, is the first time that Alicia is going public with her story.  This is an opportunity for you, the audience, to be witness to the alternative story Alicia is taking on about her life.

We invite you to read Alicia’s Story of ‘never, ever giving up’ and then send a message back to Alicia about how this story has changed you.  

If you know what it is like to experience child removal, we invite you to continue the conversation with us on our Facebook Group.

References:
Deborough, D. 2014, ‘Retelling the Stories of Our Lives Everyday Narrative Therapy to Draw Inspiration and Transform Experience’, Norton.

Storms

Weathering the Storms of Life: An Exploration of Group Work with Tiwi Women

In March, I was invited back to the Tiwi Islands to co-facilitate a Tree of Life Workshop with Tiwi women, as part of a ‘Telling Story’ project funded by a small Suicide Prevention grant from the NT Government.

The Tree of Life is a popular methodology that has taken off globally amongst many different kinds of practitioners working in the therapeutic space.  It has very much shaped my social work practice framework and the way I incorporate use of metaphor from counselling and group work to strategic planning and evaluation.

Our workshop began with a discussion about what trees mean to the women.  We heard stories about the mango trees that were planted by the old people and that sitting under the mango trees brings feelings of connection to ancestors, which keeps women strong.  This connection is felt as a voice when the wind blows and the leaves start moving.  “We can sense the presence, their spirit is following us wherever we go.  We sense the presence of our mothers and fathers, there with us.”  The mangoes are like gifts from the old people that continue to feed the children and the future generations.

The narrative approach is about asking questions which explore the history of the knowledge, skills and values which people describe, to thicken the story and give a richer description.  As one woman described her connection to mangrove trees, we discovered she learnt to find mangrove worms to eat by going out with her grandmother and mother.  She learnt how to chop that tree by observing with her eyes and listening with her ears.  She discovered that the old logs were the better ones to  find mangrove worms and the importance of looking for tracks first.  She came to know the difference between mangrove worms and cheeky worms at an early age, by eating the wrong one.  Later on in our workshop, the same woman described how the chopping action had became a way of dealing with stress in adulthood.

The next step of the process is inviting the participants to draw a tree, perhaps one that has meaning for them.  We provided a variety of art materials such as textas, oil pastels and pencils, giving participants approximately 30 minutes to draw on an A2 size piece of good quality paper.  The drawing should include roots, a truck, branches, leaves and fruit (or nuts).  We then discuss the role and significance of each part of the tree and introduce the Tree of Life metaphor.

In exploring our roots which represents cultural heritage, we discovered stories of connection to country and culture, the significance of belonging to their skin groups and special places the women were connected to.  These roots shaped their identities as Tiwi women.  We unearthed a rich tradition of hearing “from our mothers and grandmothers, who we belong to.”  For two women, there was a reclaiming of identity with the red flower skin group, which existed before the great Tiwi wars.  We also heard a strong theme emerging about life-long learning, as if the roots of the trees were still growing and spreading.  “Sometimes learning doesn’t stop, from little ones to big ones.”  One of the women had been away from the community for a long time and had brought her children back to teach Tiwi culture.  Another spoke about learning to weave much later in life.  “It’s never too late to learn your culture”.  The women were invited to write some words on their roots about what history stories are most important to them.

Our conversation then moved to exploring the trunk of the tree representing people’s skills, abilities and values.  We noticed that some women found it difficult voicing these qualities, so we asked what important people in their lives might notice or appreciate about them in order to uncover hidden stories.  We heard stories about making art, collecting dyes for basket weaving, keeping children safe and looking after them, getting children to school every day, being a bridge between Tiwi and non-Indigenous people coming to the islands, and being the best damper maker in the family.  Many women inherited the skills of teaching and were committed to sharing their knowledge with the next generation.   Shared values of women supporting each other and keeping culture alive through dance, song and story were named, and how this contributes to their ‘trees’ staying strong.  Once again, the women documented which stories were significant to them on their tree drawing.

