Colin’s Long and Winding Road to becoming a Psychologist
Clients sometime ask me how I came to be a psychologist. I will sometimes give them a “potted” history of how this came about. I may also say how some years ago it was the subject of my “Icebreaker” (1st) speech when I got involved with the public speaking group Toastmasters.
So rather than spend time in the therapeutic hour, talking about my background and experience, (using up the client’s time) I thought I’d write this blog, for those who may be interested.
The Short Version
I would start by saying that it begins with an uneventful childhood where the “Long and Windy Road” meant I worked roughly the first third of my working life cutting out shirts in clothing factories.
Towards the end of my time in the “Rag Trade” I came to realise there was no real future in the clothing trade. I then started looking at what else I could do.
I started (mainly part time) tertiary studies in a course that resulted in the longer term in my undergraduate Psychology qualifications.
After finishing in the Rag Trade (and while still studying part time) I started in the Federal Public service, working for about a decade in (what became known as) Centrelink, in all payment areas including working in the Career Information Centre.
After finishing in the Federal Public service I worked in a number of roles, including a short time in the Child Protection field, and a few roles roles in non-government organisations.
With some of those roles including co-facilitating Domestic Violence groups and a bit of time co-facilitating an Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) program in a prison farm setting. While co-facilitating those groups, I was invited to (and took up the offer to) start providing one-to-one psychology services.
The Long and Windy Road
Early Life and starting out in the workforce
As I noted above, I have described my early life as being rather uneventful. As I would say to my (late) Father in his later years, from my experience in various counselling related roles, like working in the Domestic Violence and AOD field, I came to appreciate what an uneventful childhood I’d had. (Reading some of the background information on cases I dealt with, I often thought “is it any wonder this person is behind bars”.)
My early time in the “Rag Trade”
After repeating 2nd year at my High School, during the School holidays and before returning for 3rd year, I saw a job add in the West Australian newspaper for a trainee shirtcutter at a local (Morley) clothing factory – Frank Davidson and Company (later to be known as Rosco Industries). The last line in the advertisement was that a “Local resident preferred” – I met that criteria, living about a 10-minute ride away on my pushbike.
I worked there for about six and a half years, till the time when about half the staff lost their jobs, as the company missed out on a contract to manufacture uniform shirts that we’d made before. This was combined with a downturn in the other more general orders for the fashion shirts and pyjamas I had been cutting out.
Then about ten days after I finished my job at Morley, another company (this time in Midland) advertised for a shirtcutter. This was a much bigger workplace, in this case manufacturing (by the thousands) industrial work-shirts.
At its peak (from memory) the Midland factory employed about 350-400 people, mainly women (the sewing machinists). With some of them using some highly automated machines.
Coming Out as Gay
It was also about this time that I started to acknowledge and accept something that for all of us who experience it, can have a significant impact on our lives. I came to the recognition that I am a Gay man.
One book I read about that time was Dennis Altman’s Homosexual Oppression and Liberation which has a quote I often think of:
“Our gayness is not something like skin colour, or sex, or infirmity, apparent to both us and others. We have to discover our homosexuality, and having discovered it, we have a wide range of options, hardly available toothers who are stigmatized, as to how we should reveal our stigma.”
He also writes about how:
“To come out it bears repeating, means bucking the most basic and deep-seated norms of a society that sees itself as based exclusively on the heterosexual family structure. The wonder is not how many homosexuals are neurotic, but how many manage to develop happy and productive lives in the face of their repudiation of social norms.” (p. 20.)
 Altman, D. (1971) Homosexual Oppression and Liberation. New York, NY: Avon Books.
I came from a family, where I repeatedly saw from my parents’ examples, what could be described as “community service” with both my parents at various times throughout their lives being involved in various community organisations and other settings.
In my younger years, these included the local primary school P & C, church, Cubs, and Brownies. For Dad it was Sea Scouts and the Veteran Car Club. For Mum it also included volunteering over many of her later years for a Save The Children Fund, opportunity shop.
In my case, although “coming out” is an ongoing process (e.g. the potential to have to decide whether to “come out” whenever you meet someone new) and my own experience was not as bad as it could be, I’m sure if I’d known other LGB people as I was coming to realize that I am Gay, it would have been a lot easier, if I’d known anyone else to talk to about this “discovery” and how it may impact on my life.
