Promising practice

Healing is a complex and often lengthy process; ‘a journey rather than an event.’ Healing models for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people need to reflect their unique history, culture and family and community structure, and holistic world view.

While there are diverse approaches to Indigenous healing both overseas and within Australia, international research has identified a number of common elements that are crucial to the success of healing initiatives in Canada, the United States, New Zealand and Australia. These are:

  • a clearly defined problem or issue to be addressed and/or goal to be achieved through the healing initiative
  • being informed by and drawing from Indigenous culture and traditional Indigenous healing practices and supporting people on a healing journey towards ‘a good life’
  • a focus on collective family and/or group engagement (sometimes supplemented by individual support)
  • supporting people to understand problems in the context of history, life experience and socio-cultural context
  • considering increased self-esteem, cultural knowledge, identity and connectedness as crucial to wellbeing
  • being supported by appropriate and participatory evaluation methodologies.

Analysis suggests Indigenous healing programs in Canada, America, New Zealand and Australia have more in common with each other than they do with mainstream Western health programs. However, healing programs provide a forum where traditional cultural and Western therapeutic approaches can, and often do, work ‘side by side’.

Considering the research, The Healing Foundation has identified eight critical elements to inform the development and evaluation of quality Australian healing initiatives:

  • developed to address issues in the local community
  • driven by local leadership
  • have a developed evidence base and theory base
  • combine Western methodologies and Indigenous healing
  • understand the impact of colonisation and trans-generational trauma and grief
  • build individual, family and community capacity
  • be proactive rather than reactive
  • incorporate strong evaluation frameworks.

Building the evidence base

Strong evaluation practice is essential in developing evidence and theory about healing and its impact. The Healing Foundation is engaged in ongoing work in this area with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander program owners.

It is important to constantly evaluate the effectiveness of programs. Evidence creation takes on a phased approach that moves from; emerging practice to promising practice to evidence-based practice to evidence-informed practice.

Raising evaluation standards is a significant undertaking in most settings. In the context of Indigenous healing there is the combined challenge of building evidence for a theory of change while developing strong evaluation frameworks that involve culturally appropriate data collection methods. For example in some cultural and sacred explorations of healing,  where current qualitative and quantitative tools are inadequate or inappropriate, it can be difficult to reliably measure participants’ healing experiences after the activity, let alone long term.

Effective evaluation can also be challenging for healing projects particularly in cases where projects are breaking new ground and creating new evidence. Projects that are achieving sound healing outcomes are sometimes the same ones that have not found the time to document their model or theory. This is usually because organisations’ resources are stretched and they are focused on providing healing.

This section of the Healing portal will give organisations an opportunity to tell their healing stories and capture their outcomes using the elements of quality healing. This will assist in building the evidence base of what works in healing across our nation.

References and further reading

Key resources



Pathways to Healing by Jenna Lee

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