This interview was recorded by a colleague who wanted to remain unnamed. They gathered this information to share in their organisation.
Dr Bowers, may I call you Joseph? Yes, no worries.
Joseph, why did you create Ability Therapy Specialists (ATS)? About three years ago now, the NSW government and the commonwealth moved forward with plans that would create the NDIS. NSW decided to pull out of direct services in aged care and disabilities, so would disband Ageing Disability and Home Care. Managers and mentors encouraged me to remain rural and regional – we all knew most senior practitioners would move away because the jobs would not be found here in the New England. The vision of ATS was born on white boards in corporate offices, dreaming up a model for community based independent practice.
What is ATS all about? People. ATS is about people in our community. And access to high quality counselling and psychotherapy services. ATS is about keeping senior expertise regional and rural. We are about education and capacity building – because we know that helping helpers goes a long way to building community-based skills.
How is Earth Rattle Publishing connected here? ERP was a project started a number of years ago to help new authors get published. It was part of the explosion of online publishing. Back in the late 90s my first exploring websites and virtual media as a doctoral student was thought by professors to be risky. I remember being told to be cautious. But in the years that followed I founded a new online open access research journal – the first of its kind in Counselling in Australia. ERP came about over the years of supporting Indigenous authors, and seeing the need for earth-based ecological resources for human ecology.
But you revived this project recently, you said? Yes. Health issues got in the way a few years back. But recently ERP is reawakened as a partnership with ATS. One provides the publishing expertise, the other a therapeutic edge. ERP is now publishing ebooks only because this is more ecologically sound, and become more popular and accessible. As a small niche publisher we focus on selling direct only – our customers pay for our product that is emailed to them in PDF format. The author actually keeps the vast majority of income, but our own books are all donated to ATS.
You have a community therapy fund, what is that? It is a fund for money from sale of books. We sell books via the Payhip set up. They take a small fee per sale. We keep the rest. For our own books, we give the proceeds to the fund. When the funds grow enough, we can offer clients sessions that are either subsidized or paid for in full.
How will you determine the need for people to use therapy? The number of needs out there are no problem at all. The issue is with how to allocate limited resources. We simply keep a word of mouth approach that over time develops a clear criteria for need and the practicality of offering a service to a person or family.
We see you have published heaps over the years. Tell us a bit about your own writings. That is like asking a truck driver to tell you about his new Mack truck. He looks at you like, are you ready for the long or short answer?!
LOL, OK… let me try again… What are you working on now? Ha ha ha ha, well… actually I am seeing clearly to publish a series on Counselling Sexology. I’ve just launched a book on retro texts in the Christian western mysticism tradition, and I am writing a book on Counselling Psychotherapy, a text book, based in the therapeutic methods that I have developed over about 25 or 30 years.
Wow, tell us about the Sexology project. This seems a bit out there, no? This is actually a growing area of interest for me since my graduate days of doing research on gay and bisexual men’s experiences. That work was back in the mid 1990s in Canada. Over here in Australia my PhD focused in part on LGBT people’s experiences. But even before my graduate research, my first masters degree courses were focused on couple and family life. My first group therapy work was with men remanded by court to deal with their violent behaviour, and the women who were their partners who were recovering from trauma. These different groups introduced me to the darker side of human sexuality – mostly heterosexual in fact. The GLBTI work I have done over the years has been quite inspiring and nothing like the heteronormative cultures that straight people inherit from their parent’s parents.
Are you saying that heterosexual people are more prone to violence? No, not at all. We all could do with less blanket assumptions like this. What I was saying is that we all actually inherit values, beliefs, and practices from our families. We grow up with these internal mindsets. If we do not have a radical reason to question our assumptions, we tend to keep on keeping on. This is human nature! We think, why fix what is working OK. But for most of us humans, what is working OK actually causes us grief. This is to say, our attitudes and beliefs about gender and sexuality are so twisted by past generations of values and beliefs from old and outdated perspectives, we have not yet faced these issues.
So why is this any different for gay people? Great question! Short answer: It’s not! Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and Two Spirit people get the same inheritance as the rest of us. But being different from the majority forces a change. That change is initially as simple as a different way of thinking. This reality makes minority people question assumptions and look at life differently. Nothing comes as easy, so everything is open for revision. What starts as a perceived weakness becomes a strength.
