Sue's Story

I believe that to support someone effectively, my approach must be person-led because they are the expert in their own life. There is no ‘one size fits all’ formula when it comes to assisting individuals get their own sense of purpose and inner strength.

I have been with Flourish Australia in the Hunter region for almost 13 years after being introduced to them following a work experience placement as part of my Certificate IV Community Service course. The then manager could see how passionate, professional and engaging I was about what I was doing and encouraged me to apply.

I have worked in various capacities, programs and work sites, under contract, casual, part time and full time arrangements. I enjoy the diversity within Flourish Australia and working in various programs keeps me on my toes.

As a qualified counsellor, I have leant that building rapport is absolutely vital to effective service delivery. I am always looking for better ways to connect with people and to pass on knowledge and skills to even out the playing field for those who have been marginalised in the community.

Many of the people we support have been institutionalised, or have been dealing within a clinical system for so long that they have become conditioned to telling us what they think we want to hear.  I don’t settle for that.

We need to find out what is going on, deep down inside – the core of their issue. To do this effectively, you must take the time to build mutual trust, respect and rapport. It might take six months or more to get to that place with some people who have had major trauma in their life.

There are those I have worked with who are still learning basic life skills and developing positive cognitive process in their 40’s. I use a variety of techniques to assist them to navigate their Mental Health issues. They often say ‘If I had known this when I was younger, I wouldn’t be in this situation now’.

I spoke with one person for 90 minutes at our first meeting, just getting to know who they are as a person, and they said ‘hang on, you haven’t asked me one question about my mental health issue, that’s usually the first question I’m asked’. They were amazed that I viewed their mental health as just one aspect of the whole person instead of being identified by their diagnosis.

Each person is so unique that we need to always be willing to think outside the box, immerse ourselves with a can-do attitude and explore different ways of connecting with them.

A secondment to Young, NSW opened my eyes to the power of a supportive community in a rural setting. I was so inspired by the way community pulls together to turn geographical challenges into opportunities.

They think creatively and advance collaboratively. It was humbling to see the lengths that people living remotely will go to, just to obtain basic services. In larger regional centres (Newcastle, Sydney, Wollongong etc.) we have so many services at our fingertips and take simple things as given; like regular bus or train services or being able to pop into a café for a coffee on the way to work.

In remote regions, access to support is often limited. It might be 50km to the nearest GP and specialists may only be available on intermittent basis, so rural service providers must be creative and innovative in their approach to service delivery and reaching people in their community by using podcasts for example.

I’ve brought that community minded, can-do attitude way of thinking into what I do every day.  For example, when a pool table at a set of houses needed minor repairs, I contacted the local ‘Work for the Dole’ office for help, who were happy to assist. They brought a team of young people with them and fixed the pool table before any of the residents were awake!  I asked the residents if they would like to send a thank you letter to the team, and they all agreed. This exchange of community support and engagement was a win-win situation for all.

I’m always mindful that small things can make a massive difference, like setting healthy boundaries and rules in working relationships. In this way, the people who access our service has learnt to trust and believe in our service and support. One person told me ‘I know I can be difficult, but I trust that you and Flourish Australia will always have my back and be there for me. Out of all the people I have met in this world who have tried to help me, you’re the only ones who have stuck by me and kept me in a stable point in my life’. Taking responsibility for their life and having accountability for their actions is something I encourage people to do. I can teach skills and pass on knowledge, but it is up to them to put it into practice to enhance their own lives.

Wanting to make a difference in the lives of others is what led me to pursue this career change. I was severely injured in a workplace accident and was told I would be in a wheelchair by the time I hit 40. I proved them wrong! There were many disability services available but the stigma of mental health was prominent which propelled me to do something about that.

I would love to see the recovery stories of people with a lived experience published in book form to build awareness and encourage others in their recovery journey. While volunteering at a community centre, I discovered a book of Homeless people’s stories from St Vincent de Paul – this was so inspiring that I went back to university to learn writing skills and I’m now facilitating a creative writing group at our Maitland office.

I have written works that address other social issues such as suicide in young people and negotiating life’s learnings and tribulations, living with Autism Spectrum Disorder and a novel about living without judgement.  Writing about social issues is a personal passion of mine and I’m taking the necessary steps to achieve my goals.

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