‘Just Do It’ with Lissy Suthers

On location at healing bush camps on Bathurst Island

Yippee, you made it.  Welcome to my first ever episode of ‘Talk the Walk’ – the podcast putting legs on social work in Indigenous communities through story.

This podcast will appeal to social workers that find themselves in many different contexts in Australia, who come across Aboriginal or Torres Straight Islander people in their work, as well as new graduates contemplating this area of practice.  The podcast may also appeal to social workers internationally, interested in learning more about what its like to walk alongside Australia’s First Nations peoples.

And now to my first guest.

Working out bush comes with rewarding challenges

Rather than sink, Lissy Suthers chose to swim when she moved from Ipswich in Queensland to the Northern Territory in 2012.  Fresh out of university, her first placement was co-ordinating and facilitating healing bush camps for families on the Tiwi Islands.  Having supervised Lissy during this time, it was my absolute privilege to interview her for my first episode of ‘Talk the Walk’.

Although she might look like she’s drowning at times, Lissy has moved her way up through Relationships Australia NT to the role of Manager of the Children’s Therapeutic Team, operating on the Tiwi Islands, Darwin and Katherine.

This is a beautiful and honest conversation with a social worker who survives on humour and laughter.  There is no sugar coating in this episode.  Enjoy!

This episode explores:

  • Why social workers move up through the profession in remote areas of Australia very quickly
  • The importance of Aboriginal history and world view in social work study
  • The values, life experience and family influences which have shaped Lissy’s social work journey
  • White privilege and class privilege and it’s impact on social work practice
  • Reflections on student placement in a remote community
  • Differences in communication
  • The unique skills and knowledge Lissy has developed from her experience in remote work
  • Considerations for entering a community for the first time
  • The values and ethics which shape Lissy’s culturally fit practice framework
  • Equality and the myth of ‘all the free stuff that Aboriginal people get’
  • The difference between social work in Indigenous communities and social work in other contexts
  • The development of inner and external resources
  • Encouragement for new graduates to dive into social work in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

We hope you enjoy this episode.  If you or someone you know would make a great interview on ‘Talk the Walk’ send us an email from the Contact Page.  I am currently working on listing ‘Talk The Walk’ with podcasters including iTunes to make subscribing easy.  Stay tuned.

Things to check out after today’s episode

Lissy’s reflection on student placement on the blog – ‘Culturally Fit Social Workers: We need more of you!’

Connect with Lissy on LinkedIn

If you know how to ‘Walk the Talk’ then let’s ‘Talk the Walk’

Walking the Talk on a Bathurst Island beach

In Wiktionary, to ‘walk the talk’ means ‘to perform actions consistent with one’s claims’.  I first came across this term in Reconciliation circles.  It implied that if you really wanted to make a difference in the lives of Aboriginal people, then don’t just talk the rhetoric; you have to get off your backside and walk with them in the fight for justice and recognition.  To me, it is also important to walk alongside, not in front and not behind.

So how do we walk alongside in solidarity with our Indigenous brothers and sisters, when practising social work, a profession which has a history of baggage like removing children from families?  This was a question I was trying to answer when I graduated with my Social Work degree.

At that time, working with Indigenous people seemed like a daunting task.  I remember feeling so inspired and passionate about living out my social work values of human rights and social justice, that I upped and moved my young family from big city life to the remote North.  To be honest, it was scarey, I didn’t know where to start and I had no real mentors to show me the way.   Like many others, I was thrown in the deep end, flying out to remote communities, with nothing but a listening ear to offer.  For two years, I felt like I was in a big bucket of water, with just my mouth sticking out, gasping for air, just surviving.  I continually questioned ‘am I doing this right’?  Am I making a difference?  Or am I contributing to the problem?

Most of us come with good intentions, bringing all of our head, heart and hand to the work, but how do we do it in a way that is decolonising and authentic.  What does best practice social work in Australia’s indigenous communities actually look like on the ground?

