At first glance and broadly speaking, specialist behaviour support within the NDIS and Australian context is based in western secular science and particularly with insights that come from a long tradition of psychiatry, medicine, psychology, education, and counselling psychotherapy. From these traditions arise bodies of knowledge that inform and guide positive person centred behaviour support.
Due in part to the nature of historical development of behaviour support in Australia, few practitioners have a strong command of the diversity of traditions and how to integrate them into practice. For this reason we have been writing a new book on the subject. Without a clear timeline to completion, I am sorry we cannot say when this will be available.
In any case, in the secular environment across the western fields of practice various questions arise about how to work with personal values, spirituality, and religious beliefs. These questions are perhaps more pressing in fields that provide more in depth consultative discussion such as in counselling psychotherapy and to a lesser extent in behaviour support. The NDIS roll out has greatly expanded people’s access to behaviour support and counselling therapies. As such, it only stands to reason that personal values, beliefs, and cultural standpoints would come forward and become part of the discussion.
Many secular trained therapists do not know how to handle the discussion. They may simply refer these questions to a minister or priest. No fault there if the practitioner wishes to practice within their field of competence and to refer these questions to someone they feel is more competent in issues of spiritual values.
Many other therapists may personally live within one particular cultural, spiritual, or religious orientation but they may bracket this in their professional work. They may keep their personal values in check, and work from broadly secular principles and ethics. However the literature suggests there are many issues that therapists struggle with in modern therapy, in part because the secular and public funded systems sometimes hold different values than the practitioner may hold personally.
We are particularly qualified to speak to these issues as we have qualifications in spirituality, religious studies, and philosophy as well as in the fields of psychotherapy and counsellor education. We have also practiced in spirituality counselling over the years, though most of our work is in secular psychotherapy. Given our broad background and interests in spirituality and culture we’ve worked in First Nation, Aboriginal, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, and Earth-Based cultural contexts and all with a great deal of respect and admiration for the diverse ways that people make their sense of meaning.
Spirituality in our professional and personal definition is how people make their sense of meaning as they reflect on personal experience. The journey towards a conscious way of living requires that people with the cognitive capacity to think at this level will reflect on their beliefs. In this way, your spirituality is ultimately how you come to your own terms in values, beliefs, and how you live your life each day. Yet in the broadest sense, and from an ecological perspective, spirituality represents the inherent values of life itself and is represented in being human; and from this view spirituality is manifested in intention and action.
From our view, the Australian therapy fields as well as behaviour support within the disability, education, and health sectors are broadly speaking incredibly diverse. This diversity of values, beliefs, and culturally grounded perspectives perhaps more than anything defines the nature of how people can work together.
Diversity within a civic democracy implies a great deal of mutually practiced respect, tolerance, and ideally open dialogue on issues of mutuality and difference. In spite of the dark colonial, racist, and violent history of foundation as a state, Australia is founded on progressive values that have generated a secular state model that requires civic participation by all our members. To participate is central to the 2013 NDIS Act stated notions of people with disabilities having rights to exercise “choice and control” and where the Act exists to provide for needs that are “reasonable and necessary.”
In a participant driven scheme, the NDIS certainly arises from within our Australian citizenship model based on the exercise of citizen’s human rights and responsibilities. Part of these rights and responsibilities are to exercise the freedom of conscience, religion, culture, and familial life among consenting adults. In this basic sense, integrating a person’s sense of spiritual values into professional services like behaviour support ought not be difficult to conceive.
A behaviour support plan provides a clinical analysis of a person’s context and behaviours of concern, and gives a practical solution focused range of support options to assist in positive behavioural support strategies. Cases typically come forward where individuals have for example a strong Christian value system that comes out in their sense of identity, community participation, church membership, and family life. The behaviour support practitioner who can adequately cover the clinical layers of the behavioural concerns will, in best practice, take the person’s values and cultural life into account. When we do this, we may find additional support strategies, principles and/or values that can help not only the individual but also align with the values and cultural expressions of their family and community.
Again broadly speaking, disability providers under the NDIS have undergone extensive changes towards a secular market driven scheme. This is a new context compared to the past agency based state funded systems that, for the most part, arose from community collectives on one hand, and from mental health systems on the other hand. There has always been a great deal of diversity in disability services that reflects the nature of Australian society. Many church based agencies have in past provided services in the sector, and many still do today within the NDIS framework. Here too church based agencies are often tasked with maintaining a largely secular approach to service provision to maintain their funding. In this sense, the NDIS is a non-sectarian enterprise and rightly so within the Australian public services context.
Ability Therapy Specialists Pty Ltd is a non-sectarian model steeped in western secular scientific and professional fields of practice. The company is founded on Australian values of fair go and offering a hand up wherever possible. Our clients we feel have the most expertise in their situation, and our role is to assist in empowerment, education, and counselling psychotherapy that is solution focused, practical, and we hope both useful and life changing.
Dr Joseph Randolph Bowers is the author of a new and exploratory book on spirituality and personal growth entitled, ‘Solitude Awakens: The Heart Forest Mountain Way.’ He is also author of many other titles including the first Australian textbook in the field of counselling psychotherapy entitled, ‘The Practice of Counselling.’ He works in practice based in Armidale NSW based in Ability Therapy Specialists Pty Ltd, which is an NDIS Registered Provider of counselling psychotherapy services including specialist behaviour support.