Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

What Potential Might Narrative Therapy Have to Assist Indigenous Australians Reduce Substance Misuse?

Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

What Potential Might Narrative Therapy Have to Assist Indigenous Australians Reduce Substance Misuse?

Article excerpt

Abstract: Substance misuse is associated with adverse consequences for many Australians including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Extensive research has been conducted into various intervention, treatment and prevention programs to ascertain their potential in reducing substance misuse within Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities. I explore the potential of Narrative Therapy as a counselling intervention for assisting Indigenous Australians reduce the harm associated with substance misuse.


Narrative Therapy (NT) practice is based around the narrative of stories. (1) The telling of stories to inform, educate and learn draws on rich traditional Aboriginal oral ways, indicating a strong cultural connection already exists between NT practice and Indigenous Australians. (2)

Substance misuse in Australia

Substance misuse is a major issue for all Aus-tralians. The numerous problems associated with it have an impact on everyone in Australia. The excessive consumption of alcohol alone contributes to multiple health and social problems and many Aboriginal communities suffer similar consequences of substance misuse (Gray and Saggers 2003).

Many authors attribute excessive substance misuse in Aboriginal communities to the impact of colonisation and the issues of racism, discrimination, alcohol prohibition, the breakdown of Aboriginal culture, the loss of the authority of elders, dispossession, and the fragmentation of families and communities. Colonisation was a period of dispossession, oppression, conflict and violence and occurred at a time of traumatic social change causing much distress for Indigenous Australians (Brady 1998; Saggers and Gray 1998).

The impact of substance misuse on Indigenous Australians occurs at several levels. One is the health factor, a major concern; many die from alcohol- and other drug-related complications. Associated problems are family violence, child neglect, sexual abuse, poverty, assault, unemployment, incarceration, injuries, delinquency and youth suicide. All contribute to social disharmony, dysfunction and disunity, intensifying any sense of hopelessness and powerlessness, and, in turn, tending to increase consumption of drugs, mainly alcohol (Brady 2004; Berends 2004; Lamerton 2006).

In exploring the complex situations surrounding substance misuse, one question that is often asked is: what works? Gray (et al. 2000:20) suggests that there is no simple solution. In the following sections I describe NT practices and explore its intervention potential for Aboriginal persons experiencing substance misuse problems. I don't claim that it provides the ultimate answer.

Narrative Therapy: what is it?

Stories are the foundation of social life and NT is a counselling practice that involves listening to stories. NT has been influenced by many therapies including family therapy, cultural psychology, anthropology, philosophy, just therapy and social theory (Monk 1997, 2005; Corey 2005). White (2006:1) wrote that 'the primary focus of a narrative approach is people's expression of their experiences of life', and that the therapists' role (Nicholson 1995:24)

   ... is to bring alternative stories out of the
   shadows and to evaluate them so that they
   play a far more central role in the shaping of
   people's lives.

Practitioners could also describe NT as re-authoring or re-storying conversations. Epston (1998:24) confirmed that 're-authoring therapy intends to assist persons to resolve problems'. This can be achieved in two ways. First, through externalising of the problem that challenges dominant self-images, and second, by assisting the re-authoring or re-telling of different or similar narratives where clients reflect on alternative knowledge being discovered (Nicholson 1995; Morgan 2000).

The construction of an alternative story is obtained through exploring the many layers intertwined in the initial story as clients interpret their life. …

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