‘Talk the Walk’ will feature interviews with those who have trod a well-known path.

This is the question I hope to explore in a new podcast, I’ll be developing and launching in the coming months.  Don’t throw out your textbooks, but I believe there is real value in hearing stories of experience, straight from the mouths of those covered in dirt, sweat and dust.  “Talk the Walk” will feature interviews with those working in the field as well as traditional voices with words of wisdom for the whitefellas in white Toyotas.

My hope is that “Talk the Walk” will be a valuable resource for graduating social work students preparing for the journey ahead, and a watering hole for the rest of us who continue to learn every day!

If you or someone you know would make a great interview, please drop me a line through our Contact Us page.  They could be a social worker, community development worker, counsellor or other allied health professional, or an Elder or Indigenous community member.

Yes, I can see the irony here.  A podcast is all about talking.  So my thinking is that, the podcast is a learning tool to help all of us get off our butts and do the walking.

So if you know how to walk the talk, tell me your story.   Let’s ‘Talk the Walk’ together.

The Greatest Tragedy of All Happens in my Street

The easy access of my local 'bottlo' contributes to the tragedy unfolding in my neighbourhood.

The easy access of my local ‘bottlo’ contributes to the greatest tragedy of all unfolding in my neighbourhood.

Over the past few weeks as the wet season has taken hold in the Top End, an increasing number of homeless Aboriginal people (called long grassers) are on the move.  The bus shelter across the road from our house has become a shelter, a mere stumble from our local handy-store which freely sells alcohol.  This is the site where arguments break out just after 10am daily about who is paying for the grog or the taxi, women yell profanities at their men at the tops of their voices and beer bottles are smashed on the road.  Since the Country Liberal party decided to scrap the ‘Banned Drinking Register’ 3 years ago these scenes have become all too common again.  On the weekend, my husband had to stand at the end of our driveway to motion for cars to slow down, as a man lay on the middle of the road after going biffo with another intoxicated family member.

The greatest tragedy is not that the police showed up half an hour after I called, enough time for someone to lose their life.  Nor is it that there are people passed out on the footpath day after day and how sad it all seems to be living a life like that.  The greatest tragedy is that there is most often a small child in a pusher or clutching on to their mother watching all this.

Don’t get me wrong.  All of it is extremely disturbing and very upsetting to hear and see on a daily basis.  But I can’t help imagining that this child’s future is being laid down right this very minute in front of my very eyes.

Unfortunately I don’t see an end to the drinking and antisocial behaviour in the near future.  Despite the introduction of mandatory treatment of people who break the law while drinking, the trauma, the hurt, the pain remains and the drinking continues.  I despair thinking it is too late for this generation who have most likely grown up in violence or abuse themselves.

We can change the future for the children.

But the children.  That is a different matter.  Here we have an opportunity to make a real difference.  To change things for them.  To put a stop to the cycle.

This is where I have great faith in the work of the Healing Our Children project.  The power of the project lies in working with Aboriginal women who are caring for young children to understand the impact that witnessing violence has on the developing brain in pregnancy and infancy.  It is my hope that women will be in a more empowered position to make good choices on behalf of their children.  A conscious and fully-informed decision between staying and putting up with the abuse or leaving to find a safe place, could make all the difference to the life of an accompanying child.

As I sit and stare outside my window to that babe in arms, I feel paralysed knowing there’s nothing I can do at this very moment.  I am also full of determination and hope that we can prevent this tragedy affecting the next generation.

For more information about my work with the Healing Our Children project visit Relationships Australia.

2016 – It will be a Shining Year (if i have anything to do with it)

IMG_20160116_165221And so it is with trepidation and determination that I sat down in January and planned out my year ahead.   But I didn’t want to do it just any old way.  It had to be what Sark would call a wild succulent process – one that would make me want to follow through on the goals I set.  So I ordered myself a gorgeous diary and journal to create myself a shining year.  During the mapping process, I came to appreciate what a unique position I am in.  I currently hold down two jobs – the first as a Project Worker has been in the making for many years through my experience working on the Tiwi Islands – the other, a new environment counselling children and families in a mainly mainstream setting.   If you have ever held down two intensive part time jobs that demand your energy and your passion in completely different ways, then you’ll know what a challenging task it is to change hats mid week.