In exploring wishes and dreams for the future (or the strong branches reaching out), we heard shared dreams about changes for their community.  We heard hopes for Wurrumiyanga to be a better place to live, a safe place to live with no violence.  One woman dreamed about people in the community changing their attitudes, so that there is more respect, love and kindness.  She modelled this in her family through soft, gentle talk, not growling.  Others said they wanted young people to sit and learn from the Strong Elders, for kids to grow up and have a better life, to see them learn the skills of singing and dancing.  One woman wanted to talk stronger with kids when they are fighting, because she didn’t like seeing kids hurt each other, and then adults getting involved in the fighting.  There were grand hopes for a cultural centre to be built to preserve Tiwi culture, and smaller hopes for teaching basket weaving and armband making.  These wishes were linked to deeply held values of passing on strong culture to their children, so they can grow up to be the next generation of strong leaders.

Each of the women then shared personal hopes and dreams for their lives.  This included being a model, a teacher, a teachers assistant, hunters and fishers, supporters and helpers and being a better person.  Women’s hopes and dreams were recorded with photos, a moment captured in time to bring to life.

“I want to be a singer.  Nana has been teaching me singing since I was about 15 years old.  I want to teach kids how to sing when they grow up.  They will teach their kids in the future.”

“I’d like to play footy for a women’s AFL team, hopefully the Adelaide Crows.  I’ve had this dream since I was a teenager.  My grandfather saw my talent.  He’s passed away now.  But he would say “Play footy and be a good sportswoman, and be a part of it”.  I carry his voice with me.”\

Over 30 women attended the two day workshop.  This was a greater number of participants than expected, and posed a challenge for us, as facilitators, ensuring all voices are given an opportunity to be heard.  It also meant that time didn’t allow us to investigate the leaves (special people) and fruits (their gifts) as fully as we would have liked.  However, as you can see from the above quotes, this tended to occur naturally in our investigation of people’s stories.  The importance of knowing their roots, the history of their skills and abilities, and their hopes and dreams for the future, often uncovered people who were important to them and the legacies they had left.

In Day two of our workshop, we explored what it is like to be part of a Forest of Life.  The women voiced “We are all one family – we are all Tiwi” as well as recognised the unique stories and skingroups, values and beliefs, skills and abilities, hopes and dreams of each tree.  Standing back to visualise the forest of trees revealed the beauty that came from standing tall and proud, healthy and strong.  This was seen as a place where the women support each other, look out for each other, offer care, kindness, and protection.

Our final discussion around the Storms of Life unveiled the kinds of storms that women come up against.  This included domestic violence, fighting, arguing, jealousing, hate, family violence, gossip, swearing, hurt feelings, speaking bad way- especially on facebook, ignoring people, lateral violence, discriminating, putdowns, tantrums and losing family.  We explored the skills, strategies and knowledge women draw upon to stand strong in the face of these difficulties.  This knowledge was recorded in a document called ‘Weathering the Storms of Life’.   It is hoped that this document would help the women ride out future storms that might blow their way.

In the concluding moments of our workshop, the women spontaneously expressed a wish to send a message to their children about their hard won knowledge and skills regarding managing storms.   This is their message – Words for Our Children.

The women of Wurrimyanga, Tiwi Islands

Sometimes, the most powerful process to occur happens after the group work is finished, by inviting other communities or individuals to witness and respond to the stories that have been gathered.  Contributions from these ‘Outsider Witnesses’ can help the storytellers feel connected to others, reduce isolation, and assist them to take action in line with their intentions and commitments.  Having a group of outsiders listening and acknowledging people’s wisdom and knowledge, validates their story and identity claim (Carey & Russell).  The Telling Story Project team will be taking Tiwi messages back to other communities they work in, to exchange messages.

If you would like to be an Outsider Witness to the stories of the Tiwi women, I invite you to download and read ‘Weathering the Storms of Life’.  Use the four questions below to formulate your message and send it to us.  We will make sure your message gets sent back to the Tiwi women.

  1. Which words in this document capture your attention?
  2. What do you think these words suggest about what this person values, values, believes in, dreams about or is committed to?
  3. Is there something about your own life that helps you connect with these words?  Can you share a story from your own experience that shows why their words meant something to you.
  4. So what does it mean for you now, having read this document?  What might be different in your life?

