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“Creating Connections”

What happens when....... You get more curious about culture? You really start thinking about First Nations People, and cultural safety? You review your way of connecting, working and being in life? You consciously consider your values and principles, and the intentions and actions for relationships, life, and work that flow from these?

For me, the answer to these questions is to take steps to act in accordance with my values and principles. One very important step is to engage in ongoing development of my cultural sensitivity and cultural safety. Something very special is here thanks to artist Beau Motlop. It’s a step I have taken towards cultural safety – commissioning an artwork from Beau.

What is Cultural Safety?

As an Australian of European descent, it’s important to me as a person and professional to find out more about the Traditional Owners of the land on which I live and work and find ways to show my respect and build connections.

As a Psychologist and Family Therapist my goal is to engage in respectful and safe connection with all my clients, but health services can feel unsafe for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, and as a Psychologist I am a health worker. It’s upsetting to think that while I would like to provide safety as a health worker, there may be no felt sense of safety for some people. What can I do about this? Consider cultural safety and find out more.

Cultural safety is an ongoing process for me. Here are some things I’ve learned so far. It’s important to consider client rights, the impacts of inherent power dynamics, my own cultural value system as well as my client’s cultural system, the impacts past and present of colonization, and transgenerational trauma. It is important to really mentalize the experience of others, and to place this in context across time and generations. It is essential to listen – to truly and deeply listen. And don’t make any assumptions.

Cultural safety is important to me as a practitioner, and also as a mentor, supervisor, and teacher. I need to consider my role and scope of influence and what I communicate to trainee Psychologists, Counsellors and Family Therapists.

Following from cultural safety, cultural humility is a term that resonates with me. I may well have therapeutic ideas, training, knowledge, and skills, but I don’t have the insider knowledges of my clients and only by truly collaborating can we connect and find a way forward.

I would like to thank the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People whom I have met who have taken the time to talk with me. I would also like to thank my colleague Joe, and Beau, for taking the time to talk with me. For me this is a learning journey, with the hope to make more of a positive difference in the work that I do and in my community.

Asking Beau to create a piece of art for my Private Practice is a step towards cultural safety.

Why a piece of art?

I have been fortunate to spend time with some amazing people who have shared their stories and helped me start to better appreciate and understand the history of Australia, and the current challenges. Something that has really touched me is the place of art as one of the few things that First Nations People in Australia were able to hold on to after colonisation.

This is why I wanted to commission a piece of art from Beau Motlop as a step towards inclusion, connection, and sensitivity. I asked Beau to capture my approach to therapy and supporting others so that I could display this art in my clinic and show it as part of my Acknowledgement of Country when I am hosting workshops and webinars. Providing Acknowledgement using art is something that I hope helps others.

What is my approach?

I have always been interested in people, in their well-being and relationships, and driven by curiosity and caring to understand people and what helps them do well in life. I believe everyone deserves to do well in life, and that 'doing well' is unique to each individual person. My experience has taught me that what matters most is being curious about a person as a unique individual with their own circumstances, relationships, hopes, values, goals, strengths, intentions, resources, and priorities to provide a tailored, individualised service.

I value caring, curiosity, genuine and authentic relationships, collaboration, acknowledgement, appreciation, listening, and respect for each person and their perspective. I also understand that people don’t exist in isolation, and I value the importance of a person’s context – taking a big picture perspective. This means appreciating where people come from, who and what is a part of their life, what is going well and what they would like to change or see more of in life. The big picture really helps with finding ways forward, growth and healing.

I've also always been passionate about the importance of relationships and family, and keen to find ways to offer support to people with what is one of the most amazing, and also, potentially one of the most challenging aspects of life - relationships. We all manage the challenge of being human in relationships, and in parenting, we are doing what has been described as the best and hardest job in the world. Parents, families, and relationships deserve support and care, and I love to work with people to help them connect to their values and be their ‘best self’ as they journey through life and relationships.

I am passionate about understanding and supporting people and valuing the importance of relationships in life - both past, present, and future.

What captures my approach that could be used in creating an art piece?

I really love nature. I love being in nature, hiking, swimming, and gardening, and use lots of nature metaphors in my work as you can see in my Helping Families Thrive Cards. This is a card deck I designed to support parents and families

For an art piece, I was hoping for something that captures 'growing’, ‘thriving,' and 'connecting', the importance of relationships, stories and meaning making, family, community, and nature… and the way all of these things in life are inextricably interconnected.

I love this art piece that Beau created on multiple levels because I strive to create connections on multiple levels – connecting brain, body, heart, mind; connecting a person’s past, present and future; connection in relationships, community, culture, and nature.

I also loved that Beau surprised me with using my flower symbol in the art piece. This made it feel even more personal.

“Creating Connections” Story by Beau Motlop

I used majority greens to get the feel of forest and plants also used reds and ochres to enhance the connection between plants/trees/flowers and the Earth.

People need oxygen and trees and plants need carbon dioxide everything is connected in order to survive and thrive.

Behind Dr White’s symbol is a representation of connecting and growing as well as supporting and caring for each other.

In the four corners, the art symbolises people helping people (u shapes Aboriginal symbolism for people) to grow, connect and thrive.

For Beau’s Story

This isn’t the first piece of art Beau has created for me.

In 2021 Beau created a piece of art for my training institute, the Queensland Institute of Family Therapy. Together with my Co-Director Dr Kate Owen, I asked Beau to create a piece of art to represent our institute to assist with cultural safety. To find out more about how I first met Beau, Beau’s story, and to see the art piece visit

And remember to follow Beau on Instagram to see more amazing art @beau_motlop_art

Dr Leonie White - Clinical Family Therapist and Psychologist

Helping people grow, connect and thrive in life’s unique journey.

Please note - this article is educational in nature and does not constitute therapy advice.

Please seek help from a professional if you require support.

Resources for Health Professionals:

These are some resources I have found helpful. If you have any resources you’d like to suggest please email me

Aniello, C. (2016). Cultural sensitivity as a MFT Common Factor. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 44 (5), 234 – 244.

Brown, C. & Larner, G. (1992). Every dot has a meaning. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, 13 (4), 175 – 184.

Cubillo, C. (2021). Trauma-informed care: Culturally responsive practice working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. InPsych August Special Issue, 40 – 45.

Smith, P. (2021). Cultural safety: Moving beyond cultural competence. InPsych February/March, 28 – 33.

Intergenerational Trauma Animation by The Healing Foundation

Wingard, B. (2011). Bringing lost loved ones into our conversations: Talking about loss in honouring ways. The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, 1, 54 – 56.

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