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InPsych 2014 | Vol 36

Psychology in current issues

The APS Reconciliation Action Plan and beyond

The APS has proudly put reconciliation with Indigenous Australians at the core of the organisation over the last three years through a Reconciliation Action Plan. As the formal Plan comes to an end, the challenge is to embed the changes that have been made and continue the vital process of reconciliation with Indigenous Australians throughout the broad APS organisation.

"I am proud that I have been a part of and will continue to participate in a psychology that is concerned with social justice. I believe the APS Reconciliation Action Plan is a watershed opportunity for our profession and all people in Australia."

- Professor Pat Dudgeon FAPS, Co-Chair, APS Reconciliation Action Plan Working Group

For the last three years, the APS has been implementing an organisation-wide action plan for working towards reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, culture and practices, something Reconciliation Australia encourages all organisations to do. A formal Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) process was endorsed at the 2011 National Conference, with the APS RAP launched at the following year’s conference in Perth.

The preparation of the APS RAP was overseen by a Working Group co-chaired by Indigenous psychology scholar Professor Pat Dudgeon FAPS. It was developed in close collaboration with groups such as Reconciliation Australia and the Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association, and has been actively guided by the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The APS Reconciliation Action Plan

Of particular concern to the APS has been the poor outcomes for Indigenous Australians in relation to individual and community social and emotional wellbeing. The APS particularly wanted its RAP to build respect, relationships and understanding between Indigenous and other Australians to close the gap in mental health and wellbeing, and to address the inequalities experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in real, meaningful and lasting ways. The plan also needed to include an investigation of how the APS could incorporate Indigenous knowledge and practices into its governance structures and guidelines, with the intention that Indigenous cultures, values and ways of doing things became part of how the APS functions in real terms. To this end, the initial three-year RAP focused on four key areas:

  1. Respectful Relationships
  2. Governance
  3. Cultural Competence
  4. Employment and Education.

The APS has now released a final report of its formal RAP and its achievements, which assesses the progress that has been made against the actions that were set in each of these four areas. The key achievements in each area of the APS RAP, along with the broad strategies that were set for each area, are detailed in the box opposite.

Beyond the RAP: Reconciliation as a continuing process

With the formal RAP period coming to an end, the emphasis is now on continuing reconciliation as a live process into the future. Although the initial phase of the APS reconciliation journey has ended, the APS acknowledges that there is still much work to be done. The APS is committed to continuing to build mutually respectful partnerships through local reconciliation efforts in APS Branches, Colleges and Interest Groups as well as through the National Office. The new APS Indigenous Psychology Advisory Group will inform and ensure Indigenous perspectives are inherent in APS governance and decision-making processes. The Australian Indigenous Psychology Education Project will pave the way for the inclusion and expansion of Indigenous content in the psychology curriculum, and training in cultural competence and safe practice. The APS and its members will continue to provide the funds for Bendi Lango bursaries to Indigenous postgraduate psychology students to assist in further increasing the numbers of practising Indigenous psychologists in Australia.

As a driving force in the APS reconciliation project, Pat Dudgeon continues to stress that reconciliation is a two-way process. As Professor Dudgeon says of reconciliation in her introductory message in the RAP final report: “It gives us all the chance to learn, value and respect new and different forms of knowledge and interventions. It enables us to learn about how best to work in ways that will assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to heal, to feel valued and have self-esteem as a distinct cultural group, and ultimately have the best mental health and live to the best potential in their lives. It also provides an opportunity to enhance our profession through the wisdom of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and experiences.”

As well as reconciliation continuing as a process throughout the APS organisation, the hope is that the APS RAP has raised the awareness of individual APS members in relation to Aboriginal culture, history and contemporary issues and inspired them to reconciliation action in their professional and personal lives.

Full details of all of the achievements resulting from the APS Reconciliation Action Plan can be found in the final report of the APS RAP. The report gives detailed progress the APS has made, as well as future directions for the APS to continue its reconciliation journey. The report is available online at APS Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), and hard copies can be requested from the APS National Office.

