Political psychology and systemic therapeutic approaches with Dr Averil Cook

This episode focuses on Dr Averil Cook’s work in the area of political psychology. We discuss examples of how to apply systemic therapeutic approaches with the intention of challenging mainstream assumptions in psychology and developing research and practice that is driven by social justice and cultural awareness.

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (00:08):
Hi there and welcome to Psych Attack. I'm Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald. In this episode, I catch up with Dr. Averil Cook to discuss political psychology and ways of applying systemic therapeutic approaches. I hope you are going well and have settled in with a warm cup of tea.

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (00:29):
Hey there, Averil. Thank you for joining me today.

Dr. Averil Cook (00:32):
Hey, Jasmine. Lovely to be here. Thanks for inviting me.

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (00:35):
So I'm excited to have a chat. I'm wondering to start with though. What are your plans for the weekend? You and your family still lockdown

Dr. Averil Cook (00:46):
Yes, yes, my gosh.

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (00:48):
What will be happening in your household?

Dr. Averil Cook (00:50):
Be a whole lot of exciting things like going for wholesome walks for a maximum of one hour. Um, probably listening to my own podcast as a way to kill the time, playing with my dog. Yeah.

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (01:05):
Nice. What do you listen to?

Dr. Averil Cook (01:09):
Yes. Oh, well the last one I just was listening to was 'I'm not a monster'. If you haven't listened to it, you must listen to it. It is so good. So good.

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (01:17):
What is it?

Dr. Averil Cook (01:18):
It's um, well it's about this woman, this U.S., um, born citizen who married this guy and then ended up in Syria with her children. And she was trying to come back to the U.S. saying that she had been tricked into going there. She was, ended up being, her husband ended up becoming an ISIS fighter and it's like unpacking what actually happened and the psychology behind what she did and why she did this. And it's incredible.

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (01:47):
Oh, that sounds really interesting. Okay. I'm gonna add that to the list.

Dr. Averil Cook (01:52):
Yes. Really good.

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (01:53):
I've been listening to 'I spy', which is...

Dr. Averil Cook (01:56):

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (01:56):
...all of these kind of counterintelligence stories from around the world that one's really cool as well.

Dr. Averil Cook (02:03):
Ooh, Okay. I always like having a collection of podcasting.

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (02:08):
Look at this. Recording a podcast episode and sharing...

Dr. Averil Cook (02:11):
Yes, yes.

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (02:12):
Different tips. I love this, amazing. It's good to crowdsource your, uh, the next thing to listen to. You don't have to do your own research that way.

Dr. Averil Cook (02:21):
Yep. And you don't have to weed through the, the crappy ones.

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (02:25):
Yeah, that's right, right. um, Alrighty. So we're here today to have a chat about the various kinds of work that you do in the area of political psychology and systemic therapeutic approaches, but a lovely place to start would be for you to tell the listeners about yourself, your background, and kind of how you came into psychology.

Dr. Averil Cook (02:49):
Yeah. Um, I identify in so many different ways and I, I remember saying to you just earlier, I don't know how to identify myself in this podcast and you encouraged me to just say all the parts of me. So I will have a go at doing that. I'm a clinical psychologist. So I have been practicing for a number of years as a therapist, as a clinician, someone who works with adults, with families, with teenagers in, in a variety of settings. Um, and then in my later years of work, I've also moved a little more into the research realm and, um, moved into academia where I have been doing a lot more of the supervision of upcoming psychologists and teaching the program and organizing the program in the master's format. So I've been doing that a lot recently. And then on the side, I do little projects like training, workshops in the areas I'm interested in. So particularly things like family therapy and trauma and working with complex cases. And I also supervise, uh, sorry, I provide supervisor training to people who want to become accredited supervisors for psychs. So that's some of the things that I do. And I obviously do a lot of research as well in those areas that I'm interested in exploring more about and understanding. And so through various projects, um, and relationships I've, I've come to be able to explore through research, to be able to unpack a little more around those topics that I'm interested in.

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (04:22):
Yeah. I feel like every time I talk to you, I learn something new about what you're working on and how you're, um, you know, doing these really interesting things. And I think that was a nice, uh, tip of the iceberg of the aspects of Averil. So thank you for that. Could we go back a little, even before that? What brought you to psychology?

