People from around the world ask me whether there is a distinct form of Australian counselling and psychotherapy. My response is immediately, yes!
Over the past three decades my work has brought me to many conferences. Over time presenting and doing keynotes has given me a unique perspective. Teaching counselling training at universities, and maintaining interest in the field long after leaving full time academic work, has given me many strengths in understanding Australian approaches to psychotherapy and counselling.
For one, Australian Aboriginal culture is unique around the world. Nothing exists like Aboriginal ways arising from the Dreamtime, deeply connected with Country as Sacred Place, and the many quite profound ways this translates into familial values, community identity, and as time goes on influences within mainstream Australian culture that are often overlooked by people who grow up in this country.
Secondly, Australia is completely unique in its very landmass, and how this holds a great deal of influence, meaning, and inspiration for Australian music, art, science, and culture. Australians have an existential basis in this place we call home, our country, our land and sea. Australians unconsciously and often in full awareness gravitate and hover around the Centre, the desert as heartland, the place of unconscious, that tends to dominate our consciousness. This forms a rich compost layer within the Australian psyche. A hinterland for dreams, vision, and mysticism. A source of enormous power in creativity and problem solving.
Thirdly, Australian counselling and psychotherapy has its own unique professional traditions within the fields of education, public health, and ironically as an offspring of the psychology professional body’s decision to become highly exclusive and begin shutting down their grandfather clause during the late 1990s. Besides, the profession of counselling in Australia grew very quickly to be extremely diverse due in large part to a great deal of healthy competition between factions. This resulted in hundreds of smaller professional and specialist bodies being formed – something that is still sorting itself out as the next couple of generations of therapists cope with the confusion and mess handed down to them by their senior founders.
Finally, Australian counselling and psychotherapy are often places of advanced innovative research and advancements in our understanding of qualitative issues. We can think of a dozen studies that match this criteria, across the areas of child sexual abuse, abuse recovery, trauma and healing, Aboriginal cultural methods in therapy, sexuality and identity, sexual health counselling, ageing and community practice, couple and relationship issues, depression and anxiety, just to name a few. Perhaps in contrast, as a professional body psychology tends toward advancements in quantitative research outcomes.
Unlike psychology perhaps worldwide, counselling in Australia is unique because as a profession counsellors and psychotherapists are not as interested in “rats and stats” as the focus is on human relationships, understanding the dynamics of healing and change outcomes, and actual practice based outcomes that advance our knowledge of evidenced based therapeutic strategies.
These are just a few of the ways that Australian counselling and psychotherapy are unique around the world. There is much to be thankful for in Australia. And most Australians are not aware of the incredible resources we have in our communities and across our nation in the form of counsellors, whose work is often hidden and unassuming, but whose efforts form part of the social fabric of our community.