Over five hundred delegates gathered in Brisbane late last month for the Asia Pacific Rim Confederation of Counsellors Conference. Bringing together a dizzying array of speakers and workshop presenters, the conference aimed to build the capacity of practitioners in mental health services. Topics included complex trauma, eating disorders, couples counselling, prolonged grief, and Indigenous approaches to counselling and psychotherapy, to name but a few.
One of the keynote speakers, Catherine Tang from the National University of Singapore, presented data on behaviour addictions across Asian countries, including gaming and internet.
Fiona McCallum from the University of Queensland spoke about Complex Persistent Bereavement Disorder (CPBD). She began by pointing out that grief is a normal part of the human experience and not an illness. While most of us greatly appreciate support when we are grieving, we don’t need ‘treatment’. However, she said it is estimated that over 40,000 people in Australia are living with levels of bereavement distress that meet the criteria for CPBD.
Melati Sumari from the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur discussed the results of a study on culturally-appropriate assessment for Malaysian families. The study aimed at producing a family functioning scale.
Tristan Lesley Snell from Monash University painted a picture of the impact of urban living, pointing out that for the first time in human history, the largest proportion of our population lives in urban environments. He said that studies repeatedly highlight the stressors associated with urban living including physical threats, pollution, noise and traffic. Tristan discussed the findings of a global study on the impacts of urban living on adult mental health and personality. Results indicated that exposure to specific environments in childhood can predict personality traits in adulthood. He also offered some ideas for how counsellors might support people to adapt to the stressors of contemporary urban environments using psychoeducation as well as targetting specific emotions and coping strategies.
Incorporating the latest information about how the brain responds to trauma was a common thread that wove its way through many of the workshops and presentations. And in terms of new frontiers for counselling, Lizzy Bilogrevic from Multicultural Aged Care Services in Geelong, Australia, posed the question: Is the aged care sector the next frontier for counselling? Lizzy said that personal carers make up 80% of the aged care workforce and that stressors on these workers are mounting relentlessly. She spoke of the disparity between staff training and the complex needs of people accessing aged care services. She also raised some of the shadow aspects of elder abuse scrutiny, and called for reflection on how this affects culturally and linguistically diverse consumers and workers. It’s a no-brainer that meeting the complex needs of our aging population requires investment in therapeutic support for staff as well as people accessing services.