Sitting in the Chaos - Matthew Kelly

1 December 2023

A chance encounter with a soldier experiencing a psychotic episode in Costa Rica inspired SAL Consulting Psychologist, Matthew Kelly, to pursue a career in complexity and sitting in the chaos.

“For whatever reason, this guy latched onto me. I was able to sit with him in the chaos. It didn’t bother me at all, I just sat with him while everyone freaked out. At that moment, I was like, maybe I could do this? And I started studying psychology.”

Early Disability Days

Matthew relocated from Canada to Australia and started working in the disability sector. When he started working in disability, Matthew was often paired with the most complex people because he had a strong physical presence. “I was always put with the most complex people – it’s just what they did back then,” he explains.

Matthew quickly learned the most complex people often received the least amount of support because they were perceived as too difficult to work with.

“A lot of the literature and strategies we were being taught were geared towards those guys that can have conversations and sit in planning meetings. They can do those great, amazing pathways. The guys with severe ID, never got to do those things, ever, and that really bugged me,” he said.

The injustice Matthew encountered during his early disability career, spurred him on to work with people with severe intellectual disability (ID). Matthew managed a day program for people with disabilities, many of whom were high risk. He surrounded himself with great mentors and started to figure out how to do the kind of work he wanted to do.

“I started to figure out how to do person centred planning with guys who have severe ID and it completely shifted the way I thought. I wanted to work with those guys more because no one ever wanted to work with them.” 

Honing his Craft with SAL Consulting

That’s until Matthew came across SAL Consulting, who were working with some of the most high-risk participants attending his day program and participants recently released from prison.

“That’s exactly what SAL does, works with exactly those people, all the time, and I was like – I like what you guys are doing,” he recalls.

In 2015, Matthew accepted one of two Psychology Internship positions being offered through SAL Consulting which enabled him to work toward full registration as a psychologist while doing behaviour support.

“There were only two of us doing our internship through SAL. Frankly, I didn’t know how good I had it. You don’t often get the ability to be supervised and learn off so many different people. Usually, you’re tied to one supervisor, whereas I had all these people to learn off. It was great.” 

Through his internship, Matthew learned how to structure his supports and use the role of the clinical consultant strategically to get good outcomes for his clients.

“Before, I felt like I was stumbling around in the dark. I was just working with families and trying to shift things. Once I came to SAL, I learned what I needed to do to support them more efficiently. I have a lot more theory and knowledge than I did before.” 

“Eventually, you start to figure out what you’re doing, and how you’re doing it. You start to have your own style and area you gravitate towards. There was this one interesting [therapy] case I talked about in supervision. As he progressed, and got better, my ability to do this job got better at the same time,” he explains.

“It’s always a journey [working with clients]. I always enjoy seeing that shift occur. It’s overwhelming at times, but it’s great. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else,” he explains.

The SAL Consulting Vibe

The challenge of working in complexity and continually learning from those around him is what Matthew enjoys most about his work with SAL Consulting.

“I quite enjoy working with SAL because there’s just so much to know and learn and to do and I like that aspect of it. I quite like the fact we have really smart people here and we can all rely on each other which is really cool.

“I’m from the generation of like, you just get given work and you do it, basically. SAL are consciously trying to give you work that you want to do, which I imagine, is very unique to SAL. I don’t know anywhere else that would do that. It’s the learning that really keeps me here, there’s always something new and something to figure out. It’s that challenging aspect of it that keeps me here.” 

Matthew also attributes the invaluable support that is readily available to him as an equally important factor in his longevity with SAL.

“Going into that trench, helping them [clients] and staying with them significantly impacts you. I’ve been more conscious of that now that I’m getting older. I’ve had some pretty horrible reactions to going into the trenches. It’s the support that I get from my supervisors that have kept me doing it. I wouldn’t be able to do it if I didn’t get those debriefing moments,” he explains.

“That support is always there… It’s everybody. Everybody will drop everything they’re doing immediately, just to come to your side, which is amazing. They make sure you’re okay, before everything. I’ve got to experience it multiple times. It’s good, it’s very good,” he says.

Leadership Journey

Over the past eight years working with SAL Consulting, Matthew has honed his craft and is now an experienced Psychologist. He recently stepped into the role of Portfolio Manager Clinical Services, NSW. Matthew now draws on his earlier experiences with SAL to help his colleagues as a Clinical Supervisor.

“I actually love supervising, I didn’t think I would, but I find it great. I find it brings me back to all the support I was offered at the start. Now I can share the things that helped me, to help other people do their jobs better.” 

For newer practitioner’s entering the field, Matthew has some advice, “I like learning and absorbing stuff. I love to be a bit of a sponge and learn from everybody. I was never afraid to ask questions, like all the time. In PD Day, I was the first one to be like, can you explain that again? Like practically, what does that look like? Theoretically, what you’re saying sounds great, but what does that actually look like in real life? Ultimately, don’t be scared to ask those kinds of questions,” he says.

He also encourages new practitioners to work with their supervisors and not feel bad about reaching out. “Work with your supervisors because they’re there for you to lean on big time. That’s why we’re there to help when you need it, so don’t feel bad about doing that as well,” he says.

Helping Others

Matthew’s leadership future with SAL Consulting is bright, and he’s been thinking about the legacy he wants to leave at the end of his career. “I’ve always had this thing, even before I was doing psychology, that I’d love to lecture hundreds of people. Where I’m imparting practical knowledge of what we do, and how we do it, amongst a lot of people.

“Ultimately, I just want to help people. So, if I can help many people, through helping others be good at what they do, then that’s awesome.”

Promoting Practice

Popular articles