In search of belonging
by Simon Faulkner
DRUMBEAT is a flexible program that combines experiential learning with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and engages young people and adults who may be anxious or resistant to ‘talk based’ therapies. The DRUMBEAT program is taught to young people and adults across Australia in schools, youth services, drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities, child protection residential facilities, mental health services, refugee trauma associations and prisons. Participants lift their self-esteem, learn to work cooperatively with others and are exposed to the therapeutic and recreational benefits of music. The program is a useful tool, effective at engaging a wide range of young people and practical in its application.
For people around the world, a positive connection to others in the community is a critical element for both the health of individuals and the meaning and happiness they get from their lives (Bruhn 2005). From our earliest days as infants, and throughout our lives, social connections play a critical role in our sense of security, place and belonging (Tavecchio & van IJzendoorn 1987).
For young people in Australia, the generic term “alienated” is widely used as a recognised “risk factor” for a range of problematic social outcomes including criminal behaviour, drug and alcohol misuse, and self-harm (Loxley et al. 2004). As the complexity of society increases, more and more people, young and old, are struggling to gain control over the meaning and direction of their lives and find their place and sense of belonging in the communities that surround them (Zubrick et al. 1997).
In 2002 I found myself in the Wheatbelt region of Western Australia working as a youth worker and addictions counsellor with many young people struggling to find their place in the world around them. The Wheatbelt is a large region lying between Perth and Kalgoorlie, approximately the size of the state of Tasmania. It is the home of the Noongar and Yamatji Aboriginal peoples who make up close to five per cent of the population. Regional Australia encapsulates many of the issues that lead people to struggle for a sense of belonging and connection to community. Many people have moved to the Wheatbelt region to avoid the complexity of city life, to find cheaper housing or to obtain manual labour on farms. Often they find themselves isolated, lonely and with limited access to support services (Hugo & Bell 1998).
Other issues prevalent in the Wheatbelt region that contributed to a growing case load for me and other human services workers in the area were the large numbers of broken families – where one or both parents were absent or facing significant social challenges of their own. Racism and poverty were also common stigmatising factors that led to increased social isolation for many people. My own experience in moving from Melbourne away from family and friends mirrored many of the issues faced by my clients – a lack of support networks and feelings of separation from those around me.
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