Dr. Averil Cook (04:42):
Ah, such a good question. I actually originally wanted to be a journalist. Um, and I think the things that...

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (04:49):
Ahh, samesie.

Dr. Averil Cook (04:49):
Yeah! Yeah? I think that the things that, that made me interested in journalism originally is also what made me interested in psychology. I guess, finding out, the exploration, the discovery of what might be happening either with an individual or a situation or a story and exploring that. I was always interested in more the investigative journalism side of things. And I guess, I actually wrote in my local paper and realized that journalism was not for me because I wasn't interested in reporting the local soccer matches of the under 15s and I went, "Hmm. I might need to do this for quite some time before I get to do the 7:30 report" and, um, so I guess that led me to psychology, where I was able to from the get, go get into the juicy issues, the juicy topics. So was always very interested in, I guess, the political issues and issues that faced me as an individual and, and, and understanding maybe some of the principles of why people do what they do and why groups do what they do. And, um, I guess that's what led me into the study of psychology.

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (05:57):
I was recently on, I think Facebook or something and a friend of mine posted this generic post that was like, "what did you wanna be when you were younger?" And I just replied "April", you know, April from 'Teenage mutant ninja turtles'. I'm pretty sure that's where my interest in journalism came from.

Dr. Averil Cook (06:16):
Aw, it's awesome.

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (06:18):
Yeah. So, uh...

Dr. Averil Cook (06:19):
Yes. Well, mine was Penny from 'Inspector gadget'. You remember Penny?

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (06:23):
Also loved Penny, also loved Penny!

Dr. Averil Cook (06:27):

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (06:27):
Now I just wanna hit pause and go be nostalgic and watch, watch a bunch of cartoons and eat cereal.

Dr. Averil Cook (06:34):
Yes! Brilliant. Love it. Watch re-runs.

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (06:41):
Um, so I had to share that love for April, even though you gave me a beautiful segue into what I was wondering next, which is when you say, you know, this interest that you have in political psychology, what is that, you know, say you are at a barbecue or a picnic or something. And you're trying to explain to someone who might not really have a background in social science or psychology. How would you describe political psychology?

Dr. Averil Cook (07:06):
Oh, I think that I would probably not necessarily have a definition that may exist out there, but I guess the way I would describe it from my perspective is, how to get involved and be socially aware of the issues that are facing people. Um, particularly for me in the current times, or, um, affects me as an individual or the groups that I work with a lot. So, you know, some examples are how are we affected as women in this society? Um, how do we, how are we affected as people from culturally diverse backgrounds, whatever they may be. I, myself am half Chinese and I have different aspects in my, in my background and, um, exploring those and also understanding how that intersects with being a professional in a very Westernized society that really values whiteness and Western culture. So it's sort of how, how those types of issues, um, intersect with how we understand people and their behavior and how we have relationships with one another and why we do what we do. So I guess it's got bit more of a political lens. It's got a bit more of a socially cultural, um, awareness to it. Um, then say perhaps traditional psychology, which is, because it is very Westernized, It's very individually focused.

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (08:26):
Yeah. And those, looking for commonalities across an individual's experience yeah at an individual level, rather than thinking more broadly. It's not just social psych though. Like it's not, this is not the same as that, it's that systemic influences on the way people experience their lives. So...

Dr. Averil Cook (08:44):

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (08:46):
Yeah. Your, um, broader approach is systemic therapeutic approach. And what does that look?

Dr. Averil Cook (08:52):
It's, um, it's kind of a cool concept because you're right, it does, it does step outside of just psychology. Um, as a, as a discipline, it's, it's something that governs behavior and groups and you can have a system in the ecosystem and it's got similar principles to it as it applies to a group of people. And, uh, as systems say, for example, a company or an organisation is a system, a family is a system, the environment and how it intersects with, with how parts of it work with within one another is also a system, like an ecosystem. So I guess it's understanding the principles of how systems work, how they tend to operate and what can happen when we move and tweak one aspect of that system. What are the ripple effects or what are the, what are the patterns in which this can, um, influence other aspects of the system? So I guess, um, no matter what we are looking at, we do have general principles that govern all of these systems. And then there's the more minute, uh, study of particular systems like a family unit or a society, or a cultural group or a business organization. And that's what I'm thinking about when I think about a system.