Of course all these responsibilities has meant that the work of Metaphorically Speaking as a private practice has been put on hold for now.  Well sort of.  You see I’ve set myself another goal this year too.  To finally self publish a children’s book that’s been in the making for the last few years.   This dream grew out of my work as a children’s counsellor on the Tiwi Islands and NE Arnhemland.   I have noticed that primary school aged Aboriginal boys had real difficulty talking about domestic violence in their families and community.  Often shame was so great that they were silenced or too traumatised to speak about their experience.   Gender and cultural barriers also provided extra challenges.  Much of my work focused on using non verbal methods of communication such as drawing, clay or drumming to help boys express themselves.   I also came to appreciate the power of metaphors to help children talk about their lives in safe ways through groupwork on family healing bush camps using the Tree of Life methodology.   The Elders enthusiastically took up narrative practice ideas that drew on storytelling traditions focusing on strengths, hope and resilience.  Seeing how well these ideas worked in community has inspired me to use similar metaphors to reach out to children, who are silenced by their experience of violence.  My goal in writing this book is for counsellors, therapists and even mums and dads to have a way of giving children a voice to their experience by lifting the veil of shame and self blame.   I also believe the book values the strengths of culture in keeping children safe and strong.  I feel privileged to be working with Christine Burrawunga in making this book a reality, with Christine turning her amazing artistic talents into the role of illustrator.  As is so much a part of my practice, this project will be a two way learning experience and genuine partnership.   I look forward to working together with Christine over the next few weeks to begin dreaming and scheming the images to accompany the text.  This is a journey neither of us have been on before.

2016 is also an exciting time, as I near closer to starting our very first support group on the Tiwi Islands for pregnant women or women with young children who are living with or at risk of trauma from violence.   This project is a long time in the making, and has come about through funding made available through the Indigenous Advancement Strategy to Relationships Australia.   Last year, my focus rested on training local women in Wurrumiyanga to be group facilitators and peer mentors to participants using the talking tool called It Takes A Forest to Raise a Tree.  This resource is something I have developed alongside Elders in the community beginning in 2010, after they expressed worries about their grandchildren and the difficulty of connecting with their parents, they described as the lost generation.  Finally, the tool will be out there hitting the ground where it is most needed.

Meanwhile in 2016 I will also be starting some new work in Child Inclusive Practice in my counselling role at Anglicare Resolve.  This requires new learning and new approaches for working with children whose parents are separated, as well as getting my head around the family law system, how it operates and how it impacts on families and children.

So there’s lots of work ahead.  It’s daunting.  It’s exciting.  It’s gonna be a shining year.

For more information about my work on the Tiwi Islands, you can contact me at Relationships Australia NT.  To access my culturally safe counselling services for children and families in Darwin, contact Anglicare NT Resolve.  To get a copy of my children’s picture book, stay tuned.

A Social Work Practice Framework: The Right Mix for me

IMG_8707

Like the bush damper, my social work practice framework is a recipe I’ve learnt from wiser people around me.

I was recently asked by the Australian Childhood Foundation to answer some questions which would be used to contribute to the development of a team practice framework.  I have no doubt my answers will be very different to other members of the team.  It represents what is the best mix for me at this point in time.  It is an emerging and ever-evolving recipe for working with Indigenous communities.  Like any recipe, there is always room for improvement.  Here are just some of the ingredients.

How would you describe the 5 most important principles that underpin your approach to working with children and families?

