Dr Tracy Westerman is a psychologist who works with aboriginal people experiencing mental health issues. Recognised as a world leader in the field, she created unique screening tools enabling the identification of Aboriginal people at early stages of suicide and mental health risk.
Photography by Hannah Scott Stevenson.
What does the concept nurture mean to you?
“Nurture means so many things. Nurture can mean the nurturing of an idea that despite people not believing that it's possible you do it anyway. It can also mean nurturing people through pain, holding them in it and walking them to the other side.”
"Each generation paves the way for the next generation. My work particularly involves nurturing young people. There is no greater joy than to see people become a greater version of themselves and see that you’ve had a small part of that. Feeling the love of people who have so much disadvantage and they feel so much gratitude for you being there every single day, it makes you a significantly better person for that experience."
You have had an amazing career, and have worked tirelessly to help aboriginal communities. How does your work make you feel?
"My work makes me feel as though there is value in every single person. There is value in our communities and there is value in our children. And particularly for our future generations, this work makes me feel as if Australia can nurture the next generation of young indigenous people and make us feel as though we are important."
Your line of work naturally lends itself to the concept of nurture, how did helping people come to be the priority in your life?
"I've come from disadvantage myself and I believe that disadvantage has been ultimately my advantage. That's because I can see disadvantage and see the need to nurture communities and individuals through trauma and pain, and the importance that brings to us as Australians."
"My parents both came from extraordinary disadvantage. My mum was not a citizen of her own country. Both parents didn't go past year three education. Ultimately the heroes of my story in terms of nurturing are my parents, for that in spite that, in one generation they managed to raise a daughter that has a PHD in clinical psychology. You can close the gap in one generation."
Can you talk to the beautiful necklace you're wearing?
"My necklace represents nurturing. My dad shaped who I was by telling me that whilst I was born into disadvantage, that need not limit me or define me. My dad was a gold prospector and this necklace was made from a nugget of gold he found. I wear it every day so that concept of nurturing is always quite close to my heart."
Has there been a standout moment in your work?
"I've recently launched the Dr Tracy Westerman Aboriginal Psychology Scholarship Program to try and get more indigenous people into remote communities which was self-funded. I had this incredible man ring and personally donate $50,000. We were only going to be able to afford one scholarship, but now we can afford many more, which is incredible."
What was the thought behind creating the Dr Tracy Westerman Aboriginal Psychology Scholarship Program?
"Everything for me is about the next generation. Ultimately the litmus test is that each generation should do better than the previous. I'm a living breathing example of that through the power of education. What that means to me is through my scholarship program, is that we need to mentor these young people from our remote communities and hold them up and tell them that actually anything is possible. Getting an education is such an incredible leveller."
You face a lot of trauma through your work, are there any steps you take to protect or nurture yourself through that?
"Walking people through their own pain is strangely in itself quite nurturing. There is nothing more empowering or incredible as walking someone through their pain and seeing them come through the other side. Sometimes people think it's such an emotional and complex area to work in - but it's not a one way street. What I do is such a privilege."