Dr Tracy Westerman wants to see `cultural competency’ as a minimum standard in addressing drug and alcohol and mental health issues among Indigenous people.

Dr Westerman with WRAD Director Geoff Soma

Dr Westerman with WRAD Director Geoff Soma

Dr Westerman was one of the guest speakers at WRAD’s dual diagnosis conference in Warrnambool on April 27. She made a plea for all people working with Indigenous to recognise the role culture plays when identifying, intervening and treating mental health issues among Indigenous Australians.

Dr Westerman is managing director of Indigenous Psychological Services (IPS) and is of the Nyamal people near Port Hedland in Western Australia. She founded IPS in 1998 to address the inequity between the high rates of mental ill health amongst Aboriginal people and low rates of access to quality services and is a recognised leader in Aboriginal mental health having won numerous awards including the NAIDOC National Scholar of the Year in 2002. Her training workshops attract an average of 800 people throughout Australia each year placing her at the forefront of Indigenous workforce development Australia wide.

She said there were a dearth of preventative or therapeutic interventions for Indigenous people, and that many services struggle with developing culturally appropriate practices.

“We need to ensure that cultural competency becomes a minimum standard and that people working with Indigenous communities go through the appropriate protocols and respect the role of traditional healing,” she said. “It is important that the risk factors are identified and that therapies and counselling skills are adapted to specific cultures.”

Dr Westerman said communication was a key factor in dealing with issues in Indigenous communities.