We look forward to hearing your story.
This video presentation offers a visual snapshot of our 2 day workshop.

If you would like to know more about using the Tree of Life methodology in your community, please contact us or Sudha Coutinho at the Telling Story project on sudhacoutinho@gmail.com.  We would be happy to work with you in capturing the wisdom and knowledge of your community or group, in riding out the Storms of Life.

This Telling Story project was funded through a NT Government Department of Health Alcohol Reform NGO Grant and auspiced by Relationships Australia, NT.

References and further reading:

Denborough, D. (2008), ‘The Tree of Life: Responding to vulnerable Children’ in ‘Collective Narrative Practice: Responding to individuals, groups and communities who have experienced trauma’, Dulwich Centre Publications.

Carey, M. & Russell, S., (2003) ‘Outsider-witness practices: some answers to commonly asked questions’.

Kids in the sunset

Collective Narrative Documentation: My experience capturing the Hard Won Skills and Wisdom of the Tiwi People

Drug and alcohol misuse, neglect and abuse, violence and early death, overcrowding and ill health.  It is a story that is all too well told and re-told about remote Aboriginal communities.

But it is just one story.                                    

The methodology known as collective narrative documentation offers an opportunity for communities to voice an alternative story.  One of strengths and skills, customs and traditional knowledge, values and beliefs, future hopes and intentions.

During my time on the Tiwi Islands, I had the privilege of hearing rich stories like this and authoring two collective documents.  These documents reflect the words of Tiwi people who have been actively resisting the effects of colonisation, and using special skills and knowledge to stay strong in hard times.

In the narrative documentation process, I witnessed for myself the healing power of storytelling on many levels.  The first happened as individuals shared their story around the campfire with members of their family as witnesses to their experience.  The second was recognising that they were not alone in their experience as stories were gathered and documented into common themes.  And the third happened as their exact words were read back to them.  In some instances, I witnessed a fourth step when individuals felt the sense of contributing to the lives of others, by sharing their story with others outside of their community who were also going through hard times.

So how does the process of narrative collective documentation actually work?  For a full description of the practice, I recommend reading Denborough’s article in Collective Narrative Practice.  But I will briefly summarise the process here as it happened for me.

Lighting the fire, the central point for a storytelling circle.

Firstly, you need a gathering of people.  For me, the opportunity to collect stories of strength occurred at a women’s healing camp in 2009 and two family bush camps in 2010 and 2011.  Next, Denborough recommends a series of questions designed to generate rich content exploring the history of people’s skills and knowledge, and linking this to people and traditions.  These are generally as follows:

  • What is the name of a special skill, knowledge or value that sustains you through difficult times?
  • Tell me a story about this skill, knowledge or value, when this made a difference to you or to others.
  • What is the history of this skill, knowledge or value?  How did you learn this?  Who did you learn it from?
  • Is this skill or value linked in some way to collective or cultural traditions? 

Sometimes I would ask scaffolding questions, or translate these questions into simpler english, as I was working with people whose primary language was Tiwi.  I also gained permission to record people’s stories as an audio file, so that I could go back and translate people’s exact words.  When working on your own, I find it challenging to facilitate a conversation and record written notes at the same time.  Listening back to audio files obviously takes a lot longer, but I felt it was important to capture people’s exact words in the document, so they would easily recognise them as their own.

Once I transcribed the audio files, I used a highlighter pen to identify common themes amongst the stories.  Each theme became a different section of the document.  I chose to head up each section with a short phrase I had heard which reflected the essence of that theme. 

Writing up the document becomes a narrative process in its self by the author.  It is good to begin the document with an acknowledgement in the collective voice of the unique knowledge and skills of the storytellers and hopes for sharing the document with an audience that might resonate with its content. 

In the main body of the document, I like to use paragraphs incorporating people’s exact words in quotation marks, beginning and ending with a more general reflection in each section which highlights the collective experience.  Other writers cleverly weave together third person and first person talk in each section, in a flowing sequence which captures both collective and individual experience.  Every storyteller would recognise some of their own words reflected in each paragraph, even though quotation marks are not used.  A good example of this is shown in Denborough’s article.  One of my documents incorporates photographs taken on the bush camps that express another aspect of the theme.

