Alison has the answer when relationships go wrong

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Relationships Australia CEO Alison Brook… “Whenever anything is causing strain on a relationship, I’d like us to be the ‘go-to’ organisation.” Photo: Danielle Nohra

EVERYONE has relationships go sour from time to time, says Relationships Australia’s new Canberra and Region CEO Alison Brook.

“You might have a dispute with a supervisor at work or there might be conflict within a team,” she says.

“There might be conflict because things are pretty tricky at home.”

Whatever it is, Alison, 57, of Weetangera, wants Relationships Australia to be seen as the “go-to” place for relationships.

When her predecessor Mary Pekin, resigned after 20 years in the job, Alison thought: “That’s what I want to do next.”

But Alison’s relationship with Relationships Australia goes back about 10 years.

She was working as the head of operations support at the NSW Crime Commission and, out of interest and in her own time, did a two-year counselling program with Relationships Australia.

It was extra work, but it was her parents’ missionary work overseas that had embedded in her an interest to help people, too.

“A little while after that I decided to leave the Crime Commission,” she says.

Unsure about what she’d apply for, she saw a newspaper advertisement for an executive officer at Relationships Australia.

“Moving here in 2010, I got to lead the fantastic national team doing policy and advocacy work and then representing it to government,” she says.

“It was such a privilege to serve in that role.”

Now, eight years on and in a different role, she’d like to see Relationships Australia be known, even better than it currently is, as the “go-to” place for relationships.

“Whether that’s for couples or parents, whether it’s for siblings or neighbours or in a business context,” she says.

“Whenever anything is causing strain on a relationship, I’d like us to be the ‘go-to’ organisation.”
Relationships Australia offers services around the country that include counselling, family dispute resolution (mediation) and a range of family and community support and education programs.

“We have counselling and various types of support workers,” she says.

“We have a range of mediation services to help people going through separation in a relationship, separate as amicably as they can.

Alison says this might involve factors such as children or assets.

“We have a large staff of mediators and mental-health workers,” she says.

Relationships Australia was established as the Marriage Guidance Council about 70 years ago.

“At the time servicemen were coming back from World War II and [home] wasn’t what they remembered,” she says.

“A lot of them came home with post-traumatic stress from the war. The women lost their jobs and had to relinquish them to the men, and a lot of marriages were falling apart.”

Initially Alison says the organisation’s goal was to keep marriages together but now it’s about separating amicably.

“It focused on coupled relationships for decades and then it started being interested with parenting issues and relationships with older members,” she says.

As a not-for-profit, Relationships Australia gets government funding, which allows it to offer some free services such as for people affected by institutionalised sexual abuse and most family services.

No matter the relationship, Alison says the best way to enter a relationship, is on an equal footing, right from the start.

“When you have a power imbalance, it can lead to abuse and domestic violence, for an example,” she says.

“Not all relationships are power equal, but ideally you’d have equal power in all relationships.”

Work relationships are slightly different but Alison says there’s no reason not to enter a work relationship with mutual respect.

“Empathy, kindness, compassion and mutual respect should be part of all relationships,” she says.


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Danielle Nohra
Danielle Nohra is a "CityNews" staff journalist.

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