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (10:03):
Mm. Yeah. I think that's a really nice kind of clear description. I always, in my own work am thinking about even when studying the individual level of symptoms in, in trauma and occupational stress, in terms of the conclusions and recommendations, trying to think of that micro, meso, macro level.

Dr. Averil Cook (10:23):

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (10:23):
And that's a little gem that I have always taken from my social work training.

Dr. Averil Cook (10:28):

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (10:28):
Um, that sounds like this is coming very natural to exactly what you're talking about here.

Dr. Averil Cook (10:34):
Exactly. Yes. And you're right in saying that this is a far stronger tradition in social work than it is in psychology. Uh, so you do get taught about these, um, concepts at a very fundamental educational level, which psychologists don't, but it is something I guess, that I'm quite passionate about bringing to psychology and bringing as a lens and one other aspect of understanding people and behavior and relationships.

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (10:57):
So in taking this approach to your practice and the way that you teach and supervise and your research, what are the key assumptions that you're challenging?

Dr. Averil Cook (11:08):
I would say that it affects almost every single aspect of the work we do as psychologists. There isn't one area that it doesn't touch. And I think that's why I have been so, uh, passionate about bringing these ideas and these influences to psychology in the way that it has already been a tradition in social work for a long time, because it is so fundamental to the work that we do. And I guess, um, particularly because psychology has been more conservative than social work, we do have a very individual, Westernized concept that hasn't been influenced by other cultures. It hasn't been influenced by other research from different different areas, um, uh, either culturally or conceptually in, in the, the study of psychology. And so, uh, I guess, I guess what I, the way that I view it is that psychology has had such, uh, tunnel vision in looking at the individual and their intrapsychic world that they've failed to really acknowledge our environment and nobody exists in a vacuum. And that is so important to understanding what happens for individuals and how we can understand, and I guess, help and support people is not just through intrapsychic means and what happens inside their head or their bodies or their heart on their own, but how they're connected fundamentally with other human beings, because as human beings, we're social creatures. And I think if we can understand this and we can, we have, can have a really well tuned understanding of how the individual operates within their context and how the context influences the individual. You've got a much more thorough and, um, complete picture of a complex situation than if you're just looking at the individual. So I would say that it affects everything in psychology.

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (12:56):
All right. We've got a sense of what kind of constitutes political psychology and what a systemic therapeutic approach is. What does that look like? Share with us some of the things that you've worked on. Um...

Dr. Averil Cook (13:08):

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (13:08):
As some examples.

Dr. Averil Cook (13:10):
Some of the work I have done is for instance, done the occasional pro bono job for a NGO, working with refugees. I, I have in the past, worked with refugees internationally, with people who have been political prisoners or caught detention in Australia and needing sort of psychological reports, some projects for antislavery Australia, where I've met people who have been enslaved in Australia and, and have done reports for them in aid of whatever they're, they're needing at that particular time. That's systemic because it's doing what I believe in, and it is doing the work in an area that may not have funding or money or where people are disadvantaged and not able to access these services easily. And then I've been involved in more, a more of a structural sense in the organizations I've been involved with. So in my work at ACAP, um, the Australian College of Applied Psychology, I've been very vocal in bringing cultural diversity and decolonizing the practice of psychology to the studies, through our reworking of the masters training programs, through the lectures that I deliver in those psychology programs, as well as, um, I guess, uh, doing those sorts of guest lectures for the undergrad program as well. And in doing that, what I am trying to do is actually ensure that the next generation of psychologists doesn't have this attitude of "I do my real work. And then maybe there's sometimes this work that I have to do a bit differently for someone on who is from a different cultural background. And I don't actually really know how to do that, or I don't actually know how it relates."

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (14:42):
I chuckle cos it makes me think of psychology textbooks where "here's the main theory in research. Oh, here's a chapter about working in a culturally diverse context or working with, um, Indigenous or Torres Strait Islander Australians" instead of having that more integrated, uh...