The first draft was taken back to the participants to check its content for accuracy.  At this stage, there was no agreement to share it outside of their community.  After making any necessary changes, copies were made and distributed to the folks that participated.  Ideally, permission would be gained to share the documents with other communities or individuals who are also going through difficult times.  For different reasons, this never happened and time passed. 

Until now.

It is now 10 years since my first collective narrative document was written with the Tiwi people.  On my recent visit back to the islands, I finally gained permission from the Tiwi women to share them.  It means a lot to them that their hard won skills and wisdom may help someone else, particularly as some of the storytellers have since passed away.  It brings them comfort to know that their voice lives on.

It brings me great pleasure to bring share with you the following documents:

After reading these documents I invite you send a response back to the Tiwi community.  You may like to use the following questions as a guide to formulate your response. 

  • As you read this story about, I’m wondering what caught your attention?  Which piece resonated with you? 
  • What image came to your mind as your read this piece?  What do you think the storyteller is hoping for, values, believes in, dreams about or is committed to?
  • Is there something about your own life that helps you connect with this part of the story?  Can you share a story from your own experience that shows why this part of the story meant something to you.
  • So what does it mean for you now, having heard this story?  How have you been moved?  Where has this experience taken you to?

Contact us if you would like your message sent back to the Tiwi community. 

Collective narrative documentation is a way of responding to trauma that acknowledges the strengths of communities and has potential to build relationships between communities going through similar difficulties.  If you are interested in using this approach with your group or community, please get in touch, to see if we can help.

* Please note: this document may contain the names and images of Aboriginal people now deceased.

References:  Denborough, D. 2008, ‘Collective Narrative Practice:  Responding to Individuals, Groups and Communities who have experienced trauma’, Dulwich Centre Publications.

Alanna Audus

“Coming From a Place of Not Knowing” with Alanna Audus

There is something to be said about social workers who are graciously willing to tell their story, just 12 months after diving into their remote social work experience.  Still in the midst of a giant learning curve, Alanna Audus joins me on Talk the Walk to share the ups, downs and delicious highlights of her beginnings in Alice Springs.  Alanna is a newcomer to narrative therapy and is delighted with the way her somewhat ‘kooky’ conversations with people are beginning to shape their lives for the better.  She works as a generalist and victims of crime counsellor for CatholicCare NT with some of the most marginalised Aboriginal people in Australia.

This conversation is as delightful as it is authentic.  So be warned, Alanna’s heartfelt generosity may inspire you to pack up your city life and go bush.

On episode 27, we explore:

  • What led Alanna to pack up all her belongings and head to Alice Springs
  • What it’s really like starting out in social work with no prior experience working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
  • Alanna’s unique story which has influenced her passion and drive for social justice
  • A ‘fly on the wall’ account of Alanna’s approach to counselling, starting out in narrative therapy
  • Why relationships are at the heart of Alanna’s practice and feeling okay about not knowing
  • The rich conversations that transpire working with metaphors
  • Methods of narrative documentation such as letter writing which record people’s processes of acknowledgement and achievement, and what difference this makes to clients
  • Struggles and challenges Alanna has faced in her first year in a remote community and the notion of ‘doing therapy on yourself everyday’
  • The influence of nature and the raw environment on Alanna’s self care, allowing her to do high intensity social work
  • Reflections on resilience in ourselves and our clients
  • The people, institutions and the influence of radical politics that have shaped Alanna’s social work practice framework and life
  • Reflections on the NT Emergency Intervention more than a decade on, a continuation of ongoing oppression and disempowerment which began with colonisation
  • Words of wisdom for other social workers considering the move from big city to remote outback and avoiding burnout
  • A sparkling moment from Alanna’s last week

To listen, simply click on the Play button below or listen via the Stitcher App for iOS, Android, Nook and iPad.
Listen to Stitcher
You can also subscribe to podcast and blog updates via email from the Menu on the Home Page.

Don’t forget, if you or someone you know would make a great interview on ‘Talk the Walk’, send us an email from the Contact Page.