  1. Awareness of Aboriginal history, colonisation, cultural genocide and intergenerational trauma. This is a big topic to get your head around but it is necessary.  One cannot be working with Indigenous folk without appreciating and accepting how ‘white privilege’ impacts on our work.  It is an ongoing learning project for me.  This is closely linked with the social work values of human rights and social justice which are the core values that drive my passion for this work.
  2. Mutual respect.  This cannot be achieved without a relationship.  If you give respect, you can expect respect in return.  Establishing a relationship of trust is the most important part of the work, given Indigenous people can be suspicious of whitefellas (with very good reason – there is a history of people coming into their communities, doing their work and leaving without engaging in authentic consultation or setting up any sustainable change processes).  It was important to me to stick around, to show that I wasn’t going to be another ‘white toyota’.  In my first 6 months working remote, all I did was had cups of tea with people and listened.  This was so important in being able to establish a relationship of mutual respect.
  3. Doing ‘with’ not ‘for’. It is walking alongside our clients, not in front and not behind.  This is probably the hardest principle to stay connected with.  It is very tempting to take over and do things for people when they have become so disempowered.  I have to constantly remind myself ‘how can I be?” rather than ‘what can I do?’  There is also a risk of overdoing it, thinking you can save the world and then dropping behind from burnout.   I am reminded of the words from Lila Watson

    “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

  4. Genuine collaboration and accountability to the community. This is not something that should happen as an aside in the work.  This should be first, foremost and ongoing.  It follows on from my previous point about ‘doing with not for’, and my next point about not being the expert.  I have written a bit about collaboration from a cultural perspective elsewhere.
  5. Coming from a stance of curiosity and non-expert.  I don’t have the answers.  I will never know what it is like to walk in the shoes of an Aboriginal person.  But I do have skills in being able to listen to the problems of people’s lives and reconnect them with their skills, knowledge, values, hopes and visions that may have temporarily become lost.  I believe everyone has the capacity to find their own solutions if they are prepared to explore the ‘real me’.  Discovering the person that has got lost, sometimes means working through some really hard issues that have got in the way of their preferred self.  My approach is therefore one of curiosity.

What theories or knowledge do you draw on to inform your approach?

  1. Community development theories. Of all my formal social work education, the theoretical understandings of community development have had the most impression on me.  Community is also an important part of my personal life too.  I take an active role in volunteering, participating in community life and being a change agent in the community development process.
  2. Systems theory.  One cannot work with children alone.  For real change to occur we must engage at the family, community and society level.  After all, it takes a village to raise a child.
  3. Two way learning

    Two way learning

    Two way learning model.  This implies I have just as much to learn from the people I work with as they do from me.  We are exploring the questions and finding the answers together.  When I started working in NE Arnhemland I took the time to document the emerging practice framework between myself and our Yolngu worker to demonstrate how Yolngu and Western worldviews were working together to bring healing to the lives of children, their mothers and families affected by domestic and family violence.  I hoped it might give some insight into how other workers might marry Western approaches to counselling with Yolngu methods of healing.  This reflection speaks extensively about the knowledge, values, beliefs and skills underpinning this cultural practice framework.  I also enjoy documenting and sharing the skills, knowledge and abilities of Indigenous folk who are staying strong in the face of hardship.  Many of these stories can be found here.

  4. In recent years I have been drawn to the trauma-informed approach in children’s counselling to address concerns around behaviour, learning, health and various aspects of wellbeing.  But how does this scientific knowledge inform our work with groups and communities who have experienced intergenerational trauma, where the effects of violence are normalised?  What affects has the impact of trauma from colonisation, dispossession and assimilation had and continue to have on Aboriginal people, families and communities from a neuroscience perspective?  These are big questions I wonder about.

There are many, many other theories and pieces of knowledge somewhere deep inside my brain.  But these are the ones that come to mind at this present moment.

How do you describe the goals or aims of your work?