Dr. Averil Cook (14:58):

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (14:58):
Because the key risk here is when you don't be more mindful of the colonized aspects or the, the white middle upper class aspects of psychology and taking those for granted is really damaging.

Dr. Averil Cook (15:11):
Yes, absolutely. And I know when I went through my training, it was, you know, Indigenous, an Indigenous perspective was literally a lecture tagged onto the end of some random subject. And that was the entirety of our, our teaching and our knowledge and our understanding of working with Indigenous clients. And so through, I mean, I guess I'm talking about a few parallels here is like I'm creating systemic change in actually imbuing our philosophy and our attitude towards psychology by providing students with a lens that this, the tradition and the history of psychology is very white. It is very male, middle class focused and we need to...

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (15:52):
Oh yeah, I left male out.

Dr. Averil Cook (15:52):
Yes, yes. . I mean, one of my lectures, I literally Googled famous psychologists and then I took a screenshot of the pictures that came up and they were all white, male, and usually like in their fifties or sixties.

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (16:08):

Dr. Averil Cook (16:10):
Bearded. Yes. Yeah. And, and this is what psychology is, and this is the product of these people and it probably only relates to them and their cultures. And so for us as psychologists, we need to be critical about that. And we need to understand where it applies and where it does not apply. And what we do instead when it doesn't apply. So for instance, you know, a very common example is that obviously CBT is very well understood. It's very well researched. It is considered the gold standard for, you know, lots of different disorders. Let's just take depression as a very common example, but the research that's conducted, the, the RCT trials that are done in these areas are really about very simple types of individuals with simple types of problems. So because of the way research is constructed, we cannot have an individual who has depression, who also has trauma, who is suicidal, who is, you know, complex because you can't isolate exactly specifically whether this treatment works then for depression. Then as a result, what we get is a treatment that works purely for depression, but perhaps fits almost nobody that's gonna walk through your door. . So, so then when you, you have cultures that have not even had these, um, measures or these therapeutic approaches tested on them or based around anything that makes sense to them as human beings and, and their cultures, we are taking a huge leap of faith. And we can't actually assume to know that these treatments work for example, for Indigenous populations. So I think that's what I'm really trying to bring to psychologists of the current generation is having this, this ability to be critical about what psychology tells us is true, um, and to use their own minds, as we do develop more research and do develop more practices that may be tailored from, you know, from particular cultural groups that say, "Hey, this is a treatment that actually might be really useful for my community". Rather than it being driven by white, uh, privileged people who are, often take up the bulk of psychology, um, the psychology workforce. So that's something that I'm doing, um, in a university level. And then there's sort of little projects that I have been doing, um, as well, uh, which are in line with, I guess, my systemic unpacking of injustice and issues that are facing people today. Within the history of, uh, recent history of Black Lives Matter, there's been a lot of conversation, particularly in Australia, more so than we've ever had before around these issues of how we treat non-white community members in Australia. It's not just black people, it's Indigenous, it's Muslim, it's Chinese, many different cultural groups. In the wake of Black Lives Matter, there was, uh, I was contacted by a higher ed organization who were having a lot of difficulties with their student population and the backlash that they were receiving for being a very white, and the criticism was, racist organization and how to deal with that. And, and that's something that I am very passionate about as well, is helping organizations which maybe have a lot of history in colonial white Australia to break down those systemic barriers to having diversity in their student cohort, in their staffing cohort, in their policies, in their practices, which, um, I guess is only now something that Australia is really taking a good look at to see how it affects and discriminates against certain parts of the population and how it hurts a big part of our population. So in doing my work with that organization, what I was looking at was understanding the experiences of the Indigenous and culturally diverse students in the community, the staff, but also looking at the perspectives of the white students and the staff members who were from the dominant group and, and how they understood the situation that was unfolding. And we had a look at, um, policies and practice within that organization, such as how do you have communications with your students? How do you have involvement around different areas of concern for your different cultural groups? How do you enforce your policies? So for example, sick, sick leave or extensions, what is your perspective on when that's allowed and when that's not allowed? Um...

