The Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association (AIPA), a new body established under the auspices of the APS, was officially launched at the APS Annual Conference in Hobart in September 2008, representing an historic achievement for Australian psychology.

There are 39 Indigenous psychologists in Australia and AIPA already has 32 members. Members are an extraordinary set of individuals who come from all Australian States and Territories. Many are high profile people, and their expertise ranges from professors to new graduates, from private practitioners to prison psychologists, from university lecturers to poets and authors.

It is anticipated that AIPA will make a substantial contribution to increasing the number of Indigenous psychology graduates and to ‘closing the gap' in mental health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. As part of a series of Council of Australian Governments (COAG) initiatives in Indigenous mental health, and the renewed commitment to ‘closing the gaps' wherever they exist, professional bodies like the APS are being strongly encouraged to set some benchmarks for equitable workforce participation, and to implement Indigenous-specific strategies to attract, support and retain Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander graduates.

The APS expects that AIPA will provide the leadership to achieve equitable participation of Indigenous people within psychology. Given that Indigenous people constitute 2.5 per cent of the population, the current representation of 39 Indigenous psychologists is about 90 per cent short of what it should be. Psychology needs to graduate another 300 Indigenous psychologists to achieve parity within the profession.

The AIPA vision

AIPA has as its vision that:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will have access to high quality psychological assistance
  • Psychological assistance will be grounded in holistic Indigenous perspectives and the social determinants of health
  • Psychology in Australia will be culturally responsive to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander values and belief systems
  • Numbers of Indigenous entrants into undergraduate and postgraduate psychology programs, including programs across all specialties, will increase substantially
  • AIPA will become the professional body responsible for quality control of workshops and training programs with respect to the application of psychology in Indigenous contexts.

History of the formation of AIPA

AIPA had its beginnings in Melbourne in March 2008, when the APS hosted the first ever meeting of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander psychologists in their own right. One of the first actions of the group was to resolve to form an association of Indigenous psychologists under the umbrella of the APS. A further meeting was held in Adelaide in July, where the CEO of the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association, Romlie Mokak, facilitated the group in developing an action plan for its first year. An interim Steering Committee was formed at this meeting, which continues to be chaired by Associate Professor Pat Dudgeon. Members of the Steering Committee include Dennis McDermott, Amanda Hart, Cherise Daiyi, Elizabeth Cameron-Traub, Christine Gilles and Carmen Cubillo. The development of AIPA was also facilitated by a project undertaken by Pat Dudgeon, Stan Steindl and Jacky Cranney as part of APS President Amanda Gordon's Strategic Leadership Program, and presented at the Hobart Conference. Following the official launch of AIPA at the APS conference in Hobart in September, AIPA members met for a third time in December, with 20 Indigenous psychologists coming to Melbourne from as far as Darwin, Perth, Adelaide and Far North Queensland.

AIPA members are already much in demand individually and as a group for media comment, student mentoring, cultural competence training, and partnerships with local communities. The recent invitation by the Australian Human Rights Commission for AIPA to join the leadership group of the Close the Gap campaign (see boxed information opposite) has put psychology and mental health firmly in the picture of the major national Indigenous health equality campaign.

For further information about AIPA contact:

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The development of AIPA is particularly exciting news for members of the APS Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and Psychology Interest Group. The Interest Group continues to be the APS unit where Indigenous and non-Indigenous APS members and interested others can meet and work together. As such, it has an important role as the reconciliation arm of the APS, and will be an important source of support for AIPA. There will be some overlap as AIPA emerges, so a process of continued discussions and clarification is underway between the two groups. The Interest Group is currently looking for a new national convenor or co-convenor – and new committee members to help share the load, and maybe organise an activity in their local Branch. Contact Carmen Cubillo (carmen.cubillo@cdu.edu.au) for details. 

 

Message of congratulations from Commissioner Tom Calma, Australian Human Rights Commission 

Edited extract of message read out at the AIPA launch, Wednesday 24 September 2008 

Congratulations to the founding members for taking the bold step of creating the Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association. It is my hope that this much needed association will take its place with other Indigenous health peak bodies - the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association, the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and the Indigenous Dentists Association of Australia - in giving Indigenous Australians another voice with which to help drive improvement to Indigenous health in the future, and in particular in relation to Indigenous mental health and emotional and social wellbeing issues. We now accept that mental, social and emotional health is one of the foundations of strong communities, as well as - ultimately - our physical health, and the addition of an Indigenous mental health focused body to the existing peak bodies is welcome news, and important to address Indigenous health equality in this country.

As I am sure you are all aware, there is a great need to increase the number of Indigenous psychologists, and - more broadly - psychologists and high quality psychological and mental health services, in our communities. If we are to see Indigenous health equality within our lifetimes, work must be done across all the areas of health and the spectrum of health services, not least of which are Indigenous psychological services. So the founding of your association, and the new capacity of its members to act collectively, will be greeted with anticipation among the Indigenous health professional community, as well as among our communities.

In my capacity as Chair of the Close the Gap Indigenous health equality campaign, I will be writing to your first Chair, Pat Dudgeon, in the next few days and inviting AIPA to join the leadership group of the campaign. Many of you will know about the Close the Gap Indigenous health equality campaign that has been underway for about two years now. It is my hope that AIPA will take an active part in the campaign, and I look forward to working with your representatives in the future to that end.

In the meantime, enjoy and savour this historic moment. Not only has Indigenous Australia proved its talents once again in producing psychologists - almost 40 to date - but it has also demonstrated that Indigenous Australians are willing and able to take greater control of their lives, their professional lives and their communities' lives by acting collectively. The contribution your association can make is enormous and should not be underestimated. Well done and congratulations again.