Indigenous representation within PACFA

Nga mihi mahana
Gina O’Neill

On Sunday 14th April, PACFA held the PACFA Council meeting in Sydney. I was invited to present a conversation about Indigenous representation within PACFA. A timely presentation as a conversation had already been seeded at the trauma conference earlier in the year.

As a Maori Indigenous woman born in Aotearoa (NZ) and living in Australia, I am compelled to connect with other Indigenous members of PACFA. The idea of forming a group had come to mind some years ago but timing was not generous. Somewhat surprisingly, years later, there is still a gap for Indigenous member representation.

My introduction was by way of te reo maori language, my pepeha, other welcomes and acknowledgements especially to tangata moemoea (traditional owners) of this land of which I am only ever Manuhiri (a guest). A short waiata (song) with the room upstanding together completed the welcome.

Inspiration came in the form of Fred Hollows and the work that he undertook with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples restoring their eyesight. Some embarrassingly decades old quotes from Fred about Aboriginal Peoples needing to be consulted at every level and that they determine their health and participate fully in the process. For such an iconic Australian like Fred Hollows (and many others), to have such clarity about self determination and true collaboration yet we see the same issues occurring over 20 years later and no change in government attitudes, it seems that there is an opportunity for all of us to take action.

A look at what Indigenous representation is occurring within the health field was presented next as a way of setting the scene; from Psychology and social work through to medicine and nursing associations. More directly related to our profession, the Australian Counselling Association currently has no formal Indigenous representation through a college (based on the 2019 website), despite an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander counsellors college being listed in the scope of practice document (Australian Counselling Association, 2016). Psychology, through the Australian Psychological Society, have a stand alone association, the Australian Indigenous Psychology Association (AIPA), and also an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and Psychology interest group. The Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) display their commitment and current position statements and advocacy work in the social policy and advocacy section of their website and state “…are committed to working in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social workers and communities to achieve our vision for reconciliation.” In medicine and nursing both have stand alone associations and congresses. Finally, the Indigenous Allied Health Association (IAHA) are a stand alone association for any allied health Indigenous professional in Australia. In psychotherapy, there is a study looking at depression and bridging the use of Indigeous and western practices (Moylan, 2009).

The Aotearoa (NZ) experience was also presented as a counterpoint to the state of Indigneous representation (in the field of counselling and psychotherapy) in Australia. In Aotearoa psychotherapy has had government recognition for over a decade and are registered through the psychotherapy board Aotearoa New Zealand (PBANZ). As recently as 2018, a process for practitioners with a masters in Counselling have acquired government recognition. A way that we can see this working is when jobs are advertised in all areas of health including area health boards, counsellor, psychologist, social worker and psychotherapist will often be advertised alongside each other, unless there is a specific stand alone position for say, a psychotherapist.

The challenge is: How can psychotherapists and counsellors advance self-determination? (Dudgeon, Milroy & Walker, 2014).

That leaves PACFA with some opportunities to work with the first peoples of Australia in all that we do, or continue without such representation.

At the Council meeting, we discussed the idea of establishing:

  • An Indigenous Therapies College (ITC)
  • Indigenous representation on the PACFA Board and all committees within PACFA
  • An Indigenous mentor for PACFA as an organisation to oversee and consult on establishing a reconciliation action plan.

For example, the Leadership Group of ACCAPE (Australia College of Counselling and Psychotherapy Educators) might look at how more Indigenous curricula can be included in PACFA accredited courses and our professional development program could actively include Indigenous PD for members.

We are in the business of healing, so to me it is not a question that we are leaders in this process.

“In renaming the pain…(the traumatic experiences of our colonisations) as a place of profound learning and acquisition of strength, skills and courage to survive, the work…becomes the creative process of actively fashioning a new future.
Safe places need to be established with appropriate funding, as a matter of priority, where the layered loss and grief, and the expression of distress that are so often labelled by society as “bad” and “mad”, can be dealt with in a healing way. The pain associated with the work of healing is not bad and will not kill, but the choice not to heal has the possibility of destroying the planet, and its diverse human and non-human inhabitants.” (Atkinson, 2002)

My purpose in writing this report is to ask the question of all members: Are we ready to acknowledge, include and more importantly, collaborate with Australia’s first peoples as equals in our profession and professional activities?

If this article provokes a sense of energy in you and you feel a move towards this conversation, please contact the PACFA office, admin@pacfa.org.au and register your interest and what you are willing to offer to support this seedling of an idea.

As a guest in this land, I do not take the responsibility to create and establish this mission, but welcome all members of PACFA to walk alongside each other to do this important work together.