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (20:34):

Dr. Averil Cook (20:35):
Are you enforcing dis, your anti-discrimination laws that we're all governed by, or are you not? So all the, all these levels are really unpacking where it was going wrong and providing suggestions to, uh, increase the cultural diversity and strength of the organization.

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (20:51):
That actually sounds like a massive undertaking so worthwhile and so interesting. But it sounds massive.

Dr. Averil Cook (21:01):
It was massive. I did not do it alone. I did it with my, my colleague Xi Liu as well, who is a, um, an amazing psychologist and someone who also very, very passionate around this type of work. And it was a big project. It was, it was very interesting. It was very exciting. And, um, I hope we get to do some more of it down the track.

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (21:21):
Broadly, I'm wondering about the potential resistance that you might get when you are addressing such important, but systemic issues. You may or may not wanna speak to how you presented those findings to that educational institution, but broadly, is this something that you're thinking about when you are meeting with people and giving feedback on these kind of projects is how do we feedback what might be really challenging for people to hear, but they really need to hear it.

Dr. Averil Cook (21:49):
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. It's um, it's, it is all about the delivery and it's all about pitching, uh, your communication appropriately at your audience. There's different schools of thought about how to do this, but, um, what Xi Liu and I did together was very carefully thought about the groups that we were speaking to. So we deliberately chose to meet the students who are Indigenous and, and from culturally diverse backgrounds, uh, separately, we chose to speak to different groups, depending on what, uh, kind of information, this level of sensitivity of the information that we needed to obtain, because there is the potential for a lot of harm and violence to be done through people's, um, imbued and casual racism that that's maybe not intentioned, but because we've all been raised in this, in this environment where racism is just in the air we breathe, it can take a lot of unpacking. I, I daily have to unpack my own racism. Um, and that may sound really surprising from someone who comes from also very mixed, um, racial background, but it, it affects all of us. And so there is a real need to almost have a trauma, um, informed kind of practice when you are having these conversations to ensure that you're protecting the people who are bringing up, or maybe required to bring up a lot of very distressing information, and to also have an environment where people who may not have ever experienced this or ever had to think about this can query and question and ask openly without having to be anxious that they might upset someone or, or might be saying something insensitive. So I guess there's a needs, very different needs, and you do have to be very of that. The other thing when you're doing this is that you have to have the people in leadership alongside with you.

Dr. Averil Cook (23:36):
There is very little that you can actually do to create change if you don't have the willingness and the conviction of people in, in leadership. Uh, so these conversations are still important to be had, but you are not going to be able to make very structural systemic changes. Without that. Um, in this instance, we were very fortunate to have that from, um, the board from the CEO and it was directed and pushed from them. So as a matter of, you know, providing ongoing education to them and, you know, articles, um, resourcing. There is a lot of resourcing out there around how organizations can increase their cultural diversity, how they can decolonize their policies and their practices. So going to industry specific guidance on that. As a consultant in that space, it's about understanding that everyone is actually coming from a different starting point and you need, need to be able to join them at wherever they, wherever they're at in their journey. It is going to be a place where you are going to be met with a lot of, um, uh, differences of opinions and attitudes that may be really different to your own. And, and sort of being able to kind of sit with that and gently challenge that, um, on one hand. And then on the other hand, if you do have the power to actually still create that change, despite those attitudes being present. So for instance, there are going to be some people who do want to learn and come along for the journey, who may struggle, who may have to think things through and reflect. And there are going to the other people who, who really don't want to budge or shift their position. And I guess, as an organization, or, or, you know, a group of people, you have to decide what you stand for at the end.

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (25:12):
And any kind of learning and changing of perspective isn't, is actually uncomfortable.

Dr. Averil Cook (25:18):

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (25:18):
I've found this through teaching psychology, is you can have people who are really motivated and keen to learn and develop, and change in general until something that really shakes the perspectives that they have comes along, and then there's resistance and distress. And depending on the personality, you know, all these different potential kind of reactions.

