Cultural and spiritual identity

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For some children and families, cultural and spiritual identity are central to health and wellbeing. Service provision is more effective if it respects and incorporates service users’ cultural and spiritual understandings.

A strong, positive sense of cultural and spiritual identity is important to children’s mental health, particularly in generating self-esteem, resilience and a sense of belonging1. In their early years, children become sensitised to differences among people and may be exposed to racism and prejudice, which can profoundly impact their social and emotional wellbeing, learning and social relationships. Children with a strong cultural identity are well placed to make positive social connections and feel a sense of belonging to their community, even if the culture of that community is different to that of their family2. Spiritual identity entails identifying with a particular belief system, and is deeply important for many children and families. Spiritual identity may or may not be associated with organised religion or belief systems.

In the Australian health and welfare context, an understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and spirituality is particularly important. The following definition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander spirituality gives some sense of the scale of spirituality in the lives of Australia’s first inhabitants:

‘Aboriginal spirituality is defined as at the core of Aboriginal being, their very identity. It gives meaning to all aspects of life including relationships with one another and the environment. All objects are living and share the same soul and spirit as Aboriginals. There is a kinship with the environment. Aboriginal spirituality can be expressed visually, musically and ceremonially.’3

It is important for practitioners to deliver services in ways that respect children and families’ cultural and spiritual identities. Such identities can inform the explanatory models families use to understand mental health conditions, and treatment is unlikely to be successful if such understandings are not respected and taken into account during each phase of the intervention.

1. SNAICC. Healing in Practice: Promising Practices in Healing Programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children and Families. 2012; Available from:
2. Usborne, E. and D.M. Taylor, The role of cultural identity clarity for self-concept clarity, self-esteem, and subjective well-being. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 2010. 36(7): p. 883-897.
3. Grant, E.K., Unseen, Unheard, Unspoken: Exploring the Relationship Between Aboriginal Spirituality & Community Development. 2004, University of South Australia: Adelaide, pg. 8-9.

The preferred terminology used by Emerging Minds in our resources is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, as guided by our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social and Emotional Wellbeing National Consultancy Group.