Concurrent Speakers

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Karen Ingram
Focusing on what is strong, not what is wrong

Karen Ingram has been active in the field of health promotion and community development for fifteen years. Contributing to an environment which advocates and supports social justice and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through participation, empowerment and the arts inspires her to do her best. She has been proactive in the development and implementation of three Reconciliation Action Plans and remains committed in her solidarity with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The Wellness Dreaming project has provided an important platform to promote and enhance strength-based practices within the Prevention and Population Health team at cohealth and more broadly across sectors in the north-west metropolitan region of Victoria.  In her spare time Karen is a civil celebrant, writer and performer.


Project overview: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are constantly being told what’s wrong with their health, family, behaviour - with everything: which can reinforce negative perceptions and dismiss the importance and potential of community empowerment. Cohealth’s Koolin Balit initiative, the Wellness Dreaming Project, encourages an alternative approach by agencies; one that focuses on the strengths of individuals, families, groups and the community, affecting achievable and sustainable change to improve wellbeing.

Implementation: Wellness Dreaming Messenger training was delivered to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal staff from cross-sectoral agencies; Aboriginal-controlled, mainstream, government and non-government sectors. Fostering leadership, trained Messengers utilise Wellness Dreaming facilitation skills to deliver Dreaming Circles, strength-based conversations in existing groups which are safe and supported. Participants are encouraged through various activities to focus on their strengths, their resilience and their dreams to discuss ‘wellness’ as they envisage it; focusing on what is strong, not what is wrong, missing or broken. This ‘flips’ the way wellness and health is often approached by identifying ‘needs’ and encourages participants, staff, and communities to focus on what is strong, present and can be built upon.

Outcomes: Forty-four staff across the North-Western metropolitan region of Melbourne from 27 cross-sectoral agencies were trained as Wellness Dreaming Messengers. One hundred and seventy-eight people have participated across the region so far, including women’s groups, elder’s groups, community and youth groups. The outcomes of Dreaming Circles were not predetermined, allowing the community to lead and articulate wellness from their strengths. Wellness Dreaming encourages both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal health and community staff to work together, with this project encouraging collaboration with staff from housing, employment, health, education, local Government, non-Government and Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations. The story of the Wellness Dreaming approach is best described in our six minute film which can be viewed at:

Conclusion and implications for the future: Wellness Dreaming is a strength-based approach that is adaptable to various settings to enable community voices to be at the forefront of change in health and community services. Continued training and workforce development to expand Wellness Dreaming Messengers in the community will encourage the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to articulate wellness through community led action. Intellectual, physical and capital investment from Government and NGO sectors will strengthen Aboriginal voices and community led wellness.

Slides | Paper