'No bull therapy' helps farmers through drought

'No bull therapy' helps farmers through drought

14 Apr 2008

The drought may have broken in some areas of the State – but the trauma to those on the land remains. The long-term financial, farming and emotional impacts of a drought last long after it rains, says Jeff Young, a counsellor at La Trobe University's Bouverie Centre.

Mr Young trains drought counsellors. It can be a tricky job to engage rural people who would rather soldier on than seek help.

'They usually believe there is always someone worse off than them and tend to be suspicious of counsellors who are here today and gone tomorrow,' says Mr Young.

Mr Young has developed a style of counselling for people who are not sure about seeking help. His approach is called 'No bullshit therapy'. It has been successful in helping farmers adjust to drought because it taps into the communication style of the bush.

'No bullshit therapy' goes against conventional counselling wisdom which says that a counsellor should make a connection with a client in the first session then do the work down the track.

'International research shows that a significant number of clients attend just one session of counselling,' Mr Young says.

'At first people thought they had dropped out, but when the clients were followed up the feedback was that they only needed one session.'

This finding led him to develop an approach that gets more out of the first session. Instead of slowly working toward what's important to a client, drought counsellors are trained to be upfront, direct, honest and warm.

'You cut to the chase and people seem to like it. It's provocative, even cheeky, but it leads to a real sense of authenticity. And it has a particular resonance with Aussie culture.'

In fact, says Mr Young, many local counsellors naturally adopt this method. The La Trobe label has helped provide a conceptual framework and validate their standing as closet 'no bullshit' therapists.

'It is not enough in the bush to put up a brass plate and expect people to turn up,' Mr Young says.

'Counsellors have to do community development work. They have to tap into existing support structures, make links, establish relationships and even do cold calls on farms. It takes at least six months to establish a service.'

Drought is a far more insidious catastrophe than other acute natural disasters, he says. Bushfires and floods attract an outpouring of community support and people are witnesses to the struggle. With drought there is no obvious start or finish, no donations.

'People can also drop their bundle after the rains come or the acute crisis eases,' he says. 'For example, families may put off discussing relationship issues during the crisis which come out after the drought breaks.'

Counsellors provide practical advice but also move towards emotional acknowledgment that the drought has been tough.

'Because of the slow and insidious onset of drought people affected may not even attribute the increased pressure on relationships to the drought' Mr Young says.

Mr Young is doing his PhD helping the State's drought counselling program document its work. It is a study that is more about action research than theory.

Members of his research team visit services throughout the State for monthly meetings. They discuss what works and what doesn't, compare notes and document the practice wisdom across the state in a newsletter called No Bull.

He says this is the first time that a comprehensive body of knowledge about drought counselling has been created in the State, a valuable asset for the future for, if the past is anything to go by, one in every three is a drought year.

Mr Young can be contacted on Tel: 9385 5100 or Email: j.young@latrobe.edu.au

Copies of No Bull are available from Michelle Wills at the Bouverie Centre, Email: m.wills@latrobe.edu.au

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