Things to follow up after the episode

Contact Alanna on alanna.audus(at)gmail(dot)com

‘A Cultural Model of Therapeutic Social Work’ with Jannice Luland

“A special moment”. Jannice with the clapsticks at the Singing for Healing program.

Jannice Luland is our guest on episode 26 of Talk the Walk.  Jannice is a proud Aboriginal woman and direct descendant of the Wodiwodi and Walbunja peoples of the far South coast of NSW.   After a career spanning over 30 years in child protection, out of home care, justice health, mental health, domestic and family violence and sexual assault, Jannice finally graduated with her Masters of Social Work in 2015.

Aunty Jeno, as she is known in her community of Nowra in NSW, is passionate about supporting women and young people in the field of domestic violence and sexualised violence, and has a special interest in the impact of intergenerational trauma on the Stolen Generations.

As well as being employed as a Healing Counsellor at Waminda, Jannice currently serves on the Aboriginal Elders committee and cultural committee.  She is a huge advocate of social work practice frameworks which incorporate cultural healing practices.  In our conversation we dive deep into what this looks like and what it means for Jannice to be able to incorporate her culture into a strong values and evidence-based model of therapeutic care.

In this episode, we explore:

  • A brief overview of the services at Waminda, an Aboriginal owned and run health and well-being service
  • How Waminda applied Aboriginal healing principles to address issues of low engagement with Aboriginal women accessing sexual assault and domestic violence services
  • How Jannnice arrived at social work after landing her first job as an uneducated single mum
  • How and why Jannice keeps culture central in her social work practice framework
  • Reflections on studying the social work degree and the lack of theoretical frameworks that intersect Indigenous cultures
  • Exploring the benefits, responsibilities and achievements as a member of the Elders group and cultural committee within the organisation
  • The theory and cultural knowledge behind the Singing for Healing program
  • Jannice’s desire to connect with other Aboriginal social workers across Australia to explore cultural therapeutic approaches
  • The importance of accessing cultural social work supervision
  • The values Jannice says are important in overcoming challenges within the work
  • Critical aspects of a healing counselling service that contribute to Closing The Gap
  • Role models and special people that have influenced Jannice’s life and career in social work and a sense of gratitude
  • Inspiring Aboriginal women to take up social work
  • That sparkling moment with the clapsticks

The sound is less than ideal at the beginning of this interview, but does improve, so please stick with it.
To listen, simply click on the Play button below or listen via the Stitcher App for iOS, Android, Nook and iPad.
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Things to follow up after the episode

Trauma Trails by Judy Atkinson

Waminda website

Follow Waminda on Facebook

Contact Jannice Luland on jannicel(at)waminda(dot)org(dot)au

An externalised problem in play doh.

The Influence of Narrative Therapy in my Work with Aboriginal Communities

I was first introduced to Narrative Therapy in 2006 after graduating with my social work degree in Brisbane.  But it wasn’t until a few years later in Darwin that the penny dropped on how this approach might actually sit comfortably alongside the worldviews and cultural perspectives of Aboriginal people whom I was working with.  A one week intensive at the Dulwich Centre in Adelaide introducing me to Collective and Community practices from a narrative approach was the start of a journey of sharing these ideas with my Aboriginal colleagues and ‘having a go’ to see what works.

The following reflections show how my practice approach has been influenced by narrative therapy ideas.

Double Listening

The problems that affect the lives of Aboriginal people can often be presented in a way that is disabling or weighing them down heavily; for example, domestic violence that has gone on for many years or issues associated with poverty that affect people’s stress levels.  This negative story can come to dominate people’s lives so that it is the only one they come to believe about themselves and other people tell about them.
However, people have many story lines running through their lives.  Perhaps they have simply lost touch with the things that are important to them and they give meaning to?  In a process of ‘double listening’, we are continually looking for doors into the alternative story, as the problem-dominant story is one that Aboriginal people can fall back into again and again.

Externalising

An externalised problem in play doh.

An externalised problem in play doh.

