Former Top End schoolteacher Graham Gee reckons his decision to retrain as a psychologist is the best move he ever made, leading directly to a rewarding career as a counsellor at the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS) and an academic path that should see him gain his PhD at the end of 2012.
‘I love working with our community and helping people with whatever type of social and emotional wellbeing or mental health difficulties they come to get support with,’ he says. ‘The most satisfying thing is having a career that allows me to sit down and work on a weekly basis with community members who come to our service for support in their personal and family healing processes.
‘Even though it is hard work sometimes, it is incredibly rewarding.’
Graham is completing his PhD with the help of a scholarship from the Lowitja Institute. The focus of his research is trauma recovery in urban Aboriginal communities, which links with the research objectives of our Research Program 3.
‘Basically I’m trying to understand the processes involved in healing from trauma, or trauma recovery. As a starting point I’m examining whether different types of traumatic experiences and historical loss are associated with particular types of health outcomes, including physical health, depression, alcohol and substance abuse, as well some very specific types of post-traumatic responses that we see frequently at VAHS,’ he says.
‘The main part of my research focuses on investigating whether particular personal, relational, community and cultural strengths and resources are associated with better post-traumatic outcomes – and, if so, what is the relationship between such strengths and the kinds of outcomes that we hope to see in counselling, for instance increased wellbeing and even post-traumatic growth.’
Graham grew up in Darwin and is a descendant of the Garawa nation in the Gulf of Carpentaria through his father’s family. He started teaching in 1992 and worked for eight years in a variety of roles including as a relief teacher in Great Britain and as a remote community lecturer for the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Education in the Northern Territory. It was his time spent living and working in remote communities that led to a growing interest in social and emotional wellbeing.
‘Having been raised in an urban/rural cultural context, and then spending time in more traditionally oriented communities, I think it hit home for me how complex the relationship really is between history and culture, community and family, and developing personal resources to maintain wellbeing,’ he says.
So at age 30 he took the plunge and enrolled at the University of Melbourne to do a Graduate Diploma in Psychology, which led onto a combined Masters and PhD degree in Clinical Psychology beginning in 2008 (he finished the Masters component in 2010). Graham also helped establish the Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association and sits on the Board of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation.
‘I’m pretty passionate about the community-driven healing projects and the trauma-related training and education projects that the Foundation is able to support around the country, particularly those projects designed and driven by members of the Stolen Generation,’ he says.
‘I’m a therapist/counsellor/clinician at heart, so working directly with people and groups around social and emotional wellbeing and mental health will probably always be my core work,’ he says. ‘My interest in research is primarily about finding out how to improve our practices.’
To read more about our other scholarship holders, go to: www.lowitja.org.au/lowitja-institute-scholarships.