Meet the new graduates of Australia's only First Nations Family Therapy course

Did you know La Trobe University delivers Australia’s only Graduate Certificate in Family Therapy for First Nations workers? Meet some of our latest alumni from Far North Queensland and find out what makes the course culturally safe.

The sun was shining in Townsville as La Trobe University welcomed 11 new First Nations graduates to its global alumni community. Their academic procession was accompanied by didgeridoo, with a Welcome to Country by Wulgurukaba Traditional Owner Uncle Brenton Creed, and a powerful performance by the Wulgurukaba Walkabout Dancers.

The tight-knit group are the latest alumni of La Trobe’s Graduate Certificate in Family Therapy for First Nations workers. Since 2008, the course has been delivered in Community to over 14 cohorts across Victoria and Far North Queensland.

There to celebrate the graduates’ success were staff from The Bouverie Centre – the pioneering La Trobe research centre behind the course. The Centre is led by La Trobe alumnus Professor Jeff Young (Graduate Diploma in Family Therapy, 1990; PhD in Community Health, 2012) and promotes healthy relationships in families, organisations and communities by delivering family therapy and investigating best practice in the field.

Culturally safe learning and teaching

Each graduate completed their Graduate Certificate in Family Therapy while working for an Indigenous healing service, such as Cape York Family Centre outside Cooktown, Stagpole Street Drug and Alcohol and Drug Centre in Townsville and Ferdy’s Haven on Palm Island. The approach integrates theory with contemporary systemic practice, with terrific results.

‘These three services are now informed by traditional cultural healing principles and non-blaming, non-pathologising, holistic Family Therapy practices,’ says Jeff.

‘As a result, the services are achieving very good outcomes with clients and families who’ve experienced extraordinary disadvantage.’

The design and delivery of the course is informed by The Bouverie Centre’s previous success in working collaboratively with First Nations communities. This success has led to nationally recognised outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, including an impressive 89 per cent graduation rate.

Critically, teaching and learning in the course engages First Nations students in a culturally safe way. The family therapy curriculum and the academic staff who deliver it understand, recognise and include local First Nations communities’ histories, cultures, knowledge systems and contemporary experiences.

For example, the course values and embraces communities’ oral traditions and permission-seeking and deep listening practices. It also incorporates the use of local language, multiple perspectives and cooperative learning.

A ‘Black and White’ course

Among those who created the course were La Trobe alumna and lecturer Ms Banu Moloney (Bachelor of Education (Counselling), 1985), and alumnus and cultural consultant Shaun Coade (Graduate Certificate in Family Therapy, 2009). The pair describe the degree as a ‘Black and White’ model – a course that meets mainstream University requirements, while also being embedded in Aboriginal culture and Aboriginal wisdom.

‘The majority of students have families that live in communities, and don’t have the time or the resources to be able to travel. So that was one of the reasons we made the decision to deliver the course in community,’ Banu says.

‘Through this process we’ve learnt not just from the students, but also from their Elders. This way of learning, this way of teaching, is a significant step towards reconciliation.’

You can learn more about the course from Banu and La Trobe alumna Alison Elliott (Graduate Diploma in Clinical Family Therapy, 2017) in the video below:

Images: New graduates with The Bouverie Centre’s Professor Jeff Young (far left), Banu Moloney (second from right) and Professor Lawrie Moloney (far right), along with local family therapist Joe Conway (second from left); graduate Katharine Pennell receives her degree from La Trobe’s Professor Jeff Young, Director of The Bouverie Centre; graduates Daphnie Cummings (L) and Iris Cannon (R); graduates and La Trobe staff celebrate with a mortarboard toss.