We welcome your feedback about reconciliation at the APS. Please email reconciliation_APS@psychology.org.au

Tom Allen, Senior Communications Coordinator,
APS National Office

October 2011 – September 2014

1. Respectful Relationships

Building respectful relationship with key Indigenous groups; Developing partnerships for research, programs and employment; Connecting with local Indigenous communities; Learning and observing cultural protocols

Key achievements in the Respectful Relationships area include the recent creation of an APS Indigenous Psychology Advisory Group, which will advise the APS Board on all Indigenous-related matters. The Advisory Group succeeds the RAP Working Group, which guided the development and implementation of the APS RAP.

APS Member Group engagement towards respectful relationships has been assisted through the development of two important resources that are being used extensively to guide activities throughout APS Member Groups:

  • APS Cultural Protocols for Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Country, Traditional Owners and Elders
  • Doing Reconciliation Locally – RAP Implementation Tips for Member Groups

2. Governance

Partnership with the Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association and Indigenous representation within the APS

Key achievements in this area include incorporating the RAP into the internal governance of the APS through involvement of the APS Board and National Office Executive Managers in the implementation of the lead action areas of the RAP.

The APS and the Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association (AIPA) are working to formalise an MoU outlining parameters for their future relationship. In the meantime, the APS and AIPA have continued to collaborate, for example, with AIPA being part of the RAP Working Group, and represented on the APS Regional, Rural and Remote Advisory Group.

AIPA members have provided advice and consultation to APS initiatives, such as the Annual Conference, and to funded projects such as KidsMatter. The APS continues to support AIPA’s delivery of funded projects and Steering Committee operations. The two organisations have also worked together on several reviews and external submissions.

3. Cultural Competence

Indigenous knowledge and the psychology curriculum; Professional development on cultural competence/safety; Research partnerships with Indigenous peoples; Indigenous resources and information; Assessment tools for Indigenous people; Ethical guidelines

This area of the RAP has seen a substantial achievement in psychology education and training, where the APS is the major industry partner in the Australian Indigenous Psychology Education Project (AIPEP). This collaborative project, funded by the Office of Learning and Teaching (OLT) until 2016, is investigating curricular approaches to increasing cultural competence and Indigenous participation in psychology education and training across Australian higher education institutions. The project is being led by Pat Dudgeon (see Australian Indigenous Psychology Education Project (AIPEP) for more information).

About 600 psychologists have undertaken AIPA’s highly successful Cultural Competence Training for the mental health workforce, auspiced by the APS and rolled out throughout the country for Access To Allied Psychological Services (ATAPS) providers.

Significant steps have also been taken towards ensuring the APS staff and Member Group leaders undergo cultural awareness/cultural safety training.

4. Indigenous Education and Employment

Indigenous student recruitment to psychology courses and affirmative action with mentoring and support; Strategies for Indigenous psychology graduate employment and Indigenous employment within the APS

The AIPEP is also the primary mechanism for most of the targeted actions in the fourth priority area of Indigenous Education and Employment. Key achievements here include a significant increase (more than 100%) in the number of psychologists reported as identifying as Indigenous between 2006-2012. Although this cannot be directly or solely attributed to the RAP, the Plan has certainly helped, and represents one target achieved ahead of time – the aim of reaching 80 Indigenous psychologists in Australia by 2016, which has already been achieved.

The AIPEP draws on the perspectives of Indigenous and non-Indigenous university educators and support staff, psychology students, employers and Indigenous psychologists, in order to increase recruitment and retention of Indigenous psychology students and facilitate training pathways for Indigenous mental health workers.

A formal Indigenous employment and mentoring strategy has not yet been developed for the APS itself, however the APS employed its first Aboriginal staff member during the period of the RAP, and has auspiced AIPA projects employing a number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander psychologists and other staff.

Indigenous businesses have been engaged where possible and appropriate throughout the APS organisation for catering, artwork, media and staff recruitment purposes. n

See the final report of the APS RAP for full details of all achievements: APS Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP).


Disclaimer: Published in InPsych on December 2014. The APS aims to ensure that information published in InPsych is current and accurate at the time of publication. Changes after publication may affect the accuracy of this information. Readers are responsible for ascertaining the currency and completeness of information they rely on, which is particularly important for government initiatives, legislation or best-practice principles which are open to amendment. The information provided in InPsych does not replace obtaining appropriate professional and/or legal advice.