Suhaila Rizqallah

“Exploring the World of Social Policy in Australia’s Most Remote Communities” with Suhaila Rizqallah

What does it take to be a mover and shaker in the development of social policy in the Northern Territory?  Who better to ask than the 2016 NT Social Worker of the Year, Suhaila Rizqallah.  My guest today has traipsed back and forth on country for over two decades and has a really good handle on the issues that affect Aboriginal people in Northern Australia.  This interview provides a glimpse into the wide range of experiences, observations and actions, Suhaila has undertaken during her varied and deeply satisfying career.

On Episode 30 on Talk the Walk, we explore:

  • A day in the life of a Senior Contract Administrator for the Northern Region of Australia
  • Reflections on a 24-year journey from social work student at Anglicare to now overseeing contractual arrangements with NGO’s
  • The one big challenge for remote communities implementing services
  • Why Homelands policy has been the hardest to grapple with yet the most rewarding to see implemented by the Northern Territory government
  • What it was like to be called across to work in a multidisciplinary team on the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children
  • Thoughts on how legislation should be shaped in the future to address the over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people in out of home care and the juvenile justice system
  • Access to good news stories from across the Northern Region
  • Helping remote Aboriginal communities recover after natural disaster and the implementation of welfare recovery policy
  • The unusual turning point that set Suhaila on the road to social work and be one of the first to graduate in the NT
  • The principles and values that has driven Suhaila’s career from her early days as a child protection worker
  • The influence of Suhaila’s Palestinian culture and family dynamics on her life and work
  • A beautiful sparkling moment that signifies all the hard work is worth it
  • Hopes for the future including the Bush Odyssey project

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:

West Arnhem Regional Council

East Arnhem Regional Council

Suhaila receiving the Mary Moylan NT Social Worker of the Year Award 2016

Contact Suhaila Rizqallah at ieelmag(at)bigpond(dot)com(dot)au

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.

Anna McCracken

‘Roaming Around Australia and Listening Deeply’ with Anna McCracken

How do you combine a love of travel with social work and human rights advocacy?   Just ask Anna McCracken.  Anna has been roaming around remote Australia in her 4 wheel drive since 2013, listening to the stories of First Nations Australians and shaping the roll-out of the NDIS.

With an undergraduate degree in Social Work and a Masters in Human Rights Law, Anna’s nomadic lifestyle allows her to travel the country working in partnership with communities and as a link to business and Government around resourcing community led solutions to social challenges.   Anna’s current passion project is exploring the role immersive technology can play in storytelling and language preservation in remote communities.

As a facilitator of conversation and an excavator of the ‘real story’, this interview with Anna lives up to expectations.  We get to know the person behind the passion, and what it takes to roll up the swag and hit the road with no agenda but to do what social workers do best – listen deeply.

In episode 29 of ‘Talk the Walk’, we explore:

  • Anna’s first observations as a social work graduate about social policy and its impact in regional and remote Australia
  • What motivated Anna to undertake undertake further study in Human Rights Law and the learnings both professional and personal which led to becoming an Advocate for disability rights
  • the unique skills social workers offer as a conduit between clients and service providers to give them a voice
  • Reflections on Aboriginal people’s experience of the NDIS and its influence in shaping the scheme
  • Why Western Australian communities have embraced immersive technologies
  • The potential for virtual reality to be used with children who have development, social and behavioural challenges
  • Pondering the ethical implications of VR
  • the value of having difficult conversations about White Privilege
  • Anna’s motivations and influences inspired by a great Aboriginal activist and a grandfather who had all the time in the world
  • The questions around who she is as a social worker practitioner that keeps Anna awake at night

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:

Lila Watson

Follow Anna McCracken on Instagram

Connect with Anna McCracken on LinkedIn

Phoria

Cambodian Children’s Trust

Anna McCracken’s favourite podcast to listen to while roaming around is On Being with Krista Trippett.   Anna’s favourite episodes are interviews with David Whyte, America Ferrera and John Paul Lederach.

Australian indigenous social work

‘Decolonising Our Selves and Our Work’ with Dr. Antonia Hendrick

Whatever context you work in, this conversation will get you thinking about how you really engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people in your community.

Dr Antonia Hendrick is a full time Lecturer in the School of Occupational Therapy, Social Work and Speech Pathology at Curtin University.  She is not your average academic.  Behind the qualifications, the accolades and the numerous published articles, lies an authentic human being, who is prepared to share her vulnerabilities in front of her students.  Antonia’s current passion is ‘Reaching Across the Divide: Aboriginal Elders and Academics Working Together’, a project that is changing the way the social work curriculum is developed and implemented across the school.  For Antonia, it is a professional as well as very personal journey, working with Aboriginal Elders to develop staff and student cultural responsiveness.

There are lessons for us all about de-colonising our selves and our work, as Antonia takes us on a reflective journey into her White Privilege.

