Anger management plans ‘failing Aboriginal men’ 

CDU research has found music and art therapy assists anger management in Aboriginal inmates - image courtesy of Tourism NT

A Charles Darwin University researcher who spent extensive time interviewing Aboriginal inmates has called for a radical rethink of in-house anger management plans.

Dr Caroline Atkinson, who was conferred a PhD from Charles Darwin University for research into intergenerational Aboriginal violence, said programs needed to help inmates make sense of their own lives not just simply how to manage their anger.

“People suffering from profound trauma need to strip back the layers of their lives in order to make sense of their stories,” Dr Atkinson said.

“They found therapy using music and art as a gentle and effective way of doing this.”

She used feedback from the men to create an Australian Aboriginal version of the Harvard Trauma Questionnaire which is used to measure traumatic stressors and trauma-related symptoms relevant to Australian Aboriginal people. 

Applying this to her subjects, she then found that most of the men in her study had suffered from widespread traumatic stressors of family violence, alcohol and drug use, and grief and loss which were being transmitted across generations and that more than half were suffering from symptoms associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Dr Atkinson said she heard harrowing stories and invaluable feedback from incarcerated Aboriginal men.

“It was a confronting experience being inside a cell with someone who has committed murder, but I quickly realised they are the ones with the answers and they had such amazing insight,” she said.

Dr Atkinson said she hoped her research and tool would help health professionals target and assess the treatment for Aboriginal males who had been convicted of violent offences

“It’s crucial that we have a tool to measure the success of such interventions and address issues of violence across Aboriginal families and communities throughout Australia,” she said.