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To address racism, professions urged to engage with reflection, truth telling and courageous conversations

Eight organisations representing psychologists have issued a public statement committing to action on racism.

Below, Donna Murray and Tanja Hirvonen from Indigenous Allied Health Australia (IAHA) welcome this commitment, and say it is needed across all professions.


Donna Murray and Tanja Hirvonen write:

Indigenous Allied Heath Australia (IAHA) were pleased to see the release of the joint position, Black Lives Matter: Psychologists take a stand against racism, led by The Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association, the Australian Psychological Society, The Australian Psychology Accreditation Council, Heads of departments and Schools of Psychology Australia, Institute of Clinical Psychologists, Association of Counselling Psychologists, the Australian Clinical Psychology Association and the Institute of Private Practising Psychologists.

This unified statement unequivocally condemns racism and supports social justice. It represents a commitment from the psychology discipline to stamp out racism across the profession, from the settings and systems in which they operate in and contribute to, and to address racism at the societal level. The statement reads, in part:

Our profession has a responsibility to acknowledge, address and combat racism, and support people impacted by racism and discrimination. As psychologists, we have a professional and ethical responsibility to defend and uphold the social and emotional wellbeing of all people, providing equitable, effective, and accessible psychological services.”

The Black Lives Matter movement in Australia is recognition of the need for urgent and systemic transformation. While it is linked to movements globally, the issues it seeks to address and the context for it are uniquely our own as a nation. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to experience inequity and the impacts of historical and modern policies, intergenerational trauma, colonisation, and the systemic and other forms of racism.

IAHA would argue that equity cannot be achieved in the short term, and that an appropriate long term approach is taken by the psychology discipline to address disparities. This includes truth-telling on the shared history of Australia and its impacts on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We know that racism continues to have a negative impact on the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Deaths in custody is just one, particularly stark, example of this, however it is played out across sectors including health and evidenced by a wide range of statistics.

For the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workforce, the context of Black Lives Matter is a needed conversation about race and social justice, with race and racism receiving significant attention in the national discussion. However, these conversations have, themselves, often been characterised by racism. Public discourse and questions from non-Indigenous Australians, often well intentioned colleagues, on top of other challenges and recent events such as COVID-19, can be exhausting and have a compounding impact on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workforce. This exhaustion impacts their ability to be a much needed resource and support in their community.

Calling for action and ownership

IAHA are active in supporting our workforce during this time; however, action and ownership from non-Indigenous Australians is essential. It cannot be the responsibility of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, a small proportion of the population, to address racism and dismantle the institutions and structures which uphold it. The non-Indigenous health workforce and professions have a particular opportunity to contribute to change, given the diversity of settings in which they work, and the level of esteem and public trust afforded to healthcare professionals.

Those of you reading this article have a role to play if we are to stamp out racism within the health, education, disability, aged care and other sectors and systems. The strength of the statement from the psychology profession is a commitment to action, action which is needed across all professions.

One of the most immediate and pressing actions for the health system is to increase the level of cultural safety, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people accessing and working within these settings and environments.

To support a culturally safe health care system, IAHA advocates strongly for cultural responsiveness, an action orientated approach on how to implement cultural safety in practice, based on knowledge, behaviour and action. This is based on lifelong learning and a philosophy that has self-determination and culture at the centre of a strength-based discourse, where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are leading strategies and solutions that pertain to them. 

Cultural safety is not about treating all patients the same, it is about ensuring that we treat people in a way that meets their needs, aspirations and goals. As a system we often talk about patient centred-care, and cultural safety is a step toward genuine patient-centred care to the benefit of all Australians.

A step forward is to consider how, as individuals, our own culture, our education and experiences and the dominant culture of the health system and Australia contribute to racism, and how they in turn influence our practice and decision making. We know that racism makes people sick, is harmful and can lead to death. Self-awareness and reflection can enable the changes so vitally needed.

We also have the opportunity to examine broader policies, environments and ways of working to consider their intended and unintended consequences, and whether they contribute to or diminish access for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

One of the positives to come out of recent dialogue is the many resources which are available to support individuals in developing their knowledge on this subject. This article from Croakey, for example, features a good summary of some of the practical steps individuals can take. Sustained commitment, supported by action, is essential if we are to achieve the progress needed and uphold the rights of all Australians.

As the joint statement concludes:

successfully standing against racism will depend on our willingness and ability to engage in reflection, truth telling, (have) courageous conversations and working together towards action.”

Donna Murray is CEO of IAHA and Tanja Hirvonen is Director of Research and Policy  

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Lowitja Institute Continuous Quality Improvement conference 2014
National Suicide Prevention Conference 2014
Racism and children/youth health symposium 2014
Rural & Remote Health Scientific Symposium 2014
2015 conferences
#CPHCEforum
#CRANAplus15
#HSR15
#NRHC15
#OTCC15
Population Health Congress 2015
2016 conferences
#AHHAsim16
#AHMRC16
#ANROWS2016
#ATSISPEP
#AusCanIndigenousWellness
#cphce2016
#CPHCEforum16
#CRANAplus2016
#IAMRA2016
#LowitjaConf2016
#PreventObesity16
#TowardsRecovery
#VMIAC16
#WearablesCEH
#WICC2016
2017 conferences
#17APCC
#ACEM17
#AIDAconf2017
#BTH20
#CATSINaM17