Dr. Averil Cook (25:41):
Yes. I think what's really important to note here as well is, I mean, I'm again referring to systemic understanding, is we might be having this conversation with a particular group, maybe a psychology tutorial group that's in front of you, an organization that has come to, to, to address these issues, or you're doing a lecture. And those people all sit within a context. And the context is our society in Sydney at the moment, for instance, or in Australia. I think part of the conversation is preempting where they will be at, because of where Australia is up to. And Australia is very young in this conversation. South Africa, for instance, have been dealing with these issues for such a long time and their thinking and their, their social psyche is far more developed and complex in understanding these issues because they've had to, whereas we haven't. Australia has really never had the Black Lives Matter moment. We've, we've tried to we've, we've had that opening, but it hasn't been as huge as some of the other countries, um, like the U.S. and South Africa historically. So preempting these conversations with, "we have never had to think about this, um, in a big way in Australia". Indigenous people think about it daily, experience it daily. People from migrant communities also think about it and, and experience it daily. But as a community, it has not been within our narrative. And so we are very young in our understanding. And this is the context in which our audience is largely going to be sitting in, is they've, a lot of white people have never had to think about this. So by acknowledging that straight upfront and preempting their resistance, that can also be helpful in, in them taking a step back and saying, this might be why I'm experiencing resistance and that's okay. And it's still my responsibility to learn. And it's still my responsibility to reflect.

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (27:30):
Mm, many people haven't had an experience of even being referred to by a racial category. I remember going to Singapore and getting in an Uber and the driver was talking to us and he said, oh, you know, um, "I was doing this and it was with Caucasians, like you", and I remember like reflecting and going, "Hey, I don't know if I've ever been referred to or categorized in that way". And as you say, other people experience this all the time. Um, and even that experience, like that's, that's nothing, that's not even something... .

Dr. Averil Cook (28:05):

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (28:05):
...that's almost worth noting, but it was, that for me was a really interesting experience to go, yeah, when you have an experience where you're not in the majority or the mainstream and, and categorized in some way, it makes you think about yourself differently.

Dr. Averil Cook (28:21):
Absolutely. Like that was, that's an example of you being othered, you were considered other, and how surprising that is when you haven't had that experience before. Absolutely. I mean, I was having this conversation, I had to have one of these lectures with my postgrad, uh, students, and there was quite a diverse group there. And because psychology is so white, a lot of these people in my class had said to me, "I have never had to think about this within the context of me being a psychologist in this way". So what happens to people from cul uh, different cultures when they come into the profession of psychology and they have to be white in order to practice as a psychologist and to think as a psychologist. And now, I'm hoping, I'm hoping to have conversations with, with these students as well, about what do you bring from your cultural understanding and how do you think about things from your cultural lens and how can that intersect with what we know in psychology and what we don't know? And so even just having these conversations, like for white students, they said, "I've never thought about culture and how this affects me as a therapist", for people with, from different backgrounds saying "this affects me daily, but I've never had to think about it in terms of me as a professional" shows, how divorced these two issues have been in psychology for a long time.

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (29:41):
Yeah, definitely. I remember having a chat with a third year psych student and they were talking about what they were gonna go on and do, and what their aspirations were after honors and going into a master's program. And the student was saying to me, "I, I wanna work with clients who have PTSD and depressive symptoms". Um, but she was explaining to me that she would need to work with Malaysian clients because that was her background.

Dr. Averil Cook (30:07):

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (30:08):
And it wasn't a desire to work within her community. It was like an assumption that she'd absorbed almost through her training that because she was, um, a Malaysian student, that's where she would be, be best fit.

Dr. Averil Cook (30:21):

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (30:22):
That's really concerning, you know, like...

Dr. Averil Cook (30:23):
It is.

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (30:23):
And I, I wonder if, you know, when you're talking about this being a, like a young area in Australia and, and within the discipline, I think sometimes when things are young and a new thing, we go straight to what are the challenges and the issues, and problematise things. So, you know, the layering of disadvantage to be black, to be a woman, all these different things, but it's always from, to start with a negative perspective, instead of seeing the strength and this perspective, you know, what is it that Indigenous Australians do so well that can inform psychological practice? Or what is it about this culture that is so adaptive or resilient? It kind of feels like that's where we're at.

