Study shows child therapy needs culture twist


CDU psychology lecturer Carmen Cubillo graduates with a PhD. Photo: Julianne Osborne

CDU psychology lecturer Carmen Cubillo graduates with a PhD. Photo: Julianne Osborne

A Charles Darwin University PhD candidate has used traditional song and dance to connect troubled Northern Territory children to their parents as part of a behaviour therapy program. 

Research by Larrakia woman Dr Carmen Cubillo contributed to the pre-school program “Let’s Start Exploring Together”, run in Darwin and on the Tiwi Islands. 

Dr Cubillo said Australia lacked research on the differences between Indigenous and Western parenting styles.

“There are few protocols for adapting mainstream parenting programs or the assessment of a program’s success for Indigenous families,” Dr Cubillo said.

“We consulted local families to understand the environmental and cultural conditions in which they operate; we used video to monitor improvement parenting and parent-child attachment during our work on the Tiwi Islands,” she said.

“Research has suggested that early intervention programs can increase school retention and employment, and decrease costs of welfare and crime.”

She said many parents involved in Let’s Start had lost the “like” for their child because of behavioural problems.

“Activities were designed for them to have fun together, whether making playdough or collecting objects from the yard for a collage,” she said. 

“The therapeutic space allowed parents to develop skills that empowered them to manage emotions.”

Dr Cubillo said that increased behaviour control in parents increased attachment and reduced child behaviour problems for Indigenous and non-Indigenous families, which showed a need for early intervention tailored to cultural nuances.

“For example, care might look like parallel play in Indigenous parents, whispering quietly or telling good stories about their children, as opposed to outward displays of affection and praise common in non-Indigenous parents,” she said.

Dr Cubillo is a Clinical Psychology and Play Therapy lecturer at CDU and today (Friday, 13 October) will graduate with her PhD titled “Understanding Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal parenting in the Let’s Start Exploring Together pre-school program”.

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