By Helen Mentha and Graeme Kane
APS Psychology and Substance Use Interest Group
WITH the next APS annual conference celebrating diversity as its theme, we would be missing an opportunity if we did not also reflect on the diversity within our profession. Sadly, we all too often focus on the differences between our specialties as the source of conflict, competition and difficulties in finding common ground.
We're human after all - like most people, problems will tend to intrude into our awareness more readily than the resources we take for granted - precisely because they work so well. The history of our profession suggests we are far from immune from the tendency to notice pain before we become aware of what brings us pleasure. Learned helplessness was understood long before the concept of learned optimism. Our awareness of risk factors has overshadowed the protective factors that promote resilience until more recent years. And so it goes on.
For fear of stating the obvious, the strength of our profession comes from the very diversity that can cause the conflict and misunderstandings. We can learn only so much in an undergraduate, masters or doctorate course. We can only become familiar with so much complexity at once. But our colleagues are a rich resource and source of ongoing learning. It often takes a different perspective to understand why we felt stuck, a fresh eye to see the way forward.
We wanted to write this piece as a result of our own experiences, which have been rewarding, and our belief that many others would have enjoyed similar benefits from the diversity our profession offers us. While we do not hold ourselves up as examples of anything much in particular, it is easier to speak of personal experience to give voice to the quiet collaboration that is often lost in focusing on those times when we cannot seem to agree.
We feel we have been fortunate to work together as colleagues, employed in a drug and alcohol counselling service within a community health centre. Graeme is a counselling psychologist, Helen a clinical psychologist. While not everything we do and say in our work comes from the education we received, we absorbed a great deal that influences the formulations we make and the skills we use, while our natural inclinations influenced the training we sought in the first place. Rather than carve out our turf and watch each other with suspicion across the specialist divide, we approached each other's training and strengths with curiosity. In sharing our different perspectives and styles, we can better question our assumptions, discover blind spots and check out our views. Ultimately, our clients benefit from a more considered, more comprehensive approach to the work we do.
For example, the psychiatric component of the Clinical Masters has been important, with many drug and alcohol clients experiencing comorbid conditions. Likewise, the systematic skill training of CBT assists clients to develop effective strategies to overcome their reliance on substances and develop meaningful alternatives to meet their underlying needs. The more experiential and interpersonal approaches of the Counselling Masters has been invaluable in developing and using the therapeutic relationship to assist clients, especially those whose own ability to form relationships and understand their own emotional state has been damaged in some way.
One day Graeme might ask: "How can I explain 'schizoaffective disorder' in everyday language to my client?" On another Helen may ask: "How might I use immediacy in this particular situation?" In a way it is not the questions that are important, it is the opportunity to explore the possibilities and find answers that we may not have come up with alone.
We do have differing strengths within our specific fields, but there is a vast mass of common ground that stretches beneath us all, no matter whether we are researchers or clinicians, or members of different colleges.
We do not always understand each other, but we should not be too quick to assume that we can't or won't. We don't have to fully agree in order to share perspectives and grow together.
And sometimes we just need a little time to stand back and appreciate the wealth of knowledge and skills we offer each other but take for granted.