On the Nature of Healing: Judy Atkinson

As some of you know, I was inspired to work in the healing trauma field in large part by Judy Atkinson’s wonderful book Trauma Trails: Recreating Song Lines – The Transgenerational Effects of Trauma in Indigenous Australia. Here is a short bio of Judy, taken from the We Al-li website:

‘Emeritus Professor Judy Atkinson is a Jiman (central west Queensland) and Bundjalung (northern New South Wales) woman, with Anglo-Celtic and German heritage.

Her academic contributions to the understanding of trauma related issues stemming from the violence of colonisation and the healing/recovery of Indigenous peoples from such trauma has won her the Carrick Neville Bonner Award in 2006 for her curriculum development and innovative teaching practice. In 2011 she was awarded the Fritz Redlick Memorial Award for Human Rights and Mental Health from the Harvard University program for refugee trauma.

Her book ‘Trauma Trails – Recreating Songlines: The transgenerational effects of trauma in Indigenous Australia’, provides context to the life stories of people who have been moved from their country in a process that has created trauma trails, and the changes that can occur in the lives of people as they make connection with each other and share their stories of healing.

Judy is:

  • A member of the Harvard Global Mental Health Scientific Research Alliance.
  • Chair of the Australian Childhood Foundations Cultural Governance Group.
  • The founder and Patron of We Al-li.

On the 26 January, 2019 Judy received a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for her services to the Indigenous community, to education and to mental health.’

I was fortunate to spend time with Judy when I was in the Northern Territory in 2015. We met up in Katherine and travelled with Pip Gordon’s family to the nearby Barunga Festival. This iconic 3-day event has a programme of music, sport, traditional arts and cultural activities. I then travelled back to Darwin with Judy. I was blessed to have such a wonderful opportunity to talk with and learn from a truly inspirational and knowledgeable person.

Here is a powerful quote from Judy’s Trauma Trails book on the nature of healing. (I have shortened her paragraphs—without changing words— to make them easier to read online).

‘The study found that the most essential step in healing is to establish a culturally safe environment to do the deeper work, which enables people to change their lives.

The next step is to find and explore, both individually and collectively, the stories that make people who they are and which contribute to how they live their lives.

The third step is to be able to enter the deep feelings that are often suppressed and unrecognised, or in other cases, extreme and uncontrollable.

The fourth stage of healing is to individually and collectively make sense of stories (or histories and her-stories) that have previously seemed senseless.

The fifth component of healing is to understand that there will be multiple layers of loss and grief and that healing is a process or series of cyclical stages in which the memories and the pain appear to get worse before they get better, as the stories emerge in greater depth, and are re-formed and transformed.

Finally, people have to be prepared for changes that will in many cases radically transform their lives.

Programs and practices which use the language of courage and hope are essential for people in pain and who feel powerless and helpless. All too often the way through the pain seems incomprehensible and impossible.

Leaders must lead by demonstrating their own commitment to healing, the process of finding “who they are” at the deepest level of their being.

The state of “being healed” is the self-defined state of accepting our humanness, warts and all, as we go about the business of embracing or commonality and valuing our diversity in the work of making our environments and relationships meaningful, enduring and enriching.’

Powerful words indeed!

‘We Al-li is a trauma informed, trauma specific educational and practice based approach that promotes health, well-being, and sustainable pathways of positive change for individuals, families and communities at both a personal and professional level.’ We Al-li website

> What is Healing to Me?: Aboriginal Healing Foundation in Canada