Dr. Averil Cook (31:11):
Mm. Yeah. And I think in a way that's because the narrative is largely driven by the dominant culture and the dominant culture's assumptions and heuristic is "other is less than and disadvantage". And that is a patriarchal message. It's "we are the caregivers, we are the knowledge holders, and we will share this with the poor, you know, groups that don't, that have less than us". Um, and that is an inherently racist assumption because I think if you were to approach, you know, particular, say an Indigenous group, they would have a very different perspective on what it is that they bring and what it is that their culture gives them, that the dominant culture would not have an awareness of.

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (32:00):
What are some well earned tips or experiences you can can share for people to be keeping this in mind when they're in a classroom or when they're working with, uh, a client or when you're doing research.

Dr. Averil Cook (32:11):
I might talk a bit about the therapeutic side of things, cos I don't think I've, I've spent as much time talking about that. And I think that was my first, that was my first home. That was my first passion area. And I, I do a bit of, I still do a bit know teaching in, in family therapy and systemic therapy. And I guess what, the way that this comes into the therapy room is through understanding the person who has come to see you with problems, issues, concerns, and understanding them within their context. Now, unfortunately, because we do come from a very Western medical model perspective, it will be one individual that is coming to you because of our referral systems, because of our, how we understand patients and how we categorise and channel people through a health, health system is very much identified based around "you are the sick person. We will give treatment to you as a sick person." So whilst a patient is coming to you or a client is coming to as an individual, understanding that it may not be actually them that needs the treatment. It may not be them that has the entire solution within them, or is the cause of the issues that they're facing. And so therefore they may not within, within themselves have the ability to actually change everything about the issues that they're facing. If you have that perspective, then you start to naturally think through, well, who are those people, who are those key relationships, um, who are those key communities and how can I access them and how can I actually bring them into the therapy room in a way that you may not have, if you're thinking that the entire solution lies within the individual in front of me.

Dr. Averil Cook (33:50):
So I think probably some of the most complex complex cases I have ever worked on in my entire career has always involved more than just one person in the room. And usually the most complex cases involve the entire family, it'll involve entire systems. So the police system, you know, FACS [Family and Community Services] or, or, um, now known as, um, DCJs, it may involve communities and community members because this is their support structure. And this is the structure that influences and teachers and holds, and holds to account the people you are working with. So in those really complex cases, those people are so important to utilize and to, to bring their knowledge of the situation and their, um, influences into the room. On a really, I guess, uh, less complex end. It may simply mean if you're seeing an adult asking them who the people are in their lives, who are their support structures, who are the, you know, what are their social networks like? What are their work, employment, study network like. We know that people who suffer the most are those that don't have good social connections, they might be migrants, or they might be, uh, international students, or they may have just moved interstate to, to pick up a new job. They might be isolated by their identity, like, you know, their LGBTQI+, and they're not accepted within the place that they've move or they haven't found their people yet. You need to know about these things in order to be able to help the individual in front of you. And you need to know how to help, um, your client access those and value those things in order to aid them in their own support and recovery. So I suppose that would be sort of the first thing I'd say about therapy is bringing other people into the room, bringing other people, either conceptually or physically into the therapy room in front of you. When you've got children, that's also gonna mean schools. And I mean, very actively, including schools in your strategies for helping the family, um, your implementation, your gathering of information has to come from all these different sources.

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (36:05):
What's next for you? Like, what projects are you working on or things that people could keep an eye out on or that I, you know, they should know about?

