POLITICS

Psychologists Apologise To Indigenous Australians

For not doing their job properly.

15/09/2016 10:44 AM AEST | Updated 15/09/2016 10:45 AM AEST
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Psychologists apologise for the profession's role in contributing to the erosion of culture.

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) will issue a formal apology for the profession's role in the mistreatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, including its silence during the policy of forced removal which resulted in the Stolen Generations.

The apology -- which also called for new systems to improve engagement between the profession and indigenous culture -- will be made at the society's annual congress in Melbourne on Thursday.

"We, as psychologists, have not always listened carefully enough to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people," said the apology in part, before outlining measures to improve the profession's systems.

"We have not always respected their skills, expertise, world views, and unique wisdom developed over thousands of years. ​​​​​​"

The APS said it was apologising for, among other things, using diagnostic systems that did not honour cultural belief systems, for conducting research that benefited the careers of researchers rather than improved the lives of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

It also apologised for "developing and applying treatments that have ignored Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander approaches to healing," and for its "silence and lack of advocacy on important policy matters such as the policy of forced removal which resulted in the Stolen Generations".

APS President Professor Michael Kyrios said the apology was an important move in redressing past wrongs and ensuring the psychology profession collaborates and appropriately serves Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

"The apology is only one of many initiatives by the Australian Psychological Society to work together with Indigenous psychologists and communities to meet the social and emotional wellbeing and mental health needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people," Kyrios said in a statement.

Building on a concept initiated by Professor Alan Rosen, we sincerely and formally apologise to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians...

The apology will be made following a keynote address by Professor Pat Dudgeon -- a Fellow of the Society and Australia's first Aboriginal psychologist -- on an emerging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander psychology.

"This is a tremendous moment for Australian psychology," Prof Dudgeon said.

"The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and psychologists are delighted that the APS has taken this important step."

The APS describes itself as is the largest professional organisation for psychologists in Australia, representing more than 22,000 members.

A report released in June by the Medical Journal of Australia called for a Royal Commission and more innovative approaches to mental health in the Kimberley region, where Indigenous suicide was more than seven times Australia's average in 2011.

The rates of deliberate self-harm were 10 times more frequent than those reported by international studies in 2014.

A recent report by Mission Australia showed the rate of happiness among young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men is so low that as many as 10 percent rate theirs at zero out of 10 when compared to their non-indigenous youth.

Full Apology to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People from the Australian Psychological Society

Disparities between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and other Australians on a range of different factors are well documented. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience much higher rates of psychological distress, chronic disease, and incarceration than other Australians.

They manage many more stressors on a daily basis and, although suicide did not exist in their cultures prior to colonisation it is now a tragically inflated statistic. The fact that these disparities exist and are long standing in a first world nation is deplorable and unacceptable.

As we understand these challenging issues in relation to wellbeing and health, it is very important that we tell the stories of the strengths and resilience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are the proud custodians of the longest surviving cultures on our planet. With this in mind, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' resilience and resourcefulness could make a significant and positive impact on Australian society should they have the opportunity to contribute routinely in their areas of expertise.

We, as psychologists, have not always listened carefully enough to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We have not always respected their skills, expertise, world views, and unique wisdom developed over thousands of years. Building on a concept initiated by Professor Alan Rosen, we sincerely and formally apologise to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians for:

  • Our use of diagnostic systems that do not honour cultural belief systems and world views;
  • The inappropriate use of assessment techniques and procedures that have conveyed misleading and inaccurate messages about the abilities and capacities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people;
  • Conducting research that has benefitted the careers of researchers rather than improved the lives of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants;
  • Developing and applying treatments that have ignored Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander approaches to healing and that have, both implicitly and explicitly, dismissed the importance of culture in understanding and promoting social and emotional wellbeing; and,
  • Our silence and lack of advocacy on important policy matters such as the policy of forced removal which resulted in the Stolen Generations. To demonstrate our genuine commitment to this apology, we intend to pursue a different way of working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that will be characterised by diligently:
  • Listening more and talking less;
  • Following more and steering less;
  • Advocating more and complying less;
  • Including more and ignoring less; and,
  • Collaborating more and commanding less.

Through our efforts, in concert and consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, we envisage a different future.

This will be a future where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people control what is important to them rather than having this controlled by others.

It will be a future in which there are greater numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander psychologists and more positions of decision making and responsibility held by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Ultimately, through our combined efforts, this will be a future where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people enjoy the same social and emotional wellbeing as other Australians.

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