A national framework for recovery-oriented mental health services: guide for practitioners and providers

Capability 2B: Responsive to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, families and communities

Page last updated: 2013

Recovery-oriented practice and service delivery with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people must recognise the resilience, strengths and creativity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, understand Indigenous cultural perspectives, acknowledge collective experiences of racism and disempowerment, and understand the legacy of colonisation and policies that separated people from their families, culture, language and land.

Core principles

  • The nine principles in the National strategic framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s mental health and social and emotional wellbeing 2004–09 are a starting point www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/content/indig-sew-frame/$File/frame04.pdf. (This site was active at time of publishing.)
  • In building the cultural competence and capacity of practitioners and services it is important to seek guidance and advice from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders, leaders, mental health practitioners, advisers and members of the Stolen Generations.

Characteristics

Values and attitudes

Mental health practitioners and providers...
  • actively challenge personal attitudes and behaviours that may inadvertently support racism and discrimination of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • increase their personal understanding of the culture and traditions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • value the special expertise and understanding of mental health issues that are available within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, especially from Elders, traditional healers, Indigenous health and mental health workers, cultural advisers and members of the Stolen Generations
  • learn from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people about creating and improving models
  • include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and community representatives in decision making Top of page

Knowledge

Mental health practitioners and providers...
  • understand the importance of land, spirituality and culture to the mental health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • understand the impact mainstream Australian community attitudes and policies have had and continue to have on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • recognise the connection between serious general health problems and social, emotional and psychiatric difficulties (including substance use), many of which are untreated or inappropriately treated in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
  • recognise that working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people may require specific expertise and understanding, for example, understanding of cultural traditions as they affect verbal and non-verbal communication
  • have knowledge and appreciation of the contribution of traditional healing practices to the recovery of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

Skills and behaviours

Mental health practitioners and providers...
  • support personal recovery efforts by affirming the resilience, strengths, creativity and endurance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • provide service environments that reduce anxiety for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and assist with engagement
  • actively acknowledge the value systems and protocols which exist in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
  • draw on and use Indigenous understandings of and approaches to social and emotional wellbeing and healing
  • collaborate with cultural and traditional ways of healing in partnership with mainstream therapies
  • understand that it may neither be appropriate nor desirable to apply ethical and clinical models derived from a western individualistic viewpoint when working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals and communities, and demonstrate flexibility in modifying or not using certain aspects of such models
  • demonstrate reflective practice by acknowledging the possible impacts on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of the values, biases and beliefs built into professional training and service systems Top of page

Recovery-oriented practice

Mental health practitioners and providers...
  • make every effort to ensure that language does not present a barrier
  • seek out Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander expertise and advice concerning service requirements arising from gender, age and other cultural contexts
  • work with families and kinship networks, ensuring access to services across the life span including prenatal, perinatal, early childhood, early learning and early intervention programs
  • support communities with their self-identified priorities, for example, access to early intervention and support for children showing signs of foetal alcohol syndrome
  • use technology to facilitate communication with and participation by extended family and kinship networks
  • recognise that professional practice in this area can involve challenging government policy and community attitudes that impact negatively on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s social, emotional, cultural and spiritual wellbeing
  • use information about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services, programs and groups in a strengths-based approach throughout a person’s contact with the service

Recovery-oriented leadership

Mental health practitioners and providers...
  • recruit and support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people throughout the organisation including in positions of leadership, direct practice, peer-support, policy, research, training, education and administration
  • partner with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, communities, organisations and groups to design culturally appropriate and safe spaces within facilities
  • develop flexible multidisciplinary, multiagency and cross-sectoral responses that span the geographic boundaries of service systems
  • with local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, develop resources that welcome a person to country and walk a person through what to expect and how the service operates
  • actively support local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community efforts to improve mental health and social and emotional wellbeing
  • use existing cross-cultural and cultural competency training resources. Top of page

Opportunities

  • Develop a service-based reconciliation action plan.
  • Make an organisational commitment to provide training, employment and leadership opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people.
  • Participate in cultural events like NAIDOC Week (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee), Reconciliation Week and National Sorry Day.

Resource materials