Dr. Averil Cook (36:13):
I think one of the things that I've got coming up is, uh, my business, um, where I'm wanting to work with different organizations and, and different key people to actually keep doing projects in the various areas I am passionate about. So in terms of teaching and education, I am going to be doing a decolonizing psychology workshop, which I've had a bit of interest in, um, from clinicians. So that will be coming out shortly. It'll be coming out via my page, which will be, uh, www.bodhiandpsychology.com.au. And bodhi is B O D H I, I will be working on some more projects in that field with, uh, taking that to organizations as well, uh, working with a great, uh, org psychologist called associate professor Madelyn Geldenhuys, and she's gonna kill me for that pronunciation, cos it is a very poor pronunciation of an Afrikaan's name. Um, and she also works in this field as well. I do have a number of exciting research projects, which I'm quite passionate about. And again, bringing my, my values and social justice kind of lens to it. One I'm working on with Southwestern Sydney, L H D. Um, and we're looking at the effects of climate change on mental health and in particular, the effects of heat wave events on populations in the Southwest of Sydney and whether or not, um, people turn up to emergency departments with psychological distress. I guess this is another way that I'm sort of bringing together my systemic understanding and, and, and interests is, uh, this is one of the biggest crises of our time. And I don't know that psychology's really paid much attention to how this will affect people and their mental health. And, um, we're wanting to have a look, I guess, compare heat wave event periods to non heat wave event periods. And in particular, to look at those from marginalized populations, so Indigenous cold communities and whether or not it affects those communities to a greater extent than wealthy more privileged communities. So that's actually going through, through ethics at the moment. And, um, I have a few students from ACAP joining me in on that, which will be exciting and should be able to get a fair bit of data, hopefully over the next few years that we can kind of ask a few more interesting questions around.

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (38:29):
Mm. I mean, you can't get much more person in context than considering climate change and the environment and how that's impacting people.

Dr. Averil Cook (38:38):
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. One of the other projects that I'm also working on is looking, um, is working with Western no, not Western, um, Southeastern Sydney LHD. And we're looking at a project which helps divert mental health populations that may have ended up in emergency departments by the development of a team called the pacer team. And the PACER [Police, Ambulance, Clinician Emergency Response] team consists of sort of a mental health clinician alongside emergency services like police, ambulance. And the idea is that as a mobile team, they go out to people's homes or they go out to the streets and out to the community when people may be acutely distressed or unwell and actually assess and triage and evaluate people in distress in the community rather than people by and large would be scheduled, taken to hospital. All traumatic experiences, assessed in an emergency department, emergency department is already overloaded and clogged and it's a really non, uh, trauma informed environment and, uh, quite a distressing experience. And by and large, those mental health patients are assessed and, um, taken back into the community with, with no extra benefit from having gone through that process. So we're wanting to have a look on how these teams are impacting the types of patients' journeys. So are they able to stay in their communities? Are they able to get linked up with a more appropriate services? Are they having a better experience because they are having a mental health clinician at their first point of contact and is this also then influencing our emergency services and, and helping them feel more supported in mental health presentations? That's a pretty exciting project as well. Just trying to see how as a system, we can actually better treat our mental health consumers.

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (40:19):
Mm. Demonstrating a shift in typical approach from the mental health professional, the police officer, the various systems that an individual might come into contact with rather than expecting the individual to shift.

Dr. Averil Cook (40:33):
Yes, exactly. So

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (40:35):
So when those projects wrap up, we'll do more episodes to hear...

Dr. Averil Cook (40:39):

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (40:40):
All about what you found.

Dr. Averil Cook (40:41):
I love that. I would love that yeah. And, um, so yeah, just hopefully a lot of exciting different ideas coming up through the company and, and picking up projects as they, as they come through and working with different, exciting people whose of passion areas, you know, Madelyn's is, is org psych, and we're gonna do some in that, um, area. I'll probably do some more things in, in looking at supervision as well for psychologists down the track and giving them a lot more support and structure than they currently have, but, uh, yeah, watch his space and hopefully we'll get to have a chat again, sometime soon.

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (41:17):
I would very much enjoy that. I've really enjoyed catching up with you today. And I feel like we have covered a lot of ground, and that goes back to exactly what you were saying at the start. It's not a specific context or a specific issue that we need to apply these things in. It's really, it is across the board and something kind of omnipresent whether we acknowledge it or not. So, um, this was a super awesome conversation, Averil. Thank you so much.

Dr. Averil Cook (41:44):
Thank Jaz. Thank you so much. Thanks for having me. And, um, I really enjoyed the conversation too. Some great questions there.

Dr. Jasmine B. MacDonald (41:54):
For those of you at home, that's all for today. Show notes for the episode can be found at www.psychattack.com. If you've enjoyed listening to Psych Attack, please rate it on your favorite podcast platform and share this episode to help other people find the show. If you have questions or feedback, you can reach out on Twitter: @psychattackcast. Thanks for the listening. And we'll catch up with you again next time.

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