In episode 28 of Talk the Walk, we explore:

  • the precursors to Curtin University taking real action to decolonise the social work curriculum in 2014 using the ‘Getting It Right’ teaching and learning framework
  • The two key imperatives for working together with Elders as a political action of social work
  • What is meant by ‘becoming an Ally?’ in decolonising social work practice
  • The outcomes that are starting to emerge for social work students and staff engaging in yarning processes at the university
  • The impact of the project on Antonia’s relational self
  • The challenges of being an academic in the work of institutional decolonisation and the personal impact on Antonia as a practitioner and human being
  • A personal family story of white privilege and it’s impact on Antonia’s values and belief system
  • The inspiring others behind Antonia’s passion for this work
  • The movement of decolonisation that is occurring across social work and other professions in Australia
  • What the future holds for Curtain University in their partnership with the Elders Group
  • The outcomes for students’ social work practice frameworks after completing a decolonised version of the social work curriculum
  • A final reflection for all social workers on the transferable skills across population groups in ‘becoming an ally’

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

Looking Forward Aboriginal Mental Health Project’, Final Report (2011-2015)

Published works by Associate Profession Michael Wright

Hendrick, A. (2015). ‘Working with Nyoongar Elders to decolonise the social work curriculum’, New Community Quarterly.

Hendrick, A. & Young, S. (2017).  ‘Decolonising the Curriculum, Decolonising Ourselves: Experiences of Teaching in and from the ‘Third Space

Hendrick, A., & Young, S. (2018). Teaching about Decoloniality: The Experience of Non-Indigenous Social Work Educators. American Journal of Community Psychology, 62(3-4), 306-318.

Bishop, A. (2002). Becoming an ally: Breaking the cycle of oppression (2nd ed.).  Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin.

Land, C. (2015). Decolonizing solidarity. Dilemmas and directions for supporters of Indigenous struggles. London, UK: Zed Books.

Singleton, G., & Hays, C. (2008). Beginning courageous conversations about race. In M. Pollack (Ed.), Everyday antiracism: Getting real about race in school (pp. 18–23). New York, NYW. W. Norton & Co.

Contact Dr Antonia Hendrick at Curtin University

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.
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

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.

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How Did Metaphors Become a Part of My Therapeutic Framework?

One of my very first learnings all those years ago in counselling work with Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory was their tendency to talk in round-a-bout ways.  At first I found this frustrating.  You could not ask a direct question and get a direct answer.  It will usually be silence or a head nod (which does not necessarily mean yes, but a polite acknowledgement)!  So I had to find ways that clients would be comfortable to share their experience safely in ways which suited their communication style and integrated their traumatic experience.  After trying the methodologies I’d learnt from narrative therapy and getting such a good response, it dawned on me that working with metaphors was common sense.  Aboriginal people have been communicating in metaphorical ways since time began, through their dreaming stories and ancestors.  This way of working just fits!  Whether it has been in individual counselling or groupwork with women and children or in training and mentoring with Aboriginal workers, concepts or ideas are much easier to communicate through metaphorical stories, verbal or visual.

My first exposure to working with metaphors was at the Dulwich Centre.  “The Tree of Life” methodology was inspired by the work of Ncazelo Ncube of REPSSI (Zimbabwe/South Africa) to respond to children affected by HIV/AIDS.  I’ve used this and its sister method “The Team of Life” with children in the Tiwi Islands with great success, training local Aboriginal women to facilitate the activity.  The tree metaphor gives children a safe place to stand to explore challenges and problems in their lives without re-traumatising them.  I also noticed how the adults supporting the children, started talking about their own lives using trees.

“Trees can teach us a lot about how to live.  Our traditional way of life is about caring for each other and growing strong families.  Now there are storms destroying our families and hurting our children.  We can see it’s not a healthy life for our people”.  – Elaine Tiparui, Bathurst Island.

Picture: Ian Morris.

Picture: Ian Morris. This image has been used to talk about the role of the whole family/community to grow up strong kids (Grandparents are the old growth trees in the background, Uncles/Aunties and parents in middle, teenagers as younger trees and babies/toddlers the little seedlings in front).

I went on to work collaboratively with the women of Tiwi Islands and NE Arnhemland to develop a new tool using the tree metaphor to invite women into a conversation about violence and its affect on children’s development.  “It Takes a Forest to raise a tree: Healing Our Children from the Storms in their Lives” is my first resource produced in community, with community, for community.

As my counselling work progressed, I found that narrative therapy still relied on people being able to verbally express a story.  Neuroscience tells us that the impact of trauma on the brain means that people are simply unable to talk about what happened to them, even if they wanted to!  Many of the children, I’ve worked with were still very much non-verbal and I’ve come to rely more and more on art as a method of communicating and integrating traumatic experience.  Working alongside Aboriginal Child and Family Support Workers using their own languages, we discovered ways for children to document their stories of abuse, violence and neglect using methods like drawing, clay, collage and mask making.  Not surprisingly these stories were communicated through aliens, imaginary friends, monsters, dreaming animals, body parts and other such creatures apart from themselves.   To offer other alternative ways in to children’s stories, I also went on to write ‘The Life of Tree’, a therapeutic picture book, designed to help Aboriginal children speak up about their trauma experience.  Metaphors work in the most magical way to bring healing!

…metaphorically speaking will continue to experiment with playful and effective therapeutic tools using metaphors in our direct work with clients and in the resources we produce in the future.
You can read more about how we are integrating use of metaphors with other therapeutic modalities on our page ‘How We Work’.
You can also find further resources on using metaphors in counselling and trauma work in our Professional Development Library.