I have been blessed and honored to spend time in Australia, bringing whatever I have to offer to this bourgeoning community of folks hungry for knowledge and really wanting to do it “right”.
At the moment, the questions being asked of me involve the creation of a new equine-assisted mental health and equine-assisted learning association in Australia. Rather than responding to people individually, I thought it might be helpful to share some general information about associations.
What is a Professional Association?
Typically a professional association seeks to advance a specific profession or group of professionals by setting and/or upholding broad and inclusive standards of practice, ethics, and/or a code of conduct for the betterment of the profession and the protection of the public.
Professional associations are commonly not-for-profit organizations or incorporated associations that are governed by a non-biased board of directors who are voted into office by the public or the membership. Typically, a working group is established to assess the need for an association, and do the initial tasks necessary to bring the association into being. As a part of that process, the working group organizes a public process to understand the issues facing constitutes and learn what constitutes would want or need out of a membership association. The working group also publicly announces a call to elect board members. Usually it is considered good practice if the members of the working board step away once the full board is seated.
Elected board members should be either free of any conflicts of interest (i.e. they would stand to gain monetarily if they enacted specific standards, they have a product or service that would be promoted by the actions of the association, etc.), or must remediate potential conflicts before assuming leadership responsibilities and practicing their voting rights. Board members should also recuse themselves from any decisions in which their position of power within the community (i.e. therapist, trainer, educator, supervisor) might illicit influence over the decision.
The association should operate under a set of transparent “good governance” principles that are based upon:
- Laws and ethics
Associations must be free from fiscal conflicts of interest, and if the association aims to provide support for a diverse group of professionals undertaking a specific profession, then the board should reflect such diversity and the association should avoid any specific ideological focus or conflicts of interest related to a specific ideology.
Specialty associations may belong to a larger professional association that also sets regulation for an entire profession and thus adhere to the ethical guidelines of the larger association (i.e. a member association designation through the Psychotherapy and Counselling Association of Australia or other examples). This relationship helps to create increased transparency and earns the association a greater sense of public trust.
Questions to ask of any association interested in creating standards for EAMH/EAL in Australia could include (Thanks to Camilla Mowbray for her help with these):
- How does this association model inclusive and diversity among the many models and ways of practicing EAMH and EAL?
- Is the association getting caught in the weeds – meaning are they attempting to dictate details vs. remain “10,000 feet” above, setting broadly inclusive membership structure and standards?
- How is the board constructed and is there representation from different models and practitioner groups?
- Is the association connected to a larger regulatory association?
- Does the association adhere to recommended “good governance” policies (see attached example)
- Are there any conflicts of interest especially related to an ideological focus (i.e. do any of the organizing members also provide training or education in a specific model?)
- Is the membership structure (or admittance to the association) biased towards any specific trainings or models?
- Who is responsible for auditing the procedures of this association?
- Are the fiscal activities of this association audited by an outside source?
- Is the association legally established as an incorporated association or not-for-profit association?
- What are the benefits of membership? Could you gain these benefits in another way? (i.e. through a networking group or a method-specific training group?)
- Will this association represent my unique needs, approach, and beliefs about EAMH/EAL?
The Australasian Association for Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Equine-Assisted Learning (AA-EAP-EAL) formed out of the Equine Psychotherapy Institute of Australia (a model-specific training program), and seeks to develop standards for EAMH and EAL in Australia.
The Australasian Association for Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Equine-Assisted Learning has developed a questionnaire in an attempt to gain industry feedback. Since it is up to the industry as a whole to be actively engaged in developing an association that meets the needs of ALL who are involved, not just those who subscribe to a specific model or method, I urge you to seriously consider reviewing the survey, and either responding directly or emailing the board members with feedback.
My hope for any membership association in Australia is that it truly is FOR THE INDUSTRY AS A WHOLE.
I would also hope to see such a membership association form with a diverse board who represent the voice of the industry (including those who don’t subscribe to any specific model), and who bring external association experience and expertise (meaning outside of the EAMH/EAL industry).
I urge all of you who are passionate about EAMH/EAL in Australia to step up and take part in this important discussion!