I am really passionate about early intervention and prevention.  These terms get thrown around a lot so they have lots of different meanings for different people.  My passion is about the prevention of trauma through culturally safe therapeutic support.  My current work is all about the prevention of trauma in young children under 3.  I believe this is where we can make the most difference in breaking the cycle of violence and trauma.  If we can get a child through the first 1000 days of their life with a secure attachment and no ongoing exposure to harmful trauma then they have a much better chance of growing up strong and healthy.  Unfortunately, many Aboriginal children have an early childhood developmental history of exposure to domestic or family violence, child abuse or drug and alcohol abuse.  In 5-10 years time, my hope is that this number is reduced significantly because there is more investment being made in the early years to ensure children’s safety, security and emotional needs are being met.  It seems wrong to me that we spend all the money on children when they reach school.  The damage has already been done by them and it is harder to heal.

What are the 5 most important techniques that you use in your work?

  1. Narrative therapy. I have shared some of the ways of I incorporate narrative practice into my work with Indigenous folk here.
  2. Puppets are great for externalising conversations with kids.

    Puppets are great for externalising conversations with kids.

    Expressive therapies. Communicating using drawing, painting, craft, clay, storytelling in the sandtray or with puppets.  These are the mediums where many great things can happen from externalising problems to integrating trauma.  I have had fun writing about and developing my own art therapy techniques, testing, reflecting on and reshaping them to ensure they are culturally safe.

  3. Indirect questioning. It is better to invite an Aboriginal person to tell their story than to ask a whole lot of direct questions.  Sometimes it takes a lot longer to get a picture of what is going on, maybe many months.  This requires patience.  But at least you won’t be causing more shame or bad feelings for that person through interrogation.
  4. Attentive listening. Double listening.  Listening for what is said as well as what is not said.  Watching out for the signs of resistence.  Listening for the ways people are standing up to the effects of problems and systems on their lives.  Looking for the sunlight peering through a small crack that opens the door to people’s preferred ways of living their lives.
  5. Self care. I cannot approach my work with care and empathy if I am not giving this to myself.  I have learnt the hard way.  In 2013, I developed early stage thyroid disease which can be exacerbated by stress and shortly after, herniated a disc in my lower back.  Both of these physical impediments are closely linked to psychological health.  Remote work can be taxing even when you are healthy and have a strong mind like I do.  I had to give up my work for a while to begin a process of healing and recovery.  This has been a long hard process.  I have learnt how to listen to my body and meditation has now become a daily practice (something I struggled with for many years).
IMG_8675

Helping people to help themselves and employing local people.

What are the 3 outcomes that you believe you achieve in your work?

  1. Trust.  And with that comes engagement.  Once you have engagement, then you can work together on the practical issues.  This goes for counselling – resulting in the client feeling listened to, finding the conversation helpful, wanting to come back and moving forward in their lives.  It goes for community work too, with Elders and leaders of the community wanting to stay connected to what you are doing.
  2. Awareness raising. While I would like to say that I have been able to stop violence in a family or community, it’s probably not the case most of the time.  The best I can hope for is to make women and children aware of the impact of trauma on themselves, their children and their community.  It is up to them in the end, whether they stand up to it or take action to protect themselves and those around them.  My latest project is getting ‘the brain story’ out to women in communities, so that they can make a more trauma-informed choice about their protective behaviours towards children.
  3. Helping communities to help themselves. I am committed to employing and mentoring local people to work alongside me.

What kind of supports do you believe are important for you to experience that will enable you to improve the effectiveness and quality of your work?

Supervision from an Aboriginal social work practitioner.  This is difficult to access when working under funding arrangements which don’t necessarily value this.

What books or journal articles have inspired you?

Trauma Trails: Recreating Song Lines: The Transgenerational Effects of Trauma In Indigenous Australia by Judy Atkinson

Collective narrative Practice: Responding to individuals, groups and communities who have experienced trauma by David Denborough.  His latest book Retelling the Stories of Our Lives is such an accessible, easy read.   It is designed for anyone to be able to do their own healing using the gentle principles of the narrative approach.

