General Counselling Services

Social Health Teams / Services Located in Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (National)

What are they?

Social Health Teams or services are multi-skilled and multi-disciplinary teams providing a range of services from within Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS). As such they are the ‘gold standard' of social and emotional wellbeing and mental health service provision.

Background to development

Many Social Health Teams within Aboriginal Community Controlled Health services were established between 1996 and 2000 as part of a national Australian Government initiative to address the unique social and emotional wellbeing and mental health needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people detailed in the Ways Forward Report. These services recognised the cultural concept of ‘social and emotional wellbeing' for the first time.

The advantage of the social health team approach is that it ensures that the various social and emotional wellbeing needs of clients can be met in a holistic way. Social Health Teams also establish links at the local level with specialist mainstream services to facilitate referral and coordination when required. 

It should be noted that this sector remains under-resourced. While many ACCHS provide access to specialised counselling for Stolen Generations survivors, only a few services are resourced to provide social health teams.  Where they exist, they are highly valued.

Links to further information

National Strategic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social and Emotional Wellbeing and Mental Health Framework 2004-2009

Central Australian Congress Social & Emotional Wellbeing, Alice Springs, Northern Territory:

The social health team provides a range of services addressing issues such as depression, anger management (including responses to racism and personality issues), suicidal thoughts, loneliness (isolation from country, friendship and family), financial and budgeting, assisting youth to return to school and specialist support from a psychiatrist. 

Danila Dilba Emotional / Social Wellbeing and Youth Centre, Darwin, NT:

Youth services provided include a young men's group for Palmerston and Malak youth; a young women's group (SiS-sTaRz) and the Looking After Little Ones education program for youth aged 15-19, as well as counselling, advocacy and support. The Dare to Dream program provides support and counselling for carers of Indigenous people suffering mental illness and youth with emerging or established mental illness.

Wuchopperen Social Health Team Cairns, Qld:

The team provides counselling to individuals, families, and couples, a Link Up program, Bringing Them Home counselling, an intensive family support program, cultural activities, support for clients deinstitutionalized under the Project 300 scheme, drug and alcohol and family violence programs.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Health Service, Brisbane, Qld:

The Healing Centre provides counselling services, Bringing Them Home counselling, spiritual and cultural counselling; advocacy and referral pathways, healing camps and programs for homeless and at risk Indigenous youth 12-25 yrs.

Townsville Aboriginal & Islander Health Service, Townsville, Qld:

The multidisciplinary Social and Mental Health Unit includes a range of services and programs such as counselling, mental health support and treatment for groups and individuals, awareness-raising special events; emergency relief funding, a regional Bringing Them Home / Stolen Generation program, men's and women's groups, outreach to homeless people, a drug diversion program, grief and loss support and prison and court support. 

Ramahyuck and District Aboriginal Corporation, Lake Tyers, Vic:

Ramahyuck delivers a range of services aimed at building the social and emotional wellbeing of the Indigenous community.  Services include programs in the areas of spiritual wellbeing, childcare, falls prevention, drug and alcohol abuse, youth development, family restoration and support, parenting and young girls, Family Support Program to improve support provided to families experiencing issues relating to violence, substance abuse, financial difficulties, legal and parenting issues.

Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS), Fitzroy, Melbourne, Vic:

The Family Counselling services at VAHS operate as part of the Victorian Aboriginal Adult Mental Health Network. There are 5 Koori beds located in the psychiatric ward at St Vincent Hospital. The Family Counselling service offers an adult mental health program, home-based outreach support, community houses, dual diagnosis counselling, alcohol and drug treatment support, carer crisis support program, Koori Kids program, family counselling, anxiety / depression / stress management and general counselling.

Illawarra Aboriginal Medical Service, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporation, NSW:

Services include substance misuse, psychological support, general counselling and men's programs.

Nunkuwarrin Yunti, Adelaide, SA:

The Towilla Purruttiappendi (Healing Our Spirit) team provides individual and family counselling and support, healing groups and support to access social health, welfare and emergency relief services to address grief and loss, depression, domestic and family violence, family and/or relationship matters and any other issues which impact on social and emotional wellbeing. Outreach counselling services are provided to men's and women's prisons, shelters, hospitals, Brady Street clinic at Elizabeth and other Aboriginal community services in the metropolitan region.  The team provides education, training and support to Social and Emotional Well Being health workers across South Australia, including delivery of the Diploma of Narrative Approaches for Aboriginal People Course

Tullawon Health Service, Yalata Community, SA:

Quality Holistic Anangu Health: Stronger Families, Community & Culture: Programs are offered to support the aged and disabled, mothers and babies, mental health service, substance use and Bringing Them Home counselling.

