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InPsych 2015 | Vol 37

Cover feature : The next generation of psychologists…

Making a difference as Indigenous psychologists: Reflections from the Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association (AIPA)

The end of the year draws near and future psychologists are completing their final exams. It is never too early to talk and plan the journey ahead for early career psychologists. As Chair and Steering Committee members of AIPA, we are committed to supporting and formally representing the views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander psychologists, and also to providing support to Indigenous psychology students in undergraduate and postgraduate courses. We believe this support is vital in working toward achieving equity within the profession and are strongly committed to providing opportunities to early career psychologists and encouraging them to network with other Indigenous psychologists.

We entered the field of psychology because we shared a belief that by gaining psychological skills we could make a difference in our own communities in which we live. We also shared beliefs that we were able to influence and contribute to the current understandings of psychology and provide cultural understandings of psychological theory and practices. The greater the number of Indigenous psychologists contributing their diverse knowledge and experience to the field, the stronger the collective voice to effect a difference in positive outcomes for the individual, the family, the community and by extension make a difference at a national level.

To close the Mental Health Gap, it is imperative that we provide this support to Indigenous psychologists (from student, to graduate, to probationary psychologist, to experienced clinicians and academics) as this professional workforce will contribute greatly towards improving the social and emotional wellbeing of Indigenous people throughout Australia.

The authors can be contacted through Tanja Hirvonen at tanja23@bigpond.com

Our stories...

By Peter Smith

I am a Kamilaroi man from north-west NSW, where I now currently live. I have a Master of Psychology (Forensic) and have been a psychologist with the Department of Community Services for nine years and have worked part time in private practice for eight years. I have enjoyed a very successful career including previously supervising a team of multi-systemic therapists and an Aboriginal team advisor working with the families of serious repeat young offenders in the NSW juvenile justice system. Working rurally presents unique challenges compared to working in urban settings. For instance, the tyranny of distance is particularly challenging, and as Indigenous psychologists we are scattered and spread very thin across Australia. It is very important professionally and therapeutically to maintain strong networks and get together with others regularly. There just seems to be a knowing that we all have, without words – just by being together. I recommend that early career Indigenous psychologists manage good relationships as this is likely to make a big difference in managing burnout and sustaining longevity in the psychology field.

By Tania Dalton

I belong to the Gunditjmara and Wathaurong people of Victoria and have lived and worked in Southwest Victoria on my ancestral country with the Aboriginal communities of the area for the past 30 years. As a registered psychologist with a Masters in Health and Behavioural Science from Sydney University and a founding member of AIPA and Chair since 2013, I have been substantially involved with AIPA’s cultural competence training as the National Cultural Competence Coordinator since it began in 2010. Being a rural Indigenous psychologist, it can be very isolating and challenging to network and be able to take up employment opportunities but on the positive side it has enabled me to work in diverse areas. For example, l feel privileged to work and contribute to the healing with the Stolen Generation and, equally, feel privileged to be able to develop and implement projects with Aboriginal communities to prevent family violence. It is important for rural Indigenous psychologists to seek out professional peer support networks. It is through such networking that rural psychologists can become involved in supportive local, regional, state-wide and national bodies. I believe that early career psychologists should strive to connect and network to find opportunities to actively participate and gain support for the work they are doing. Whether informal or formal, early career psychologists should seek to have approachable and experienced mentors and/or supervisors that can guide and advise them on their journey.

By Tanja Hirvonen

I am an Aboriginal psychologist with connections from the Kimberley and Northern Territory. My study journey has involved more than eight years within psychology commencing with my studies in 2006 when I was living on a property called Punjaub Station located approximately 60kms from Burketown QLD. Here, internet services were available only by satellite dish. I then moved to Normanton QLD where I completed my undergraduate studies whilst working intermittently with a federal government agency before moving on to postgraduate studies in clinical psychology at James Cook University. It was a very long and challenging journey for study, yet my story is not a unique one. Many of us have completed the journey, but how we tackle the next part of our career is equally as important. We need to ensure that we have processes in place so that we feel supported and select work opportunities that allow us to use the skills that we have developed. I am currently working with an Aboriginal Health Service in Darwin and in various other roles which include working as the Executive Support Officer for AIPA.

References

Disclaimer: Published in InPsych on December 2015. 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.