Telling Our Stories in Ways that Make us Stronger by Barbara Wingard and Jane Lester

Our Voices: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Work eds. B Bennett, S. Green, S. Gilbert, D. Besserab

The Art Therapy Sourcebook or anything by Cathy Malchiodi

Anything by Dan Seigal including his many U-tube clips and TED talks.

Social Work in Aboriginal communities: Get real and collaborate!

1656110_654030197992543_768400351_n

Alberta Puruntatameri, Lucy and Elaine Tiparui at Pirlangimpi Family Healing Bush Camp

I’ve been lucky enough since moving to the Northern Territory to find myself doing therapeutic work in collaboration with Aboriginal people. I mean real collaboration not consultation. To me, collaboration is a genuine partnership where both parties have an active role in achieving a shared outcome with mutual respect for the skills and knowledge of the other. In practical terms, this has meant being able to employ Aboriginal women to be in the counselling room with me.  My Aboriginal colleagues haven’t necessarily had formal education or training, but to me the most important thing is a passion for helping women and children.
The advantages of providing therapy together are too numerous to mention.  You can communicate with your client in their own traditional language; you can find out what the client’s body language means because they will always pick up things you don’t; you have immediate access to first hand information about community issues that could be impacting on a client; and you can explore traditional methods of healing that can be incorporated into the work.  The other part of the ’two way’ learning equation, is the opportunity to impart knowledge and skills about mainstream counselling and group work methodologies, practices and even theories.  In my experience, Aboriginal women are keen to learn and take an active role in the health and wellbeing of their own families and communities.  Often they will be there working, way after you have packed up and gone, into the night seven days a week. So why shouldn’t they take up position alongside me in the counselling room?  Unfortunately for the majority of Counsellors working in Aboriginal communities, this situation is the exception rather than the rule!  But to me this is what anti oppressive social work practice looks like; I am being held accountable at every step on the journey.  It’s definitely not easy work by any means, but any perceived obstacles to this practice can always be worked through. Yes things go at a lot slower pace. And what appears to be risky or outside the box, may actually result in some amazing transformative outcomes for everyone involved.

Patricia (right) at the Cairns SNAICC conference with the remote Therapeutic Team (Michelle and Elaine) and colleague (Therese)

Patricia (right) at the Cairns SNAICC conference with the remote Therapeutic Team (Michelle and Elaine) and colleague (Therese)

One of my most memorable moments would have to be working with Patricia Munkara, who by complete accident happened to fall into the job (but that’s another story!)  Patricia came with no experience at all but with an enormous amount of respect in the community with Elders and children and everyone in between despite her ‘young’ age.  She also understood the importance of confidentiality for people that would come to us for support and was able to work with these challenges whilst fulfilling her family, community and cultural responsibilities. I saw Patricia develop from a shy, softly spoken woman into an outspoken advocate for children in her community!  She even stood up and presented alongside me at a conference after just nine months into the job.  Awesome!

It was an obvious choice for me to adopt this same model when starting my own business earlier this year.  Many people are saying our service offers something unique in the Northern Territory.  Tonight I launched our first crowd funding campaign, aimed at assisting my colleague Christine Burarrwanga to participate in ASIST (suicide intervention) training.  This is another step towards our goal of offering a real collaborative culturally safe counselling and support service!
So check it out.  Our small video will give you some more insight into what is important to us in our work.

 

Culturally Fit Social Workers – we need more of you!

The journey to cultural fitness is life long....

The journey to cultural fitness is life long….

The last organisation I worked for adopted the practice of “cultural fitness” rather than cultural awareness.  It’s a great metaphor.  Just like going to the gym every day to keep up your fitness, I believe as social workers we also have to keep educating ourselves, challenging our White privilege and emersing ourselves in the other’s world view, to stay fit.  It is not something you do once, like cultural awareness training!
I am a huge advocate for supporting new graduates to make cultural fitness a life long goal in their social work practice. Sometimes, the best way to start is dive in the deep end, emerse yourself in the culture and let the Elders teach you. Whenever I have the opportunity, I offer to supervise 4th year social work students so that they can safely navigate the terrain to walk, teach and learn in ‘two worlds’.  My hope is that they will come to love working in the NT, despite its complexities and challenges.  I believe the high rate of staff turnover here is damaging to both the social work profession and our Indigenous brothers and sisters who are trying to get their lives on track and deal with complex trauma. We have to find ways of working that are respectful of Aboriginal culture, traditions and healing practices which may mean rethinking some of what you were taught at university!

