Community inspires innovation in pilot program for Indigenous clients

– by Janet Grist, editor HealthSpeak

A pilot compassion-focused therapy program for Aboriginal clients funded by NCPHN was transformed by turning to art to work successfully with clients. Compassion-focused therapy (CFT) is a recently developed evidence-based therapy, particularly focused on addressing high levels of shame and self-criticism. Often such people have backgrounds associated with experiences of trauma and hardship.

Professor James Bennett- Levy and Aboriginal clinical psychologist Natalie Roxburgh ran the pilot program and James explained why compassion-based therapy was chosen to work with Aboriginal clients.

“Experiences of intergenerational trauma, dispossession, hardship and high levels of current stress may often be associated with high levels of self-criticism and shame. Shame is a word often used by our Indigenous population and therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy tend to hit a brick wall when it comes to shame, because if you feel like you don’t deserve to feel better then there isn’t the motivation to follow through.”

Late last year Natalie and James ran two groups – one at Bunjum Aboriginal Corporation in Ballina, and one at Namatjira Haven Drug & Alcohol Healing Centre at Alstonville.

A standard CFT approach was used over six sessions with materials adapted – for instance using Aboriginal images and language.

“But it became clear that a standard psychoeducational approach, relying predominantly on group discussion and experiential exercises, just didn’t cut it,” said James.

Furthermore, the group discussions about compassion sometimes triggered participants’ emotions and memories of the occasions when they had experienced a lack of compassion in their lives.

Natalie and James realised they needed to take a different approach, and based on feedback from the Bunjum Women’s group decided to introduce art-based activities.

Read more HealthSpeak pages 5 and 39

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