It’s the first program of its kind: traditional Ngangkari healers complement Western medicine in hospitals

Spiritual and traditional healing practices are being introduced into Adelaide hospitals as complementary care parallel to mainstream treatments, through a partnership between Northern Adelaide Local Health Network (NALHN) and Ngangkari healers.

It’s a nation-first program, which has developed a formal and clinically-endorsed procedure to support Ngangkari healers working in a health setting, including mental health.

NALHN Executive Director of Aboriginal Health, Kurt Towers, said it’s incredibly important for the health of Aboriginal people, that there is the option to access traditional healing within these institutions.

“In my consultations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in South Australia there’s this feeling that the physical and medical treatment is brilliant, but that spiritual care and guidance is needed as well. So being able to incorporate a traditional healer into that hospital setting is just absolutely amazing.”

Mr Towers said the initiative was built from conversations with local community about the wants and needs in the health services.

“I strongly encourage other health services to talk with their local community, it’s really important to engage with local communities to tailor the health to their local community needs … I listen to my people, I listen to my community and there’s significant want for this service.”

Patients can seek help from healers through an electronic referral from a doctor, nurse, or other healthcare worker. Through this process, Ngangkari healers are being regarded as a profession within their own right in the hospital system.

Director of Critical Care, Dr Simon Jenkins, says that NALHN clinicians recognise the Ngangkari as a valued profession.

“From a Western medicine perspective, it’s difficult to conceptualise this kind of diagnosis and treatment, but the Ngangkari methods of healing have a profound effect on patients and complement mainstream treatment,” Dr Jenkins said.

Mr Towers understands first-hand the impact of traditional healing and guidance when woven into mainstream treatments.

“My mother had significant health issues, she engaged with spiritual and traditional healers to complement her cancer journey. So personally, as a Wiradjuri man, I know the importance of traditional healing to accompany the mainstream medicine.”

Towers said there is a lot to consider when Ngangkari healers come into a hospital space, such as contracts, clearances and acceptance of traditional credentials.

“We need to trust the bloodlines are in place and Ngangkari healers are extended by their community and trained on the job. We accept traditional credential methods that allow them to work as professionals in their own right with our doctors, nurses and other health care workers.”

It’s only the beginning of a conversation which will prompt further change.

“There needs to be a lot of work to address things like intergenerational trauma and closing the health gap. We won’t be able to do this without consulting our people and involving them in care. This is just a small project with our people and they wanted Ngangkari healers included in their care, and we were able to undertake that here in South Australia.”

By Rachael Knowles

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