The person labelled as ‘angry’ or ‘naughty’ by others can sometimes internalise this view about themselves.  The process of externalising helps us to “separate the problem from the person”.   A lot of my counselling work has involved externalising the feelings of children who have been labelled by their communities or families as angry, naughty, bad, lost, lonely, no-hoper, mad and stupid.  Through exploring the “strong story” using things like drawing, painting, clay, puppets and story writing children come to see that ‘the problem’ they are experiencing does not reside inside themselves, but is external to them, possibly as a result of someone else’s problem behaviour in the family.  Children have such amazing imaginations when it comes to naming the problem and can articulate the ‘monster’, ‘devil’ or ‘alien’ as no longer having hold over their lives.

 

Eunice and Elaine share their 'strong story' of going to school.

Eunice and Elaine share their ‘strong story’ of going to school.

Resistance

Aboriginal people who have experienced trauma are often overwhelmed by feelings of shame, thinking somehow they are to blame for their problems or perhaps they invited it.  However, no‐one is a passive recipient to trauma.  Even in the most difficult of circumstances when it was not possible to avoid the trauma, people still take positive steps to stand up against it, resist it or protect themselves from its effects (Yuen 2009).  However small these steps might be, they indicate people are responding because it challenges their values and who they are.  What is it they hold precious in their life that they would respond in this way?  What is it they strongly believe in, that has been threatened?  By exploring and thickening the strengths, skills, values and abilities that help them through difficult times, Aboriginal people reclaim strong stories of hope and resilience and move towards healing.  The narrative approach gives Aboriginal people a safer place to stand to explore their experience without having to re-tell any traumatic details.

Collective Narrative Documentation

The Tiwi developed their own Ripples of Life story.

The Tiwi developed their own Ripples of Life story.

Narrative practice is interested in linking the individual experience to the collective; our individual problems are instead viewed as social issues. When listening to Aboriginal people’s experience of trauma, we are not only listening for individual accounts of how people responded to hard times and developing a rich narrative together, but looking for opportunities to link their life to some sort of collective experience.  In this way, people speak through us, not just to us (Denborough 2008). Some of the children I worked with wanted to share their stories of living with violence or bullying with children from other communities.  I became the deliverer of special messages between children who willingly offered up their stories if it meant it would help someone else. They often reflected “I am not alone in this” or “My experience is helping someone else”.
When people have an opportunity to anonymously share their stories with a broader audience, like another community, they gain a sense of contribution to the lives of another who may also be experiencing hard times.  In my work with Tiwi at Family Healing Bush Camps, community members were invited to share what skills, knowledge and abilities they used to get through difficult issues such as family and domestic violence, substance misuse in the family and having their children taken by welfare.  A written collective document was given back to the participants to share with other communities.  Such documents can be powerful methods of generating a social movement towards change, healing whole communities of people who share stories with each other.

Tree of Life

Tree of Life

Tree Of Life

Collective methodologies such as the Tree of Life and Team of Life have shown to be extremely effective at allowing children and young people who have experienced trauma or significant loss to speak about their skills and knowledge in the comfort and security of peers.  These metaphors offer Aboriginal people safe ways of exploring the difficult events of life like “the storm which hit our family” or “having to defend oneself from attack”.  Family members and Elders who act as outsider witnesses to children’s experience are valuable players in validating these stories.  The artwork generated from this group-work can also be shared as a collective document of children’s resilience, knowledge, hopes and dreams with other groups around the world.

Collective Narrative Timelines

Collective Narrative Timelines are also a well documented narrative practice for using with groups.  I used this methodology during groupwork with Aboriginal women to help them reflect on their own childhood experiences and how these memories have impacted on their own parenting.  Collective narrative timelines are great for the beginning of groups to help participants develop a connection very quickly around a shared theme, while also acknowledging the diversity of experience in the room.  You can read about my process of using Collective Narrative Timelines in a previous blog.

For more resources and ideas on narrative practice with Indigenous communities, explore our Direct Practice and Professional Development Libraries.

References:

Denborough 2008, Collective Narrative Therapy: Responding to individuals, groups and communities who have experienced trauma.

Yuen, A. 2009, Less pain, more gain: Explorations of responses versus effects when working with the consequences of trauma.