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By Carrie Casey Assoc MAPS Diversity Counselling Service, Moree NSW

If someone had told me five years ago that I would leave the Sunshine Coast and move to my home town of Moree, I would have laughed hysterically for at least ten minutes. But when our circumstances changed four years ago, my husband and I made the decision to move closer to family in Moree. The last four years of my career in rural NSW have been very satisfying and rewarding. I have found that working as a rural psychologist does not place limitations on job prospects or career aspirations.

It took a few years for my career to get going, but now I am participating in a Master in Counselling Psychology via Monash University, I take part in the National Executive Committee of the College of Counselling Psychologists, organise training events including guest speakers such as Dr Bob Montgomery, run a private practice with three employees, and also make time for my husband and two young children. I have also organised a local rural psychologist group where about fifteen psychologists and intern psychologists get together. Even though I am about 300km from the nearest regional centre, I feel that I have the same career prospects as a psychologist working in the big smoke. There are some great career jobs out here too – employers of psychologists in the area include NSW Health, Department of Education (schools and TAFE), CRS Australia, APM Consulting, Centrelink and a few others.

What I love about living in a rural community is also its downfall – lack of anonymity. In any rural community multiple relationships exist, and managing these multiple relationships
requires a sound knowledge of the APS Code of Ethics and Ethical Guidelines, a model for ethical decision making, and a great supervisor. Sometimes a trip to the local grocery store or going to a BBQ can become an unexpected ethical minefield that needs to be navigated with some precision.

What contributes to Moree’s character is its diverse range of people and the extremes of wealth and poverty evident in everyday experience. Moree’s diversity presents itself as a unique opportunity to develop skills in working with a range of people from city and country, drought-stricken farmers and their families, indigenous people and communities, survivors of domestic violence, young people, and children with depression and anxiety.

The most unique part of the rural psychologist’s day is probably the drive to work. Of my eight days a fortnight I spend about half of my time at locations outside of Moree and take in some fantastic scenery along the way. Some of the towns I cover have populations of just 450 people. For example, every second Friday I am in Colly (Collarenebri) which is about 140km away. The last trip there I counted three emus, six kangaroos, one very large wallaby, one goanna and another reptilian creature that I have never seen before. I had to wait for two herds of cattle to cross the road as they worked their way along the stock route (it gave me a few minutes to check the messages back at the office). When I got to the Colly Medical Centre (a multi-purpose site including a hospital with 10 beds and the ambulance station), the local GP (who hails from Holland) said they were closing up early as he was off shearing!

Building my private practice, from doing it alone two days a week to now employing staff and seeing approximately eighty clients per fortnight, has taken about two years. In that time I have focused on professional issues such as building relationships with local GPs – there are only about 15 of them and they are a vital to the success of the private practice. There have been many challenges, as well as opportunities to grow, in providing a high level of service to a range of customers (GPs, insurers, Employment Assistance Programs) and responding to the new Medicare initiative.

Working as a rural psychologist is not everyone’s cup of tea; there’s a lot of driving, managing multiple relationships and limited anonymity. But I love Moree, its comfortable pace and how easy it is to live here. I love that there are no parking meters and no peak hour traffic at our one and only set of traffic lights. We have galleries, cultural festivals, local gourmet goodies and great coffee. Like anything in life, it’s about seizing opportunities and being willing to work hard to create what you want. I have found that living in the country has allowed me to have the career I want and the lifestyle too.

The author can be contacted on ccasey@diversitycsm.com.au.