She is an important part of the history of hospital social work in Australia- but has also done much more. Her remarkable career began in 1960 as a Family Social Worker at the Australian Red Cross. From 1968 to 1977 she worked at the Institute of Child Health and the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children in Sydney
Her achievements included,
- publishing one of the first Australian social work papers on child abuse
- setting up special programs for failure to thrive infants
- establishing a hospital interpreter service
- running groups for depressed mothers with babies who with feeding or sleeping problems, and
- establishing the first multidisciplinary teams in many areas of the Children’s Hospital.
In 1978 she went into private practice, and for 30 years, was a senior member of the New South Wales Institute of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy. She became one of their main lecturers in the training and supervision.
Norma has a lengthy list of publications related to working with trauma, and working psychoanalytically with parents and children.
In 2008, she co-founded Gunawirra, a not-for-profit organization made up of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal professionals. Gunawirra works with children aged 0 to 5 in 43 preschools in NSW, and runs the Aboriginal Young Families Centre in inner city Sydney.
Psychoanalytic theory and Aboriginal ways of working guide their programs. These programs pay special attention to early trauma in infancy and childhood, as well as severe adult trauma, where often, emotion can’t be experienced, pain can’t be suffered, and meaning is lost. Psychotherapy and group therapy offered to parents recognises the links between cultural destruction, the intergenerational cycle of trauma and individual pathology.
In pre-school programs, Aboriginal artists work alongside professional art therapists in helping children connect with their Indigenous culture, traditions, and ‘dreamtime stories’.