Many people may well experience mixed emotions on Sorry Day, according to Australian psychologists. ‘Of course, many of us will be happy and relieved that the Australian Government is finally acknowledging the wrongs done to indigenous Australians,' said Amanda Gordon, President of the Australian Psychological Society.
‘It is a fundamental principle that relationships damaged by one party can only really start to heal when the doing of that harm is fully and frankly acknowledged,' said Gordon, ‘without excuses or buck-passing. This will be a welcome and significant step towards healing the breach within the Australian nation that has existed since the European occupation of the country. Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians will celebrate this as a turning point.'
‘However, psychological research has found that when people finally escape from a prolonged traumatic experience, that is, when they achieve a sense of safety, they not only experience relief but also many negative feelings, including understandable depression and anger. These are the common reactions to being a victim of trauma,' said Gordon.
‘Sorry Day is also likely to be a powerful reminder to many Indigenous Australians of their past bad experiences. Individuals, families and communities, will be prompted to remember their shared experiences of children being forcibly removed, and its aftermath.
Psychologists are not surprised by the strength of people's reactions - for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. ‘Non-indigenous Australians may well find the understandable expressions of grief by indigenous Australians, especially on Sorry Day itself, particularly distressing. Many non-indigenous Australians have shown their commitment by working with indigenous Australians and will want to mark this day, too, but should be prepared to understand and accept the strength and mixture of emotions likely to occur.'
Clinical psychological experience and research tells us that the most important step to helping a distressed person, whether someone else or yourself, is to accept the legitimacy of their feelings. However well-meant, offering reassurance or telling people to forget about bad experiences usually just isolates them. It is much more helpful to say sincerely, ‘What you are saying and feeling makes sense to me.'
Distressed people benefit most from accepting, emotional support and most do not need nor benefit from formal counselling. Indigenous psychologists, counsellors and community members are on the ground in Canberra and across Australia supporting Stolen Generations survivors. Other supports are available to members of the general public who may be feeling overwhelmed at this time, but most will benefit from being with caring friends or family.
‘Understanding, accepting, and constructively expressing your feelings is the healthiest way of handling them,' said Gordon. ‘All of us who are moved by the events of Sorry Day can share our feelings and that will be an important part of our national healing. The next step will be to commit ourselves to ensuring that future generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children grow up in safe, secure and healthy environments.'
The APS is the largest professional association for psychologists in Australia, representing more than 15,700 members. The APS is committed to advancing psychology as a discipline and profession. It spreads the message that psychologists make a difference to peoples' lives, through improving psychological knowledge and community wellbeing.
Indigenous people affected by removal can find a map of Bringing Them Home counsellors and their locations at:
To find an APS psychologist in your area, visit the APS website (www.psychology.org.au) and look for the ‘Find a psychologist' button, or call 1800 333 497.
For media enquiries please contact:
Australian Psychological Society
T: 03 8662 3363
M: 0412 683 068