Skip to content

Navigating the loss of autonomy in partnership

As well as working for Health Justice Australia, Lizzie Marton studies psychology at university. Throughout her studies, she’s been drawn to organisational psychology, and has been thinking a lot about loss in the workplace, and how so often it isn’t acknowledged (by ourselves or others) or weighed up against other factors, such as purpose or wellbeing. This is a small exploration of a loss that can be experienced in HJP – the loss of autonomy. It’s also an invitation to consider how this might show up for you, your work and in your partnership.

In many ways, our work relationships can be similar to our personal relationships. In both we can experience a sense of identity, belonging, stability, self-worth and fulfilment. And in both we navigate a dance between connection and autonomy. As Belgian psychotherapist Esther Perel writes, “our need for togetherness exists alongside our need for separateness. One does not exist without the other.”

This can be a useful analogy in relation to health justice partnership. Whether it be routine, time, interest, ownership, acknowledgment, professional identity, comfort or safety – the loss of autonomy in partnership is real, felt and can be difficult to navigate. Perhaps you might feel like everything would be easier if you could just “get it done” yourself rather than having to go to your partner. Or maybe you’re required to be more flexible, work in different settings, or go above and beyond what you’re used to when communicating with the people you’re working with. And on top of that there’s no playbook – there’s no one way to go about collaborating or connecting in partnership.

And yet, despite all of this, you’re in partnership for a reason. Because when assisting people held in disadvantage, services can achieve more by working in partnership than in silos. As Health Justice Australia’s CEO, Tessa Boyd-Caine says, “We draw a huge amount of our power from our expertise. If we truly want to work in partnership, if we truly want those partnerships to increase our effectiveness, to improve outcomes for the people we support, then we need to be willing to give up some of our self-valued expertise, to make room for other experts. We need to share our knowledge; we need to share our power.”

If you’d like to explore more on navigating the loss of autonomy in partnership, here are some further resources that might be of interest to you:

  • Lottie Turner’s blog post on how to identify, work with and disrupt power balances when working in partnership.
  • The Tamarak Institute key resources exploring adaptive leadership and strategies for navigating the losses that can be experienced when addressing complex problems.
  • Health Justice Australia’s resource, The rationale for HJP, which outlines the evidence supporting HJP.