Members of AIPA and the APS Aboriginal and Torres Strait Peoples and Psychology Interest Group get together for dinner at the 2009 APS Conference in Darwin.
Members of AIPA and the APS Aboriginal and Torres Strait Peoples and Psychology Interest Group get together for dinner at the 2009 APS Conference in Darwin.

By Adjunct Associate Professor Pat Dudgeon FAPS, Chair of AIPA, Kerrie Kelly MAPS, AIPA Project Officer and Heather Gridley FAPS, Manager, Public Interest, APS National Office

The Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association (AIPA) has gone from strength to strength in the 18 months since it was officially launched at the APS Conference in September 2008. AIPA's main aims are to increase the number of Indigenous psychologists, and to lead the change required to deliver equitable, accessible, sustainable, timely and culturally safe psychological care to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in urban, regional and remote Australia.

The combined energies of 40 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander psychologists under the leadership of APS Fellow Pat Dudgeon have led to a number of achievements. Three major milestones have been attained that AIPA hopes will contribute toward ‘closing the gap' between Indigenous and non-Indigenous social and emotional wellbeing and mental health.

Launch of AIPA's website - www.indigenouspsychology.com.au  

The development of the website was led by AIPA Steering Committee member Graham Gee in collaboration with the APS National Office. The site will act as a contact point for Indigenous psychologists as well as a vehicle for promoting Indigenous psychology to students, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and other psychologists, health professionals and government. The APS homepage features a direct link to the AIPA website. APS members are encouraged to promote the site and to visit it if they would like to stay in touch with AIPA developments.

Development of a cultural competence workshop to support non-Indigenous psychologists to apply the National Practice Standards for the Mental Health Workforce with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients

To date, there have been no system-wide programs to enhance the development of cultural competence among non-Indigenous psychologists or to implement the National Practice Standards for the Mental Health Workforce as they apply to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. In a national first, AIPA has developed a cultural competence workshop that will address both of these goals by providing non-Indigenous psychologists with the required cultural competencies to deliver psychological services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients. This workshop will be centrally delivered as a professional development activity by the APS under the leadership of AIPA member Tania Jones. All non-Indigenous psychologists are encouraged to participate in this training and to join the national effort required to significantly improve social and emotional wellbeing and mental health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Further details of the workshop can be found on the AIPA website.

Publication of a discussion paper about social and emotional wellbeing and serious psychological distress

Hot off the press from the Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health, AIPA's ‘Living on the Edge' paper aims to generate discussion about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander definitions of social and emotional wellbeing (SEWB) and the risk and protective factors that may be influencing the SEWB of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations. Serious psychological distress is discussed as a possible indicator that SEWB is at risk, and the paper makes links between this and preventable morbidity and mortality. The paper is free to APS members and can be downloaded from AIPA's website or ordered in hardcopy from the APS National Office (while stocks last) from h.gridley@psychology.org.au.  

Other AIPA initiatives

  • AIPA made a submission to the Senate Affairs Committee Inquiry into Suicide in Australia and was subsequently invited to appear before the Committee in a public hearing held in Brisbane in February. Leda Barnett and Clinton Schultz appeared before the hearing on behalf of AIPA.
  • AIPA will be collaborating with the APS Board and a range of stakeholders to develop and implement a Reconciliation Action Plan within the APS. This will be a historic initiative when it gets underway.
  • AIPA has been invited to host symposia and present papers at a number of international conferences taking place in Australia in July. These include the International Congress of Applied Psychology (ICAP 2010) and the Congress of the International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology (IACCP) to be held in Melbourne, and the International Conference on Psychology Education (ICOPE) in Sydney. ICAP will also feature a one-day version of AIPA's cultural competence workshop.
  • AIPA continues to represent the perspectives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander psychologists as a member of the Indigenous Leadership group for the Close the Gap campaign. In this role, AIPA recently led the development of a policy paper about working in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
  • AIPA also has representatives on a number of other bodies, including: the Expert Reference Group for the Office of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health (OATSIH) in the Department of Health and Ageing to implement the COAG mental health measures as they relate to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; the Mental Health Professionals Network; and Indigenous Allied Health Australia. AIPA representatives are also involved in a number of groups within the APS: the Rural, Regional and Remote Advisory Group; the Public Interest Advisory Group; and the Bendi Lango Foundation. The APS Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and Psychology Interest Group is co-chaired by AIPA member Yvonne Clark, with non-Indigenous psychologist Kerrie Kelly. The Interest Group's role is seen as complementary to that of AIPA, being the APS unit where Indigenous and non-Indigenous APS members and interested others can meet and work together. As the ‘reconciliation arm', the Interest Group is an important source of support for AIPA, and vice-versa.

Acknowledging the support of the APS

AIPA activities are currently supported by the Public Interest team at the APS National Office. The APS provides funds for the AIPA Steering Committee to meet face-to-face twice a year, for AIPA members to meet face-to-face once a year and for a part-time project officer to support the AIPA Steering Committee to achieve its objectives. The APS has also assisted with the development of AIPA's website, the cultural competence workshop development project, and the hosting of the AIPA-initiated Racism Roundtable in 2009.

It's not just a black and white issue

What role can psychologists play in providing therapy to Aboriginal people and how can non-Aboriginal psychologists make a difference?

With mounting evidence that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are at high risk for the development of mental health problems, there is clearly potential for psychologists to contribute their expertise in this area. However, there are some important - sometimes contentious - practice issues and competencies that must be resolved when non-Aboriginal psychologists work with Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people. As a result, psychologists are often uncertain and anxious about becoming engaged in this work.

A professional forum examining the principles and strategies for providing culturally safe and competent psychology services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was held at the APS Conference in Darwin last year. Discussion at the forum was led by Yvonne Clark and Todd Heard, both members of the Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association (AIPA) and APS Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and Psychology Interest Group (Aboriginal IG), together with Stephen Meredith and Ruth Braunstein (both Aboriginal IG members working with their local Aboriginal populations). The roles of the two non-Aboriginal psychologists working in partnership with Aboriginal psychologists and the local Aboriginal community were highlighted as they reflected on their experiences, journeys and learnings.

Forum participants were asked to complete a post-session feedback survey, with a view to evoking further interest and discussion, and to informing future initiatives to enable non-Aboriginal psychologists to overcome barriers to working effectively with Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people. The forum was attended by approximately 150 participants. Fifty-nine survey responses were received, of which 51 were completed by non-Indigenous respondents. Overall the feedback was positive, with most respondents indicating a ‘high interest' in working directly with Aboriginal people.

Salient messages from the feedback indicated the importance of striving for a safe environment when working with Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander clients. Respondents endorsed the importance of cultural competence together with collaboration and professional engagement with Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander advisers in building safe practices. Many indicated that they would engage in and support training and development for staff on cultural competence in their organisation.

These messages and other themes are of vital interest to the forum presenters, who are engaged in ongoing work with Aboriginal communities. It is hoped that this material will assist AIPA and the APS in developing relevant and ongoing professional development for psychologists in cultural competence in the future. A full report and/or journal article will be made available on the AIPA and Aboriginal IG websites in due course.

Questions or feedback can be directed to the forum presenters via yvonne.clark@adelaide.edu.au with the subject line ‘It's not just a black and white issue'.  

 

InPsych April 2010