And for straight people, what is an assumed strength is actually a weakness? Perhaps so… Mostly likely an unconscious weakness for most. Things do not come up in awareness around these issues until couples find their marriage breaking down. Or they find they have a child or young adult child who is gay. In later years and in different forms of crisis, people find their value system challenged. Mostly these times do not lead to a real convergence of change and openness to evolution, because the human system demands preparation and training toward the more profound layers of growth.
What do you mean here, that spiritual growth relies on prior preparation? In some ways yes and in other ways no. Someone like Tina Turner carries a great deal of insight and very likely wisdom, based in her life experience. Nothing against her by the way, as she is pretty freaking awesome. But all due respect, Tina Turner is not the Dali Lama of Tibet. But if you got them in one room, sparks of spiritual enlightenment and many other sexy sparks would very likely fly. Two passionate and driven people in one room does that regardless of vows to the contrary. Now few of us are at the height of either of these people. But point be taken, Tina writes music and revolution. The Lama writes silence and awakening. Both are at the top of their game. That does not happen overnight. The Lama becomes a Buddha because he tips the scales on years of practice. The Turner becomes a pop icon and goddess of music because she tips the scales on years of practice. Both people take their game seriously, and both are pretty awesome.
So how does this relate to everyday people dealing with gender stereotypes and attitudes toward sex and sexuality? That is a very funny question, like, don’t you see that already?! What is the matter with you?! LOL Here you got the insight when you see the Lama and Turner in one room. She is all dolled up and sexy. He is in a robe all holy and saintly. But they both shine like stars. Gender and sexuality are here in the room with us too. American family values, at various levels. And Tibetan spiritual traditions, in various ways. When we meet, any of us in real life, we carry our heritage and traditions with us too. Couples who come for therapy because they are fighting and he wants to abuse her and she wants to displace her anger on her kids but holds back, they also carry a lot of baggage like the Lama and Turner do. The difference? Our stars are a bit older and maybe wiser. Those of us still at the coal face have to deal with our reality of lack of practice and lack of preparation. But we all have to start somewhere.
So your child is gay, what do you do? You grow the hell up and realise it is not your fault and that actually, being gay is a freaking awesome thing to be when you fall in love with someone and your life is going well because you got a decent job and your bills are paid. You might even think about having children with your gay partner. So you parents once you grow up and face your attitudes and beliefs are outdated and just plain impractical, you start to realise how bloody unjust the world might be for your child. You start to become an advocate for change. That is what real human evolution is all about.
You are very passionate about this stuff. Yes, and don’t invite me to your workplace unless you want to be enlightened by truth and confronted by passion.
We were thinking you might want to visit. Sure why not.
So therapy, writing, publishing, building a regional practice, NDIS, Earth Rattle Publishing, Ability Therapy Specialists, scholarship, research, you even have a Youtube channel for music you have written in past… what else do you like to do, in your spare time? (with a wicked grin). Well, I love to cook. And this espresso coffee machine is by best friend. I’ve tried my hand at painting using acrylics on canvas. We had a show a few years back in Canada, at Cape Breton University. It was a feature of Canadian Indian and Australian Aboriginal artists called Three Artists: Two Countries: One Heart. It was pretty awesome and very exciting to see our work on the huge gallery walls.
Who were the Australian artists that did that show with you? Dr Dwayne Kennedy and Grace Kennedy, from Guyra NSW. Their work was highly sought after and I had to fight people off to keep some of their paintings.
What are you doing in the next few weeks or months? Funny enough a bit more landscaping and I hope gardening… I’d love to visit family in Canada but that seems a distant vision at the moment…
No dull moments I am sure! How do people find you? We like to be hard to find actually, LOL. But if you insist we can be found via email and phone (0468863740). Email is best as we are actually in session most of the time. We want to stay close to people, so no admin answering service as yet. You get us directly. Surprise, surprise we get back to clients fairly quickly. People see us by appointment only.
Thanks for this talk, much enjoyable. And thank you, I am sure your CEO will raise an eyebrow and wonder why you bothered.
The bother is all mine, thanks again. LOL, no worries mate.