Yorgum Aboriginal Family Counselling Service, Perth, Western Australia:

Since 1991, Yorgum has been offering Aboriginal-specific community-based counselling and referral services that acknowledge the impact of colonisation on Aboriginal people. This includes one-on-one counselling, family violence counselling, grief and loss, sexual assault counselling, crisis/trauma resolution, relationship counselling, Aboriginal identity counselling, and specialised cultural therapeutic practices, Link up services a Grandmothers group, a Building Solid Families program and Workforce Support Unit.



We Al-Li (NSW)

What is it?

We Al-Li (the Woppaburra term for fire and water) is a community-based training program.  It incorporates Indigenous cultural practices and therapeutic skills to assist recovery from trauma such as sexual assault, family violence, childhood trauma, substance abuse and other addictions. By using traditional ceremonies of healing at sites of cultural significance, the program combines experiential and cognitive learning practices, reflection and emotional release to allow for the expression of anger and sorrow within a safe and supportive context.

Background to Development

The program was originally developed by Professor Judy Atkinson as a holistic healing approach to issues of violence in families and communities. ‘For the cycle of pain to be broken, the WE AL-Li group saw the need to create safe places, healing circles where people could start to break the denial, talk together and share stories' (Judy Atkinson, 1994). 

The We Al-Li program is delivered at Gnibi College of Indigenous Australian Peoples (Southern Cross University, NSW). The Gnibi College program provides a Certificate Level 4 of Indigenous Therapies, an undergraduate degree in Trauma and Healing and a Masters degree in Indigenous Studies (Wellbeing).

Why is this promising practice?

We Al-Li uses a uniquely Indigenous model of healing to address pain and distress in a safe environment. The training program strengthens capacity within Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander communities to provide culturally approrpriate healing programs.

Links to further information:

Gnibi College of Indigenous Australian Peoples 

Working Together: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health and Wellbeing Principles and Practice: Chapter 10 


Ngangkari Service provided by the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women's Council (Central Australia)

What is it?

The NPY Women's Council employs several Ngangkari (traditional healers) and a Project Officer to support them. The Ngangkari service liaises with remote clinics and hospitals, as well as, being active advocates and providing a range of treatments and interventions. They provide education on traditional healing and contribute to the content of social and emotional wellbeing and mental health resources.                           

The Ngangkaris provide a range of counselling and other services, raise awareness of mental health issues and refer to visiting services such as psychologists. They have produced a textbook and conducted radio interviews in language about healing and social and emotional wellbeing and mental health issues. 

Elsie Wanatjura, Women's Council Emotional and Social Well-being Project Officer, explains that Anangu people call healers ‘ngangkari' and that they "work with the spirit of the sick person, both when he or she is aware and when he or she is asleep."

Background to Development

The Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women's Council developed this program in 2000. The Council works to raise awareness of the role of Ngangkaris and how they can collaborate and contribute to mental health and wellbeing.

The Council itself was formed in 1980 as an advocacy organization for women in the NPY region during the land rights struggle. The NPY region covers 350,000 square kilometres of the remote tri-State cross-border area of Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory. Anangu and Yarnangu (Aboriginal people) living on the Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara lands (Western Desert language region) share strong cultural and family affiliations. What began as an advocacy organisation is now also a major provider of human services in the region, working to address the needs that clinical health services and government agencies are not able to meet.

The Ngangkari are highly sought after speakers and have won a number of awards including the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatry Mark Sheldon prize in 2009 and the Sigmund Freud Prize for Psychotherapy at the World Congress in Psychotherapy, August 2011 (awarded jointly with Professor Helen Milroy and Auntie Lorraine Peeters).

Why is this promising practice?

The NPY project is Indigenous-led and involves educating mainstream services about what Ngangkaris can do and how beneficial it is for mainstream mental health practitioners and Ngangkaris to work together for the benefit of the client. Since 2002 the project has resulted in resources in Anangu language about SEWB and mental health issues.

Links to further information

The NPY Women's Council has published a book: 'Ngangkari Work- Anangu Way: Traditional Healers of Central Australia' (2003) which explains the role of the Ngangkari in a range of health and social and emotional wellbeing issues. See: review