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Australian Indigenous Psychology Education Project “keeping the fire burning: Blak, loud, and proud”

Giovanni Torre -

The Australian Indigenous Psychology Education Project is a world-first initiative that participants say is "keeping the fire burning: Blak, loud, and proud".

This year's NAIDOC theme honours Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander resilience, vitality, and fire. It is about the unapologetic celebration of Indigenous sovereignty, identities, culture, and wisdoms.

Professor Pat Dudgeon says that embodying this spirit, "standing proud and resilient", are the Indigenous scholars and Indigenous-identified allies in the Australian Indigenous Psychology Education Project (AIPEP) – an Indigenous-led "groundbreaking initiative at the forefront of decolonising and Indigenising psychology education in Australia".

"We can transform mental health so it includes Indigenous perspectives and knowledges," she told National Indigenous Times.

"It is awesome, it is a world-first that we have this schools of psychology signed up and they are making changes in their curriculum and psychology programs, and they are ensuring there are places for Aboriginal psychology students.

"And, as importantly, that Indigenous perspectives and knowledges are going into psychology programs. Those things are happening because of this project. It shows them how."

Professor Dudgeon noted that the influence of "coloniality in psychology" is now well recognised.

"Historically, psychology education has been entrenched in Western knowledges that overlooked, undermined, and silenced Indigenous perspectives and knowledges in psychology, contributing to ongoing colonial oppression of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples," she said.

"Therefore, reforming psychology university education through decolonial and antiracism practices is a critical work in developing a culturally safe psychology workforce that honours and privileges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lived experiences, cultures, and knowledge systems."

Professor Dudgeon pointed out that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are significantly underrepresented in the field of psychology.

Currently, there are about 324 registered Indigenous Psychologists in Australia, constituting less than one percent of all registered psychologists. To achieve population parity, more than one thousand Indigenous Psychologists are needed in the discipline.

The AIPEP has been "actively progressing the decolonisation of psychology university education and enhancing the involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in psychology" since 2013.

Professor Dudgeon noted that the first iteration of AIPEP (2013-2016) led to the landmark frameworks in decolonising psychology workforce, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student support, and decolonising psychology curricula.

She said these frameworks had "a significant impact" whereby the Australian Psychology Accreditation Council (APAC) in 2019 implemented a new accreditation standard (Criterion 3.8) mandating the incorporation of cultural responsiveness into psychology curricula.

"The criterion is not intended to be prescriptive, rather, universities are given freedom to achieve this standard within the place-based context of their university," the professor noted.

"Everyone came on board. No other country is doing this. When there was such a positive response, we were a bit surprised but we are going with it and it is a significant change," she told National Indigenous Times.

A second iteration of AIPEP was born in 2020, revived through the Transforming Indigenous Mental Health and Wellbeing (TIMHWB) initiative at UWA.

AIPEP's efforts and initiatives in decolonising psychology education have been multipronged and time-intensive. Some of the initiatives and achievements of AIPEP have included:

· Established a national community of practice aimed at building the capacity of university psychology educators to reform their psychology curricula and better support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander psychology students. Presently, 34 universities are part of this community, representing 80% of psychology schools in universities offering accredited psychology courses across Australia. Now in its fourth year, the community of practice remains a highly active collective engaging in knowledge sharing, antiracism practices, and decolonising efforts.

· Through AIPEP leadership, the national community of practice developed a guidance document to assist universities in creating pathways for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to pursue Honours and Postgraduate psychology courses. The implementation of this guidance has been supported by the Heads of Schools and Departments of Psychology Association.

· The AIPEP website is a comprehensive clearing house of Indigenous knowledges relevant to decolonising psychology education. The AIPEP website features hundreds of online resources, workshops, and webinars to enhance the skills and knowledge of both staff and students. This has also included AIPEP collaborating with industry stakeholders to amplify Indigenous knowledges in psychology and the importance of decolonising psychology education – such as resource developments with APAC, Emerging Minds, and the Victorian Curriculum Assessment Authority.

· AIPEP has undertaken a comprehensive scoping study in collaboration with representatives from various psychology programs across multiple universities to identify opportunities for curriculum improvement and support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander psychology students. Three papers are forthcoming for 2024.

· Collaborating with the Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association (AIPA) to develop a guide for psychology supervisors. This guide aims to promote cultural safety and responsiveness among psychology supervisees when working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals, as well as to facilitate culturally safe supervision for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander psychology supervisees. The guide and complimentary resources are due to be released in 2024.

· AIPEP has partnered with psychology publishers to ensure inclusivity in introductory psychology textbooks. This collaboration involves integrating Indigenous psychology content, including a dedicated chapter on Indigenous psychology in textbooks like Psychology, Sixth Australian and New Zealand Edition edited by Burton, Weston, and Kowalski, published by Wiley. Due to be released in late 2024, AIPEP is collaborating with Pearson Australia to incorporate Indigenous psychology content and executive review into the fourth edition of the introductory psychology textbook Psychology, From Inquiry to Understanding. This psychology textbook will be the first of its kind to embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge and content throughout all chapters.

· Guest Editorial Team for the Australia Journal of Psychology's inaugural collection Indigenous Knowledges in Psychology, due to be released late 2024.

Professor Dudgeon noted that each school of psychology is on a transformational journey of cultural safety and responsiveness, and that while some schools are excelling in antiracism practices and the teaching of Indigenous knowledges in psychology, others are "new in this journey".

She noted that decolonising work is "complex and uncomfortable, and multipronged", and "takes time, persistence, and courage".

"It requires Indigenous leadership, relationality, respect, and trust. These are the core values by which AIPEP conducts itself," he said.

AIPEP has ongoing partnerships with peak bodies in psychology, including the Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association, Psychology Board of Australia, Heads of Schools and Departments of Psychology Association, Australian Psychological Society, and the Australian Psychology Accreditation Council.

"AIPEP's fire continues to burn strong, loud, and proud," Professor Dudgeon noted.

Recently, an important paper published in the Australian Journal of Rural Health on behalf of National Rural Health Alliance, received enough downloads to rank within the top 10% of papers published.

Co-designing Research with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Consumers of Mental Health Services, Mental Health Workers, Elders and Cultural Healers by Indigenous psychologist Helen Milroy FRANZCP, Shraddha Kashyap PhD, Jemma Collova PhD, Michael Mitchell BAppSc(Indigenous Health), Kate Loren Derry PhD, Joanna Alexi PhD, Ee Pin Chang PhD, and Professor Dudgeon.

The paper examined disparity in mental health outcomes compared with non-Indigenous Australians, and how that means "there is an urgent need to develop an evidence base around how services can better support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities", noting that "a critical first step is to embed cultural safety into research methodologies".

"It has been recognised as one of the top 10 per cent of downloads. We are pretty proud of that. It was led by Indigenous psychologist Helen Milroy," Professor Dudgeon said.

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