Professional Spotlight - Dr Coralie Wales

Dr Coralie Wales OAM has a career spanning from insurance to primary health. She has been a business owner, as well as the  founder of Chronic Pain Australia, she completed her PhD in 2011, raised a family and has been a driving force in the therapeutic relationship for healing in public and community health. Dr Wales received an Order of Australia Medal for this service in 2023.

ASORC was honoured to have Dr Wales as the  closing speaker at the  2024 Rehabilitation Counsellors Virtual Conference, presenting her insights and experience in  Being a Rehabilitation Counsellor and Pushing the Boundaries for Public Health.

I recently met with Dr Wales to discuss her career and work.

How long have you been a Rehabilitation Counsellor?

(CW) I first heard about Rehabilitation Counselling from a colleague when working in the personal injury landscape. In this conversation,  they told me that  Rehabilitation Counselling was “about the whole person”, from there I  enrolled in a  Master of Rehabilitation Counselling and  graduated in 1995. I have loved Rehabilitation Counselling ever since.

Can you tell us more about the various roles you have work in?

Starting in the insurance industry and then opening my first business  operating a rehabilitation facility with a physiotherapist commenced our  focus on clients in pain  Our approach  was a success; the patients were getting results.. During this  time  in my career I truly learnt the importance of counselling to therapeutic healing.

In 2001 I started Chronic Pain Australia after identifying that clients who suffered from pain were successful in the clinic environment  but suffered when returning to their work/family lives  due to stigma, misunderstanding of the experience of pain and the larger community believing pain could be “cured”.,  . At the time there was limited understanding that chronic pain and acute pain were different. The earlier years were difficult as I was a volunteer in an organisation which had no funding.. I  provided a voice for those who suffer from chronic pain and persisted against Doctors who considered me a threat, against stigma and the lack of understanding of pain.  My daughter reminded mer not to waste the time invested and to keep going which stopped me from  giving up when juggling  Chronic Pain Australia, a full-time job, a PhD course and a family.

Coralie  has spent part of her career teaching other health professionals, and working in public health. While working for a pain clinic in the Hunter/New England Primary Health Network  Coralie was able to see he bigger picture, people and community in alignment with rehabilitation counselling. “It was the bigger picture, it is not just one person”.

From 2014-21 Coralie  worked in Western Sydney Health encouraging community engagement with the health system, developing programs of engagement and improvements to the health system.  Since then  she has been working in Primary Health. This is her most deeply rewarding work. Coralie developed the  Western Sydney Citizen Assembly Jury which is   is a way to directly involve community members in the decision-making process to address complex challenges. The outcomes? Real change, real difference.

What’s next?

Coralie will continue her work in Western Sydney in a small, specialised organisation called The Public Good.. The Public Good work with a variety of different groups and individuals, sharing a common goal, the public good. Coralie sees herself continuing this work for at least another twenty years and invites  anyone who wants to help fight the good fight to contact her. 

What is the best thing about current role?

Doing this work with others and  collaborating with colleagues  who are passionate, excited and patient. It is also working for an organisation that is saying yes, we want to follow this evidence based work. as the benefits and rewards, the return-on-investment is profound.

What do you find most rewarding about Rehabilitation Counselling?

I find the  Rehabilitation Counselling space is unique as  Rehabilitation Counsellors  study what/who is a whole person, AND how a person is connected to family, to community, to the broader society. This connection is the whole heart. You cannot rehabilitate a client without connecting them back to their friends, family, community or society.

I also enjoy  Case and Case Load Management  “I like to think you have your case load which is your group of clients, and you have your case which is the client in front of you, and these expand outwards to the community.” The last area of note is teamwork. Clients want teams of health professionals; communities want health to be working in teams. Rehabilitation Counselling promotes working in teams, and Rehabilitation Counsellors are good at it.

Would you recommend this profession to our student readers? Do you have any advice?

Yes. Remember  why you became a health worker in the first place.

You will come to phases in your career where the environment you work in becomes hard, it may become political, bureaucratic, a fee-for-service or billing mentality. You might become distracted with climbing the ladder. It is at these times it is most important to remember your purpose, that fire in your belly, and look for those around you who want to make the world a better place.

Coralie looked at the burn-out factor as part of her PhD,  finding that the professionals who partnered with their patients, who stuck to being a patient advocate rather than those who were swayed by political views of the day, were the ones who survived even when it got hard.

Thank you Dr Coralie Wales for sharing your journey and commitment, we are inspired by your achievements and celebrate your passionate advocacy for people living with chronic pain.