In touch with… Tim Carey

A first-person, patient perspective informs Tim Carey’s activities to improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in his many leadership roles, including Director of the Centre for Remote Health in Alice Springs.  

What made you decide to pursue psychology?

I first trained as a school teacher. I worked as a preschool teacher and then did further training to become a special education teacher. In this training, there was a large applied behaviour analysis component. I’ve probably always been interested in the reasons why people do the things they do but, through this training I was able to sharpen and hone my interest. That made me want to focus my attention exclusively on psychology.

I never imagined I would ever obtain a PhD but, my passion for psychology has never diminished. I think it’s great that we can build tall buildings that disappear in the clouds and expansive bridges that you can’t see the end of but we still find it really difficult to get along with each other.

Rates of things like suicide and family violence provide strong evidence that the world needs psychology more than ever.

What does your current work involve?

I’m very fortunate to work with dedicated and talented people. We’re currently involved in some very neat projects. The theme that is woven through all my work is about personal control and how health and other services might be able to help people have greater control in their lives. I’ve been developing and promoting the idea of developing health services from the first-person perspective of the patient rather than the third-person perspective of the health provider.

We’re helping to develop guidelines and protocols for the appropriate assessment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who turn up to hospital with self-harm or suicidal thoughts and behaviours. I’m also developing an intervention to address alcohol use by young people in central Australia. The very cool thing about this project is that we’re holding focus groups with the young people themselves so they can advise us about the kinds of strategies and activities that might be helpful.

With one of my colleagues, Tanja Hirvonen, we’ve been asked by the Australian Psychological Society to conduct a series of national workshops to help psychologists develop ways of working appropriately with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients. These workshops arose in response to an Apology the Australian Psychological Society made to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for past and current inappropriate practices. I helped develop that Apology and delivered it at the APS Congress in 2016.

How does your work benefit the community?

A large part of our work involves training health professionals to work in remote and very remote Australia. We also provide large numbers of placements for students who are studying to become health professionals. We think that having a well-trained health workforce will benefit the community. On a more direct level, we provide seminars and workshops for the Alice Springs Community and the research I’m involved in will help us provide better services.

Ensuring that we’re connected and engaged with our community so that we know best how to serve them, however, is something we could do better and we’re currently exploring ways that we can be even more relevant and helpful to the community.

What does a typical day look like for you?

My days are great. Hectic, unpredictable, and varied. I often have some sense of what might come up but the day rarely turns out the way I thought it might. It’s an enormous privilege to have the position I hold. If I’m not travelling, one of the constants of my days is to walk my 12 year old son to his school which is just around the corner from the Centre for Remote Health. Then, on any particular day, I will have various meetings with different people to ensure the business of the University is on track and progressing as it should.

I invariably need to respond to emails from students for the Topic of which I’m currently the Coordinator. They ask great questions and it’s a lot of fun finding ways to answer their queries so that they’ll make sense from the student’s perspective.

Some of my meetings will almost always be via zoom or telephone so that means I shut my office door which is the only time it’s shut. I like my door open so staff can come by and discuss any concerns they have or introduce me to visitors or let me know of a recent triumph. Every day there is always a steady stream of documents to read and I like to make sure I get some time each day to do some writing.

What has been one of your proudest moments?

Reflecting on this question has made me realise how fortunate I am to have to deliberate to find one proud moment. I was really proud to be able to be in Adelaide to watch my colleague, Associate Professor Sue Lenthall receive a Vice Chancellor’s Staff Award for Outstanding Contribution to Flinders University. I was also extremely proud last year to be invited to Maree Meredith’s PhD Graduation Ceremony.

On a more personal note, being asked to deliver the APS Apology to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians was an extremely moving and humbling opportunity. And learning, at the end of 2016, that I had been awarded a Fulbright Senior Scholarship is something I will always treasure.

Do you feel Australia is making progress in the area of Indigenous inequity?

Not enough. I think we have a long way to go before we will genuinely acknowledge that, even though Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples might have perspectives that are different to ours, those perspectives are just as valid, just as legitimate, and just as appropriate as ours.

I am absolutely thrilled that the senior leaders of our University are imploring us to, with courage, innovation, and integrity, relentlessly pursue excellence. These are exactly the kinds of qualities that are required to begin to eradicate health inequities in remote and very remote Australia. There is lots of work to do but Flinders has an unprecedented opportunity to make a tangible difference throughout Australia’s Central Corridor and to lead the way in demonstrating how the co-creation of solutions can lead to profound and meaningful changes for the communities we serve.

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