An educaring approach to healing generational trauma in Aboriginal Australia

Shouting recovery from the rooftopsI was away this weekend in the country at an aboriginal healing retreat, which was an amazing experience. I felt peace in a way that I have not experienced in a very long time. I will blog about this later in the week.

Prior to going on the retreat, I started to look for content on historical trauma, something that I have been thinking more about recently. I have become increasingly aware of the inter-generational trauma which has been experienced by Aboriginal Australian peoples (and indigenous populations of other countries)  and which has resulted in social dysfunction, violence, addiction and mental health problems.

It seems to me that far too few people in Australia are aware of the role of inter-generational trauma in producing the above problems.

Here are links to a very interesting seminar by Professor Judy Atkinson and a paper by Judy and her colleagues. Here is an introduction to Judy’s talk which appeared on the Australian Institute of Family Studies website.

‘Following the release of the Gone too Soon report on youth suicide in the Northern Territory, Professor Judy Atkinson’s2 presentation provided a timely reminder of the ongoing and complex generational trauma being experienced in Indigenous communities across the country.

Her work demonstrates the urgent need to address trauma to effectively tackle the cycles of violence and dysfunction afflicting so many Indigenous communities today.

In a compelling and personal account, Professor Atkinson used genograms as a graphic way to demonstrate how intergenerational effects of colonisation, the Stolen Generation and ongoing stigmatisation of Indigenous peoples compounds their trauma and prevents them from building productive and fulfilling lives.

She then described her journey with the We Al-li foundation in developing a series of training programs aimed at helping Indigenous communities to heal their own trauma.

These programs were developed through a process of the Indigenous practice of deep listening (dadirri) to uncover stories of pain and abuse in people’s lives, exploring Indigenous approaches to healing from Canada, and then developing and trialling a suite of trauma recovery programs.

This approach is used in both group work and with individuals. Professor Atkinson has detailed the approach in her 2002 book Trauma Trails: Recreating Song Lines.

Today, these trauma recovery programs are based upon the work of clinicians and researchers such as Bruce Perry, Bessel van der Kolk and Richard Mollica. Professor Atkinson noted that the main contribution of Perry’s work to her approach is the notion that severe and repeated trauma in early childhood affects the biological development of the brain, creating distorted memory pathways. These in turn affect the way in which many children and adult survivors of trauma respond inappropriately or negatively to a range of experiences and stimuli in their everyday environments.

Professor Atkinson’s approach is rich in the use of the creative arts as a medium or tool for healing. The arts create a safe space in which feelings, experiences and perceptions of trauma, grief and loss can be explored and expressed.

The use of art forms such as storytelling, theatre, dance, music and writing are particularly effective in Indigenous communities because many of these practices (such as storytelling) form a core part of Indigenous cultural and artistic practice.

Visual and performing arts are particularly useful when dealing with trauma that has occurred in pre-verbal stages of childhood development, where victims may not be able to verbally describe their experiences.

One of the major challenges in the area of trauma healing is the limited evidence base. Therefore Professor Atkinson plans to continue writing up and evaluating the approach of We Al-li to help improve the evidence base around what is effective in healing Indigenous generational trauma.’

Audio, slides and transcripts of this seminar.