Ground-breaking course produces first Indigenous family therapists

The inaugural ten graduates from a unique training program for Indigenous family therapists were awarded their qualifications at La Trobe University this week.

graduates They were trained at the La Trobe University Faculty of Health Sciences’ Bouverie Centre in Brunswick.

The Centre offers Australia’s first Postgraduate Certificate in Family Therapy designed specifically for Indigenous child and family workers who deal with at risk families in regional Victoria.

A second group of twelve therapists is completing its training in Ballarat, and a third will begin later this year in Gippsland.  

The La Trobe program is supported by the Indigenous Initiatives Unit of the Department of Human Services in partnership with Take Two, Berry Street which provides clinical family services throughout Victoria.

Manager of the Bouverie Centre’s Indigenous Project Team, Dr Kerry Proctor, said the ten Indigenous child and family workers were from Rumbalara Aboriginal Community Co-operative in Shepparton, Njernda Aboriginal Community Co operative in Echuca, Goulburn Valley Community Health Service (Shepparton) and Take Two, Berry Street.

Dr Proctor said all graduates have worked as counsellors.  ‘Many are very skilful practitioners and clinicians, but very few had tertiary qualifications until they did this course,’ she said.

Students met entry requirements through prior learning and experience of working with complex families in Indigenous communities. ‘The La Trobe postgraduate qualification will help them to be acknowledged professionally,’ she said.

One of the graduates is Shaun Coade, a Windajeri man and Manager of Family Counselling Services at the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service.  He also works as a co-trainer/consultant to the Bouverie Indigenous Project Team to ensure the curriculum is delivered in culturally sensitive ways.

Mr Coade said it was the family therapist’s job to create a space in which a client and family members can ‘talk safely so they are able to turn their experiences into a yarn that can be passed on to others’.

‘“What journey have you walked to get to this place?" I try and understand the whole person,’ Mr Coade said. ‘The aim is to get a clearer understanding of where they’ve come from.’

In this way, Indigenous ways of dealing with trauma have been documented and included in the new program.

A unit of the course incorporates Mr Coade’s ‘Yarning Up on Trauma’ training, developed for Take Two by Mr Coade in consultation with the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency.

‘Indigenous people suffer from many collective sources of trauma related to the on-going impact of genocide and the removal of children from their families,’ Mr Coade said. ‘Alcohol and mental health issues have also contributed to trauma experienced by Aboriginal families.’

Dr Proctor said Mr Coade’s ‘Yarning Up on Trauma’ training has been developed into a ‘wonderful resource book for workers in the mental health field’, and the five-day training component based on the book is an integral Indigenous part of the mainstream curriculum.

The training is also supported by an Indigenous and non-Indigenous Advisory Group with representatives from Bouverie, Take Two and other Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations.  

Working with the team at Bouverie in family therapy training is Indigenous researcher, Robyne Latham, who is employed with the support of La Trobe’s Indigenous Employment Scheme.

‘The support of the Indigenous community is critical to graduates developing their roles as therapists and to help strengthen family systems,’ said Dr Proctor.

‘The word “family” is an emotive one in Indigenous communities and problems are seen as community rather than individual ones.

Addressing the first group of graduates, the Chairman of the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service, Mr Alan Brown, said it was an international disgrace that in the 21st century there was still a 17 year gap in life expectancy rates between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.  

Mr Brown called on graduates to go into the community and devise solutions to help close this gap. He also highlighted the importance of all health professionals to acknowledge Aboriginal families in their work.

Further information from Dr Kerry Proctor, Ph: 03 9385 5100 (w)  0412 883 458(m)  Email:


 (Caption) From right, front row: Frances Loader (Take Two, Berry Street), Shelley Drake (Goulburn Valley Community Health Service), Rhonda Dean (Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-operative).  Back row: Shaun Coade (Victorian Aboriginal Health Service), Kaye Babarovich (Goulburn Valley Community Health Service), Hope Briggs (Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-operative), Ryan Dean (Take Two, Shepparton), Herb Goonan (Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-operative). Two graduates not in the photo are Kim Warde and Anita Baxter-Waters from Njernda Aboriginal Co-operative, Echuca.