As I got to know others on the “Gay scene” as it was then, I heard about a local organisation, then known as “The Homosexual Counselling and Information Service”. Basically, it was then a volunteer-based service that provided phone-based information and basic counselling on matters related to a callers Homosexuality, or of others (e.g. for parents or siblings) close to them. (It still operates, albeit now under a different name and with some government funding to cover administrative costs, some paid counselling staff and is also part of a national collective of similar organisations.)
It could be thought of as an LGBTI version of Lifeline or The Samaritans.
I was trained and started volunteering there in 1981. I’ve been volunteering there, on average about once a fortnight since then.(Although COVID-19 has put that on hold for a while.) I was awarded honorary life membership of the organisation in 2011.
I have written in other settings about how it is probably one of the oldest services of its kind in the world. As I understand it, the service started in 1971, our New York counterpart which has been described as one of the first, started the following year in 1972, and the Sydney service started a year after that in 1973.
Union activism and changes in the workplace
When I’d been working for a while in Midland, the local Secretary of the union (which I’d been a member of for years) came round to the workplace saying we all had to have a signed membership card for both the WA branch of the Federally registered union, and one for the (supposedly separate) State Registered union. If for whatever reason a member did not have both Membership cards signed, we were expected to sign backdated Membership cards.
As I said at the time, if the then Secretary had lost or not gotten two cards signed, it was unreasonable for us to be expected to sign backdated cards.
Although she assured me it was “just a formality” I didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of backdated signatures.
Without going into any great detail, this “backdating” issue got me to become involved with the local union. As well as later finding that we weren’t being told “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” by the WA secretary.
There were major legal and financial issues about the separation of the State registered union and the WA branch of the Federal union. This resulted in the State Secretary starting proceedings in the Federal Court related to this.
The Branch Secretary lost her case and was roundly condemned by the judge for her dishonesty.
Although the Federal Court proceedings, overall went against the state Secretary and (in effect) showed that she was not fit to hold public office, the Federal Council of the union were not prepared to remove her from office and she stayed.
Around about the time of one of the last set of hearings in one of the big Federal Court cases, (initially started by the WA branch Secretary) ended, my employers bought in a new automated Gerber computerised cutting machine. This resulted in my shirt-cutting skills becoming redundant.
Because of the combination of failure of the union’s Federal Council to really deal with the impropriety of the Branch Secretary and my shirtcutting skills becoming redundant, I decided to give up on my union activism and look to study for a job outside the Rag Trade.
At that stage I’d been doing volunteer work on the phones for a few years at the Homosexual Counselling and Information Service. So I enrolled part time (after doing an “Alternative Test for Tertiary Admission”) in a course that was to eventually become my Psychology qualifications, while also working full time.
However to my eyes there was no real improvement in the local administration of the union. As a result, I nominated for the elected position of Branch Secretary when the then Secretary (who had never worked in the industry) came up for re-election. (This was only her second contested election.)
Despite a long running campaign of opposition (by the Secretary) to my and others attempts at what we saw as more appropriate administration of the union, I received almost half the votes cast. Part of my “pitch” was that I was the only candidate for the position who had actually worked in the industry. (This meant getting election photos of me in the workplace, as above.)
In the longer term the Midland factory along with its associated fashion shirt factory in East Perth (where I worked for a while, when I started studying) closed and was moved interstate.
Roughly a decade in the Federal Public Service
After finishing in the Rag Trade, I had intended to study full time to finish my Psychology training, under a plan like Austudy for those leaving the TCF (Textile Clothing Footwear) industries. However shortly before the academic year was about to start, I received a note in the post, to contact a fellow at the Department of Social Security about a job in the (then) Perth East office.
I’d done the public service exam about six months before and included that department, along with various others, in a list of those where I was prepared to work.
Overall in the years I worked for the department, I worked in all broad payment areas. Unemployment, Aged pension, Disability Support Pension and Child Disability Allowance. As well as working for an extended period at the Department’s Career Information Service. (A place for people wanting to look at what sort of work or study they’d like to do.)
For a while I was also a “Regional (computing) Hardware Controller – looking after the computer system within the office, and related duties.
While working in the Federal public sector, I continued to study (mainly part time) but also took off some time (on Austudy) to study full time. I eventually finished my Psychology studies while in the Federal Public Service.