It gives me great pleasure to share with you a story written by the last student I supervised, giving some insight (and a few laughs too!) into what it is like to dive in and start this journey.  I hope that it inspires other social work graduates to consider specialising in this area of practice.

My journey in becoming a Social Worker in the Northern Territory by Lissy Suthers

Firstly I would like to begin by acknowledging and thanking the women and children of the Tiwi Island communities for all their gifts and wisdom they have bestowed upon me. I would like to acknowledge the Aboriginal Traditional Owners of the lands throughout the Northern Territory on whose country I have the privilege to live and work. I pay my respects to their elders, both past and present.

*******

Nervous, unsure and a little naïve, and scared would best summarise my state of mind when it had been confirmed I would be participating in my final practicum for Social Work on the Tiwi Islands, Northern Territory.  I knew that I wanted to challenge myself in many aspects of the broad and complex work that we do as Social Workers. A challenge is definitely what I got.

Stepping out of your comfort zone and being the minority within a community is a strange and somewhat scary experience. Working in a community and an environment that is hot and unfamiliar is also a strange and uncomfortable experience.  There were many challenges to be faced with choosing to do a final practicum on the Tiwi Islands 1000’s kilometres from home.

My first few weeks were challenging, not only are you balancing your practicum duties and attempting to develop connections and a social life, you also have to overcome some mental hurdles, ‘Did I make the right choice?’ ‘Am I mentally, intellectually and physically capable of this?’ ‘I miss my home.’  But with time, confidence grows and you begin to discover things about yourself you may have thought you were not capable of.  Things like; building lasting relationships with the women and elders of the Tiwi Island communities, organising two entire (permission, travel to and from, therapeutic activities for camp) bush camps that last for 3 days – no electricity and no water, facilitating therapeutic activities whilst on camp and helping in the development of a resource designed and produced by my student supervisor and mentor Lucy.

There were also minor challenges and setbacks like; the food not arriving on time for camp; not being able to shower for 3 to 4 days; someone taking your thongs on camp and not returning them, therefore you must fly home to Darwin barefoot; backing a Troopy onto a small barge and then having to drive off the barge without snagging and bogging yourself in the sand; running around communities chasing families who are attending camp; nearly witnessing a group of children being eaten by a 5 metre crocodile.  You know… those minor kinds of challenges where if you don’t laugh, you cry, and you tell yourself that ‘it builds character’ to cope and reframe your situation.

Despite the challenges, the rewards and learning I took away from this experience are far greater than the stress and tears.  Through the patience, wisdoms and support from my student supervisor and mentor Lucy, and the support of Mark and the team at UQ, I was able to overcome my insecurities and be open to my experience.  Through reflection of practice and a safe space to make mistakes, I was able to develop my skills in; co-ordinating and facilitating large groups; become effective in working with cultural difference; continued to build upon knowledge of aboriginal cultural, language and traditions; I was able to reflect on how my ethics and values influence my practice; I became more effective in how I engage with our Aboriginal people; and had the opportunity to develop more experience and understanding in working with families who are at risk.

I realise everyone’s experience will be different, but I found for me, to take that leap and plunge straight into the deep end of unknown, is something I will never regret.  I would not be in my current employment if it weren’t for my choice to go remote for practicum. I am now a qualified Social Worker in a children’s counselling role for Relationships Australia.

If I had one piece of advice to give someone thinking of taking on such a change and/or challenge, it would be “Be brave, be focussed, be open, be comfortable with being uncomfortable and find humour when you can.”

