Dr Tracy Westerman

Dr Tracy Westerman, Western Australia's Australian of the Year for 2018. Recognised for spending over two decades working to reduce the burden of mental ill health and suicide in Aboriginal communities"

Dr Tracy Westerman is a proud Njamal woman from the Pilbara region of Western Australia. She holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Psychology, a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology and Doctor of Philosophy (Clinical Psychology). She is a recognised world leader in Aboriginal mental health, cultural competency and suicide prevention achieving national and international recognition for her work. This is despite coming from a background of disadvantage and one in which she had to undertake most of her tertiary entrance subjects by Distance Education.

Her message is that "there is nothing we can't achieve as Aboriginal people if we believe in ourselves".

However, her childhood yearning to become a psychologist was sorely tested when she came to Perth to attend university and struggled to reconcile mainstream psychology with Aboriginal culture. To this end, she became determined to provide the 'evidence' that a different approach was required when working with Aboriginal people experiencing mental ill health. In 2003, she became the first Aboriginal person to complete a combined Masters/Phd in Clinical Psychology (2003). Her PhD resulted in the development of FOUR unique psychometric tests, the cornerstone of which was the Westerman Aboriginal Symptom Checklist-Youth (WASC-Y) which was cited by Canadian Health (2009) as being  a "substantial contribution" to the area of Aboriginal youth suicide prevention. It determined a different nature to Aboriginal suicide and mental ill health and has been the focus of unique program, training development and delivery over the past 19 years.

In reflecting upon the past 19 years of operations she states "I am most proud of the fact that IPS has continued to operate in the absence of funding from government for any of our services.  We had to compete for contracts to continue to exist for many of our early years of operation. Over time we have developed a significant track record of achievement which has now resulted in organisations contracting us directly. This is based upon the fact that we deliver research backed, evidence based programs and have the capacity to measure the impacts of our services.  We are not in the business of providing programs that do not result in a measurable impact on the lives of our communities and which improves the cultural competencies of  individuals and organisations.

Dr Westerman is a widely sought after keynote speaker having delivered to over 40 invited national conferences and internationally in Canada (2003); the USA (2004), Auckland (2006 & 2007) and Wellington (2009). In 2005 the Canadian government sent a delegation to Australia to explore Dr Westerman’s innovative approaches to Aboriginal suicide prevention and mental health resulting in recommendations that the same approach be adopted for Canadian Aboriginal people (Nunuvut Taskforce, 2006). Her post-keynote interview in Wellington in 2009 has so far attracted close to 16,000 views on youtube. You can view it here

Since her PhD was finalised, Dr Westerman has to date developed SEVEN unique Aboriginal mental health related psychological tests, unique Aboriginal mental health assessment models, multiple training packages and community intervention programs. She has trained over 22,000 individuals across Australia since 2000 which arguably makes her one of the most in demand trainers in Australia. She is determined to ensure that those mental health practitioners who work with Aboriginal people have to attain minimum standards of cultural competence. 

In addition she has managed well over 300 individual contracts, appears in numerous government reports citing her innovative work and been invited as an  expert witness to a number of Parliamentary Enquires including the recent WA Parliamentary Enquiry into Aboriginal Suicide Prevention, the NSW Parliamentary Enquiry into the Bowraville Murders, the NT Parliamentary Enquiry into Substance Misuse in Aboriginal Communities to name a few.

Her combined body of work places her at the forefront of Aboriginal mental health service delivery. Her most notable awards include:

  • The NAIDOC National Scholar of the Year (2002)
  • The Mark Liveris Award, Curtin University, Health Sciences for best Oral Presentation of PhD
  • The National Health & Medical Research Council Post Doctoral Fellowship to investigate ADHD in Aboriginal people, and,
  • The Suicide Prevention Australia Award for Emerging Researcher (2006)
  • 40 under 40 WA Business Awards recognising Dr Westerman as one of the best business people in WA under 40 - "Strategic Alliance Award"
  • Western Australia Australian of the Year 2018

In her 'downtime' Dr Westerman is also a keen marathon runner, having completed the Bunbury (2009), Perth (2015) and Melbourne (2015) marathons as well as many half marathons. Her goal for 2017 is to qualify for the worlds marathons in her age group. This means beating her current personal best of 4 hours 2 minutes by 7 minutes to a time of 3 hours 55 minutes!!

  Pictured from left Bunbury Marathon finish; Perth Marathon and Melbourne Marathon finish

