Hi, my name is Alex and I am one of the two Clinical Psychology Team Leaders at Royal Far West and a Psychologist on our partner project with UNICEF Australia to support children affected by the 2019-2020 summer bushfires. I deliver Psychological therapy to children and provide support strategies to their parents and teachers.
Tell us more…
Our Bushfire Recovery Program has allowed me to participate in training to upskill myself in best practice ways to support children, parents and teachers following community trauma experiences such as the bushfires, drought and COVID-19. Later in the year I will be attending an outreach trip to the NSW South Coast to provide in-person, group psychoeducation and support to specific bushfire affected communities. I have also been involved in developing and delivering a UNICEF Australia funded telepsychology program for supporting individual children in need of this support.
As a team leader I also assist in developing and improving processes around the delivery of Psychological assessment and therapy at RFW, providing supervision and support to the Psychologists on the team, and recruiting and onboarding new Psychologists and Psychology students (given the ever-increasing demand for mental health supports, our team is constantly growing!).
How long have you been here? Have you seen any changes in the issues children have during this time?
I have worked here for more than four years and at one time or other have worked across most of our Psychology programs. These include: our in-person assessment and review service on site in Manly (the Paediatric Developmental Program, or PDP); Telecare for Kids (into schools); Connect for Kids, the Telehealth Approach to ‘GotIt!’ (TAG) research project (now finished); creating and delivering capacity building webinars; Windmill Telecare and Immersion; and the scholarship-funded Telecare Psychology.
This year I have noticed a general increase in the typical severity levels of clients’ emotional difficulties, which is not surprising given the combined impact of drought, bushfires and COVID-19 on regional and rural communities. I would also say anxiety about the environment is being reported more frequently for some of the children I have seen, and there seems to be significantly more external stressors impacting parents of clients such as work-related and/or economic stress, lack of ability to plan or take holidays, and less time and capacity for self-care activities.
What led you to work at RFW?
My parents grew up in rural NSW so I have a family connection to country areas, and have fond memories of visiting relatives on the NSW north coast and the Hunter New England. I definitely recall being shocked by how long my grandparents had to wait for medical appointments compared to people living in the city! Even before finishing my studies I was passionate about working as a Psychologist in rural areas due to the need for health services that exists there, and the opportunity to live closer to nature. I completed my Clinical Psychology degree in Armidale, NSW, and lived in the Hunter New England region for 18 months, where I completed two student placements. After a few years of working outside of Sydney and meeting my husband, I followed him back to Sydney as most of the jobs in his industry are Sydney-based. Although I was back in Sydney, I still had the desire to support people from rural areas to access health services. I had a friend who already worked at RFW and loved it, so I applied too and haven’t looked back! I must admit, the beachfront location and ability to eat lunch looking out over the waves is a definite perk too!
Describe your typical day
As a team leader I don’t really have one! I like variety and get bored doing the same thing all the time, so this suits me well. I still have a small client load and supervise other Psychologists. I also do some work on the UNICEF Australia partner project, which involves upskilling myself, delivering some capacity building to parents, developing resources and preparing for outreach trips. The rest of the time I am liaising with my team to keep on top of what is going well and what could work better, and meeting with the other leaders from across the organisation to keep lines of communication open and continue improving the quality of the services we deliver.
What’s the best thing about working with families from rural and remote Australia?
It is very rewarding when you see and hear of the positive impacts of the support RFW provides families and school communities. We know that in general those living in regional and rural areas are significantly more likely to experience traumatic events, so it is wonderful to be able to provide such a necessary service in an accessible way. Those we work with often come with a history of having difficulties accessing services, so they are usually very appreciative of our support. I also generally love learning from my clients – kids from the country often know way more about nature and particularly farm animals than I did when I was growing up. It’s so cool and interesting to hear them share their knowledge and learn from them.
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