I look forward to my future and know that from my experiences I will continue to learn, reflect and develop my skills.  My journey still continues and may it never end, as I navigate my way through the many paths of Social Work.

Lissy Lissy Suthers is a Children’s Counsellor with Relationships Australia NT.

 

When everyone usually ‘Keeps Left’, Go Right: My top 3 tips to achieving the fulfilling social work career you want

I read recently that the key to having a fulfilling job is to choose a job with meaning!   I would go further to say that a truly fulfilling job is one that has meaning for a cause you are really passionate about.   I was recently described by a colleague that I was the most passionate person she had ever met – what a compliment!

Up until April, I was working towards creating myself a new dream job at Relationships Australia so that I could travel a bit less and pursue something I became really passionate about – prevention of trauma in young children! In November last year, I resigned from my present position and had two months to find funding for the new project. It was a big risk! If it didn’t find the money I would be unemployed. Prevention work is not something governments are generally interested in funding. April came, I didn’t have any money , and so my work came to an end.

Others would stay on the side of the road they feel comfortable on, but not me. I ‘kept right’ and never gave up on my dream. I really believe that the program I’ve developed can stop the cycle of trauma affecting children exposed to domestic and family violence. I decided to promote the project on my new business website. Then two weeks ago Relationships Australia offered me a second chance. They have re-employed me for three days over the next three months to try again!

I feel so blessed. How many people do you know that are being paid to try to create their ideal fulfilling job?

Here are my top 3 tips to chasing your ideal, fulfilling dream social work job.

When everyone else Goes Left, Keep Right.  It might be the harder road but its much more fulfilling.

When everyone else Goes Left, Keep Right. It might be the harder road but it’s much more fulfilling.

1.  Establish a Trusting Relationship with the Big Boss

From day one, I developed an honest, open relationship with the CEO sharing my hopes, dreams and stories about my past practice that gave her insight into what made my heart tick. I just opened up to what I was passionate about and she developed a job to fit. Along the way, my CEO would pop her head into my office regularly and was always interested in what I was doing. By laying my cards on the table in the first instance, it felt like we had a relationship based on trust that has stood the test of time, even when things got hectic. Believe me, if you don’t have trust in the Big Boss, the passion will soon die! Do everything you can to keep the lines of communication open, no matter how busy everyone gets.

2.  Educate others in the office about what you are doing – the good, the bad and the ugly!

Don’t be scared to share with colleagues, supervisors and Managers what gets you really excited. I believe you should celebrate your successes. It is not bragging. I know that sometimes colleagues might feel threatened by me sharing stories of success and good practice.   However this is an inadequacy they need to deal with.   As a social worker, I feel it is my responsibility to the profession to encourage others to share their good practice stories too, like in group supervision, student supervision, debriefing, mentoring, writing about their practice or more informally. It also takes a lot of guts to admit your faults, where you went wrong and what didn’t work. I think my colleagues appreciate people who approach their work with honesty and integrity. We learn just as much from our mistakes as we do the success stories.

3.  Don’t be scared to take risks; never give up and have faith that it will all work out in the end

Sometimes I have some pretty weird and ‘out there’ ideas. They don’t always get taken up but I still feel free enough to share them and push the boundaries. You never know, one of those crazy ideas might just work! Some people respect me for “thinking outside the box” and not just accepting the status quo. Other people might view me as a feather ruffler. But I know what it’s like to have creativity stifled and it does not lead to a fulfilling job at all.

I’ve had a hundred people tell me my project is needed in remote Aboriginal communities and the resources created are fantastic. All the signs are leading me down this road but I still have one big barrier – money to get it started! I really believe this program will make a difference to the lives of Aboriginal kids not even born yet so I won’t give up.

If you are passionate about what you believe in, you will take risks! Because in the end this isn’t about you. It is about the most marginalised people in our community we are trying to help. And there’s nothing more fulfilling than that!  So my advice is ‘Keep Right’.