Work and study after the Federal Public Service
When that chapter of my life finished, I did a number of casual and part time jobs, including phoning people for a few market research companies. I also worked as a sessional counsellor for an agency that dealt with clients with a disability and sexuality issues. In addition I worked for a non-government agency writing a resource for parents and others dealing with young people with a physical disability.
Primary School Teaching Training
During this period, having extended periods of unemployment, I got to thinking that one potential way to increase my chances of sustained employment, was to do a one year (primary school) Postgraduate Teaching degree. Primary school teaching was chosen as my undergraduate Psychology didn’t really directly relate to a specific High School subject, e.g. compared with an undergraduate Science or English degree.
I was also aware that there was an apparent wish to get more men into teaching. The idea being that (as I understood it) with a one-year postgraduate Teaching degree, I could be either a Primary School Teacher or a school Psychologist.
Although I eventually completed all the academic parts of the course, I’d have to admit, I eventually found that preparing for and seeking to manage a classroom full of primary school students wasn’t really for me.
Postgraduate Studies in Counselling
Again wanting to improve my employment options, I went looking at further studies. This time (having applied for positions in a few Master of Psychology Courses) I applied for Postgraduate studies at Murdoch University. I received a phone call about an interview about a place in the course, while on holidays overseas. When I got back to Australia, I had the interview on a Thursday and started the course the next week.
Overall I found this a good joining of the Psychology studies and combined it with the practicalities of providing counselling. It also included practical experience in counselling where as part of the course we provided counselling to clients under supervision. Where the sessions were supervised (by University counselling staff) and videotaped (with the client’s knowledge and permission) for discussion later (about how we could improve) with our lecturers.
While studying part time in this course, I also worked for about six months in the Child Protection field. (Reinforcing what an uneventful childhood I’d had.)
Another advantage of the enrolling in the Postgraduate Course at Murdoch was that I was able to use my counselling sessions with clients to start the process to become a Registered Psychologist.
Work in the Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) and Domestic Violence fields
While continuing to study part time at Murdoch University, I saw advertised positions to co-facilitate a Domestic Violence group. Not having had any experience with Domestic Violence, (DV) I thought this could be a setting where I could make use of my Psychology studies (apart from anything about increasing my income).
It was also an opportunity to continue to work towards my two years (full time equivalent) experience needed towards my Psychology board registration.
Again looking for work experience to count towards my Psychology Board registration, I also saw a (part time) position to co-facilitate an Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) program in a prison farm setting with a non-government agency contracted to supply this program.
Basically another opportunity to work towards my Psychology Board registration in (another) at times “challenging” setting.
Psychology Board Registration
Things have changed since I started the Psychology Registration process, now we have a national scheme.
However what was required then I started the registration process, was a combination of the equivalent of two years full time work in a Psychological role, combined with two hours of weekly discussions with a fully registered Psychology supervisor. Mine was eventually achieved via a combination of a few part time counselling and group work settings, combined with the counselling I did with clients at University and my first counsellor job in the employment services field and the work with a few supervisors.
During the periods that I was co-facilitating the AOD and DV groups, my main Psychology Board supervisor (who I still see from time to time, as one of my regular Supervisors) was asked by another of his supervisees, if he knew of any Psychologist’s preferably male, who might be able to work for her, to see one-to-one clients. So from there I gradually transferred from primarily doing group work to one-to-one work.
I have now been seeing one-to-one clients as a Psychologist since about 2008, with my volunteer duties starting back in 1980 and assisting clients in a range of paid “Human Service” settings (after the time in the Rag Trade) since 1981.
So if you’ve got to this point, you should have a bit of an idea of how on the long and windy road of my life, (admittedly it’s not a complete record, this is however some of the more significant details) I came to be a fully registered psychologist, with a range of experiences that have no doubt shaped and influenced me.
As a Psychologist who is also Gay, I can relate to the comments of the Psychiatrist Dr Mark Cross, in his 2020 book “Anxiety” who notes how:
“As with anyone who has to deal with labels, I don’t want to be the ‘gay psychiatrist’. I want to continue being the objective, caring professional, working within a compassionate framework. Someone who, when it is relevant, is open about being gay” (p.76).
Colin Longworth – May-June 2020.