Dr Westerman's Keynote Presentations

  • Westerman, T.G. (2002).  Mental Health Promotion and what it means for Aboriginal People.  Mental Health Symposium, Perth
  • Westerman, T.G. (2002).  Women’s Refuge Conference of WA, Inc.  Working with Aboriginal Youth and Children:  A community development approach to the prevention of suicide in the Derby region
  • Westerman, T.G. (2002).  Assessment of Aboriginal People: how do we measure the success of intervention programs with Aboriginal people?  Auseinet Forum, Adelaide
  • Westerman, T.G. (2002).  Women’s Refuge Conference of WA Inc.  Mandurah Performing Arts Centre, Mandurah.  Aboriginal Children and Domestic and Family Violence: An analysis of the nature of violence in Aboriginal communities and the psychological impacts on Aboriginal children
  • Westerman, T.G. (2003).  Alcohol and Other Drugs Conference.  Co-occurrence of Disorders in Aboriginal populations:  how does this affect diagnosis, prognosis and treatment.  Darwin
  • Westerman, T.G. (2003).  Unchartered Territory Conference, Darwin, Northern Territory.  “A Model of Best Practice for Aboriginal Suicide Prevention.  Preliminary Results from work in Western Australia
  • Westerman, T.G. (2003).  Why is it important to have specialist mental health services for Aboriginal people?  Pilbara and Kimberley Regional Education Conference – students with special needs. Karratha
  • Westerman, T.G. (2004).  Making a Difference Conference. What is effective with Aboriginal people – ways forward.  Alice  Springs
  • Westerman, T.G. (2004).  Models of Intervention:incorporating traditional with westernized models of service delivery.  Armidale, NSW
  • Westerman, T.G. (2005).  Ethnic Child Care Resource Unit. Aboriginal families and the emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal children, Perth, WA
  • Westerman, T.G. (2005).  The Northern Territory Australian Psychological Society Branch Conference, Darwin. The parameters of culturally derived psychological and mental health assessment of Aboriginal people: where does the differential diagnosis come into play?
  • Westerman, T.G. (2005).  Aboriginal Child Behaviour Management – how to make the most of cultural strengths in the classroom. Association of Independent Schools. Broome, WA
  • Westerman, T.G. (2006).  Association of Independent Schools of WA & Catholic Education Office Child Protection Conference. Aboriginal Family Violence: Demystifying Culture from Abuse. Fremantle, WA
  • Westerman, T.G. (2006).  Mater Community Youth Mental Health Services Conference. The Assessment of Attachment Disorders in Aboriginal People: does culture play a role? Brisbane, QLD
  • Muuji Forum (2007).  Self- care and Worker Burnout. How to address compassion fatigue in the helping profession, Canberra, ACT
  • Westerman, T.G. (2007). Effective Practice in Indigenous Suicide: What impacts can be made by adopting a unique cultural approach,  Suicide Prevention Australia, Sydney, NSW
  • Westerman, T.G. (2007).  The value of unique service provision for Aboriginal Australians – the benefits of starting from scratch. Psychology and Indigenous Australians: Effective Teaching and Practice Conference, Adelaide
  • Westerman, T.G. (2007).  Developing and validating services and programs from within the Aboriginal culture - the origins of Indigenous Psychological Services and impacts. Making Waves 33rd International Conference of the ACMHN, Cairns
  • Westerman, T.G. (2008).  Psychometric Assessment of Aboriginal People: validation of tests and getting it right. The Victorian Transcultural Psychiatry Unit, Melbourne
  • Westerman, T.G. (2009).  Culturally competent forensic mental health assessment: where are we at? Australian Institute of Criminology, Sydney
  • Westerman, T.G. (2009). Development of sustainable and effective models of mental health service delivery: taking an evidence based approach. Australian Community Support Organisation Conference, Melbourne
  • Westerman, T.G. (2009).  Unique Aboriginal mental health service provision – what are the benefits and what has been achieved? Western Australian Country Health Service, Kalgoorlie, WA
  • Westerman, T.G. (2010).  Aboriginal Parenting Differences and how to recognize the value in terms of effective intervention and prevention. QEC Early Parenting Program 6th Annual Conference.  Melbourne
  • Westerman, T.G. (2012).Cultural Competence in Aboriginal Mental Health: the predictors of best practice and the research of IPS in determining the predictors. Western Australian Drug and Alcohol Conference, Perth, Western Australia
  • Westerman, T.G. (2012).  A culturally competent mental health workforce: the work of IPS in delivering best practice workforce development programs across Australia, Western Regional Alcohol and Drug Dual Diagnosis Conference, Warnambool, Victoria
  • Westerman, T.G. (2017). Working with dual diagnosis in Aboriginal mental health: where is the evidence base? Tamworth Aboriginal Medical Service, Tamworth
  • Westerman, T.G (2017). Developing culturally competent workforces - what is the payoff for Aboriginal clients and service delivery, Sydney, YFoundation.
  • Westerman, T.G (2017). Cultural Competence in child protection: how can we ensure minimum standards. An introduction to the work of IPS in the Department of Communities, Perth, WA

Dr Westerman's International Keynote Presentations

  • Westerman, T.G. (2003).  How do we as Indigenous People Prevent Suicide – models of best practice and intervention.  Iqualuit, Nunavut Province, Canada
  • Westerman, T.G. (2003).  How do we as Indigenous People Prevent Suicide – models of best practice and intervention.  Iqualuit, Nunavut Province, Canada
  • Westerman, T.G. (2003). Therapeutic Interventions with Aboriginal clients.  Nome, Alaska, USA
  • Westerman, T.G. (2003).  Workshop Presentation:.  How do we as Indigenous People Prevent Suicide – models of best practice and intervention.  Nome, Alasksa, USA
  • Westerman, T.G. (2006).  Can Psychology services meet the needs of Indigenous people? The Australian Psychological Society and New Zealand Psychological Society Combined Conference, Auckland
  • Westerman, T.G. (2007).  The value of unique service provision for Aboriginal Australians – the benefits of starting from scratch. Two Nations, Ten Cultures? Combined APSAD & Cutting Edge Addiction Conference, Auckland NZ
  • Westerman, T.G. (2009).  Is best practice really elusive when working with Indigenous people? Wellington,  New Zealand, September