The APS Grant for Intercultural and/or International Projects of up to $10,000 supports innovative projects that have an intercultural and/or international focus, particularly in countries where psychology is an emerging discipline. InPsych interviewed Professor Margot Prior who was the first recipient of the Grant in 2003 and Dr Jan Cregan who was awarded the Grant in 2007. Both of their projects involved an action component that exemplified the social justice underpinnings of the Grant - and both recipients emphasise the importance of careful, respectful relationship-building to a successful project partnership.

The Grant to Professor Margot Prior sponsored the visit to Australia of Mrs Thuy, a psychologist from Vietnam.

How did you come to be involved with the project in Vietnam? What was your role?

At the time, I was the Head of the Psychology Department at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, which has an arm called the Royal Children's Hospital International that was working in Vietnam. Psychology expertise was requested by Vietnam, so I visited the National Paediatric Hospital in Hanoi and the Institute of Psychology to discuss clinical and research issues. I also talked to the Hanoi National University and was asked to speak at the Vietnamese Psychological Society, where I presented information about the APS. On my return I wrote to the APS and suggested that we should be interested in helping our Asian neighbours. This appears to have been the stimulus for the APS decision to establish the Grant for Intercultural and/or International Projects, which was assisted by Professor Trang Thomas.

The first Grant was awarded to the only psychologist in the Hanoi National Paediatric Hospital, Ms Thuy. She visited the Royal Children's Hospital and undertook clinical education and training, and observation of clinical practice, focusing particularly on autism. Mrs Thuy returned to develop autism services in her hospital in Vietnam that at the time were just beginning. Over the years since then I have continued to work in Vietnam with various initiatives, including one funded by another APS Grant with Eleanor Wertheim which enabled us to provide a course in CBT at the Vietnam Institute of Psychology.

What has the experience meant for you as a person and as a psychologist?

The Grant enabled me to make a number of contributions, both through the APS and the Royal Children's Hospital. I received another grant from the Academy of Social Sciences which was linked with the University of Social Sciences in Vietnam.

I have provided teaching in research methods and clinical psychology, books, papers and materials, and also resources such as toys for the children in hospital. It has been very rewarding - the need was huge, so it was easy to be helpful and to make a difference. The work is still ongoing. Recently I have been liaising with the Children's Hospital Number 1 in Ho Chi Minh City and of course I continue the work in Hanoi. I value the opportunities to share my expertise and to foster the development of psychological expertise in Vietnam.

How would you advise APS members or their organisations who might be considering making connections with psychologists in developing countries, whether in academic or professional contexts?

It's very important to have a link or a connection on a personal level, otherwise it is not easy to begin. I also went to East Timor and I didn't have a clear connection to get started on a mental health project, and it was hard to find a way to help. So, don't go in cold - it's important to have a network with which to collaborate.

How would you like to see your profession and colleagues respond to the issues that emerged from the project?

There is much work to be done, especially in training and supervision in clinics and hospitals - supervision that we mandate here in Australia for training. Although work concerning autism has been a highlight, there are many other areas that need attention. As I'm close to retirement, younger people need to pick up this mantle and start building links. Places like Indonesia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka need assistance from Australian psychologists too.

Is there a take-home message for us as psychologists here in Australia, and as global citizens?

I'd like to reinforce the fact that here in Australia we are very rich and there are nations right on our doorstep that are poor - not only in relation to food and basic necessities but also in resources, knowledge, education and training. These societies are changing rapidly and need our assistance.

Jan Cregan was awarded the Grant in the context of an International Development assignment working with repatriated victims of human trafficking in Lao PDR (Laos).

How did you come to be involved with the project in Laos? What was your role?

I applied for the placement as a Volunteer for International Development from Australia (VIDA), which is an AUSAID-funded program that places Australians in developing countries in response to applications from governments and non-government organisations for assistance with general capacity building, specific skills and development projects. Once there, I was also called upon to provide clinical support to residents at the organisation's shelter. My main assignment tasks were to design and deliver a training program for Lao social workers; develop assessment tools for use with the target population; train Lao nationals in their use; and convene an inter-NGO working group on mental health.

What kinds of personal qualities and professional skills were most valuable to you during that time?

Patience, openness, prior experience living in other cultures, and some knowledge of Asian philosophies and religions. Professional skills included experience working with people from other cultures in Australia, clinical work through interpreters/translators, and experience in program development and delivery and teaching.

How would you advise APS members who might be considering making themselves available in a voluntary capacity to an international agency, or perhaps working in a professional role in situations such as this?

I would advise APS members to research the proposed assignment very thoroughly before committing to a contract. It is important to be aware that psychology may not be understood or valued in another culture, and that international communities have widely varying models of psychology giving rise to misunderstandings and difficulties that need to be carefully managed.

How did the APS Grant assist you in your work in Laos?

The main project for which I was awarded the Grant was not fully completed before I had to leave, however the Grant also supported me on a PD tour to Vietnam that was very helpful for my work in Laos. Having this brief but intensive period of contact and interaction with other psychologists provided peer support and professional consultation that enabled me to work as effectively as possible, and maintain motivation in difficult circumstances. Laos has very few psychologists, so there is little knowledge or understanding, and even some distrust, of what psychology involves.

What are some immediate and/or longer term implications of human trafficking internationally and locally? How would you like to see your profession and colleagues respond to such issues?

I think these questions are the most interesting and also the most challenging. A full answer would refer to problems in legal, political and financial (i.e., aid donors) responses to trafficking. On the ground there are overlaps between sex trafficking, seasonal economic migration and refugee movements, which are either not well understood, or are obscured. With regard to individual trafficking victims, I came across cases of depression, anxiety, trauma responses including PTSD, and adjustment disorders. Some of these problems could be attributed to experiences of being trafficked and/or sexually exploited, but some were due to detention and resettlement procedures that operate in countries in the region where I worked. We must remember that Australia is a destination country for trafficked people from the Asian region, so all these issues are relevant to our own country as well.

Is there a take-home message for us as psychologists here in Australia, and as global citizens?

I can think of several ‘take-home' messages - don't expect your professional skills to be valued or understood outside your own culture in the way you are used to; be aware that in a post-colonial society the most difficult cultural differences may centre on how the colonising culture relates to both the local one and your own; and if you are a woman working in a matrix of patriarchal cultures, you may feel you have stepped into a disempowering gender order from the past. The positive take-home message would be to appreciate friendships and new experiences, and don't pressure yourself to achieve too much in terms of your professional contribution. 

Thanks to Heather Gridley and Hoa Pham for conducting these interviews.