Traditional healing

‘The pathway to healing is through cultural activity and connectedness to country’.

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people healing and culture are inextricably linked.

In contemporary contexts traditional healing finds new interpretations by applying ancient cultural knowledge to address trauma and restore and sustain holistic wellbeing. Reinstating pride in cultural identity, connection to country, and involvement in community are critical elements of traditional healing programs. Many communities also still have access to traditional healing practices such as bush medicines and spiritual healing. Nationally, organisations are learning from and incorporating traditional healing methods into their healing work.

‘Healing gives us back to ourselves. Not to hide or fight anymore. But to sit still, calm our minds, listen to the universe and allow our spirits to dance on the wind … [and] drift into our dreamtime. Healing ultimately gives us back to our country. To stand once again in our rightful place, eternal and generational. Healing is not just about recovering what has been lost or repairing what has been broken. It is about embracing our life force to create a new and vibrant fabric that keeps us grounded and connected.’

According to Caruana nurturing a sense of ‘cultural distinctiveness’ is integral for spiritual, emotional, [and] social health and wellbeing and is also an important part of strengthening communities. This can be facilitated through the recovery of language and traditions, art, dance, stories, traditional food and medicines.

Australian and international research suggests healing programs should be specific to local regions and groups, and are best delivered on country by people from the same cultural group as participants as this allows programs to be tailored to local cultural practices and concepts of spirituality.

Long held traditional healing practices remain most prevalent in more remote areas, including Central Australia, home to the Ngangkari healers, and the Kimberley region of Western Australia, home to the Maparn. Traditional bush medicine is still widely used across Australia.

Traditional healers have extensive knowledge and are able to interpret symptoms and provide traditional healing treatments including bush rubs and medicines. Their knowledge is passed from generation to generation.

‘The specialists come in and are able to diagnose a particular illness and recommend particular treatments. We Ngangkaris do the same. We are specialists with a lot of training too. Not everybody has the training and ability to be a Ngangkari. We have certain powers in our hands. We are able to capture sickness and heal people.’

‘There are many parallels between traditional healing and methods employed in counselling such as developing trust, being held in mind (spirit), developing shared understanding, meaning and use of metaphors.’

References and further reading

Key resources



Pathways to Healing by Jenna Lee

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