Submission note: "A Thesis Submitted in Total Fulfilment of the Requirements of the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy [to the] The Bouverie Centre, School of Allied Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, La Trobe University, Bundoora"
Previous evaluations have indicated that traditional counselling and service delivery models have been disappointing in engaging rural people affected by drought. As a result, The Bouverie Centre received funding from DHS late in 2006 to help state-funded drought counsellors develop approaches that work for rural people. A participatory action research co-operative inquiry methodology, supported by additional evaluations and quantitative tools was used to explore this task. A core data set was amassed from establishing Co-operative Inquiry Groups (CIGs) in each region across Victoria, with the aim of conceptualising, documenting and implementing effective drought counselling strategies. The research found that drought counsellors are often employed quickly, with little induction, unrealistic job descriptions and little support. Conceptualised as an intangible, intermittent, chronic, pervasive, disenfranchised natural disaster, the study found that drought can lead to community exhaustion and division and to individuals and families being vulnerable to emotional and social isolation. Because rural people affected by drought do not easily seek help, assertive outreach is required along with techniques that link assertive outreach strategies to assessable counselling services. Contrary to popular belief, the research found enough evidence to suggest that rural people experience talking to a trained counsellor as very helpful; however, culturally acceptable ways of presenting it, providing it and publicising it are required. This study supports the call made by previous drought counselling evaluations for coordinated policy, funding and service delivery across federal, state and local governments, which would allow an ongoing workforce to address the range of challenges facing rural communities, including drought, fire, flood, climate and socioeconomic changes. Ideas for building capacity in such a workforce, tentative models of counselling and service delivery are presented, along with suggestions for future research, in order to stimulate further thinking in this much needed, but neglected area.
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