Master of Psychology (Community Psychology). Edith Cowan University
Country of birth: England
Ethnicity: British / Australian
Languages spoken: English
What initially attracted you to community psychology?
I was first introduced to Community Psychology in the first year of my undergraduate degree, studying externally. My Tutor, Lauren Breen, told us about the Trans-Tasman Community Psychology conference which was being held at AQWA in Hillarys, and I decided to attend as a networking opportunity and to learn more about the specialisation of Community Psychology. Throughout the conference I experienced a sense of knowing that this was the field for me; my personal and professional values seemed to align perfectly with those of Community Psychology. I was brought up learning about social justice and respecting diversity, I lived in rural communities where a sense of community was paramount and collaborating emphasised, the need for prevention made sense to me. And so my passion for Community Psychology was born.
Please describe your current position.
I am in the process of changing roles. I was working as a Psychologist for an employment service provider, assisting long-term unemployed clients to address barriers to employment. My role was, predominantly, assessing client needs and referring them to services accordingly: counselling, medical services, education, training, and legal organisations. However, I also assisted with Vocational Counselling and Assessments, individual counselling, and developed and facilitated an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy group. Clients were those receiving a Centrelink payment who were mostly mandated to look for work, however, there were some voluntary clients who wanted our assistance. Most of our clients were facing significant personal difficulties including homelessness, mental health issues, drug and alcohol issues, physical health concerns, low levels of education, and limited or no work history. I worked collaboratively with case managers, Centrelink, health care providers, and emergency services according to client needs.
I am now working for a large, not-for-profit community organisation in their professional psychological servicing department. I am currently undertaking Employee Assistance Program (EAP) counselling, and over the coming year will be training in critical incident response, professional coaching, mediation, manager-initiated referrals and training development/facilitation. This role will contrast significantly with my previous position as it is more of a corporate psychological service. It will provide me with opportunities to develop as a professional while still contributing to the broader community by working for a not-for-profit organisation.
What other work have you been involved in as a community psychologist?
Upon graduating from university, I worked as a Rehabilitation Consultant Psychologist in vocational rehabilitation assisting injured workers to return to work. This fits into the worker's compensation system and balances the needs of the worker, their employer, and the insurer. I have also worked as a Graduate Research Officer and sessional academic for two universities.
For a number of years I was the Co-Editor of LINKS, an occasional newsletter for those with an interest in Community Psychology. LINKS was an online newsletter that was distributed nationally and internationally with the aims of strengthening the network of Community Psychologists.
My practicum placements during my postgraduate studies were varied and interesting. I worked as a Research Assistant for a private company undertaking applied research to identify community needs. The findings were then used to assist in community development of planned communities.
In my second practicum, I worked as a Project Manager of a community needs analysis for a government organisation in a small rural community. Again this was applied research and included both qualitative and quantitative methodologies. It also provided an opportunity for me to work collaboratively with the community through planning meetings. The findings of this research were used in the government organisation's business development plan.
Finally, my third practicum was as a project assistant for two projects at a not-for-profit women's health centre. I worked across two programs aimed at assisting two different client groups carrying out and completing needs analyses, grant applications, marketing programs, facilitating sessions and designing and conducting program evaluations. This placement also provided me with an opportunity to develop skills in working cross-culturally through interpreters.
What tertiary training (if any) do you have in community psychology?
Master of Psychology (Community) from Edith Cowan University as well as some undergraduate community psychology units.
What are the most valuable things you learnt in your community psychology training?
One of the most valuable things I learnt during my training, and since then, has been the importance of listening. A good Community Psychologist works collaboratively with their clients, no matter what the professional role is, and the only way you can build effective working relationships is through empathy and trust. If your client trusts you, even in a system where they are mandated to participate, they will actively work with you towards some sort of need.
The other most valuable thing I have learnt (and am still learning!) is to trust myself. At times, especially as an early career community psychologist, I have doubted my professional opinion and/or skills, and have looked to those with more experience and higher qualifications. While I think it is important to seek advice from colleagues, I have slowly come to the realisation that I have skills and knowledge, both academically and from life experience, that place me in good stead to make my own decisions about my practice. So, I am now learning to consult with peers as well as to trust my own judgements about how to work effectively.
Please list your academic qualifications.
Master of Psychology (Community)
Bachelor of Arts (Psychology) Honours
Bachelor of Arts (Psychology)
Please describe any other experiences (for example, mentors, professional development activities or further training) that helped you to prepare for a career in community psychology.
I have always valued a strong peer network to help prepare me in my work. Upon graduating from university, I undertook supervision with Goff Barrett-Lennard and Lauren Breen to obtain my specialisation as a community psychologist. However, I have maintained supervision both individually with senior colleagues and with a peer group since then. This has helped me to broaden my knowledge and skills, as well as to develop my professional identity.
In addition to the peer network, I undertake as much professional development as I can. I wasn't able to fund this until my career began, but since then I am always looking for workshops that can build on my skills and knowledge. I identify areas of need by looking for gaps in the skills/knowledge I have, and then researching appropriate professional development opportunities. I develop a clear plan to guide this each year. I also listen to podcasts (All in the Mind, Shrink Rap Radio, Wise Counsel) and read as much as I can.
Finally, I think it is important to explore career opportunities to help develop a professional identity and to broaden skills and knowledge. Once I have achieved what I can from a position, I look for ways to develop and grow. If such opportunities are not available in the job I am in, I then start to plan for my next career move. This helps me to continually develop professionally, but also ensures I don't get bored! It is important to be satisfied in your work, and boredom is a sign for me that I am not satisfied.
What are the most important things you learnt in the field (or in an academic setting) about community psychology?
I think the most important thing I have learnt in the field is that community psychology is who I am. As the values and principles of community psychology were a part of me before I studied it academically, they are my personal values, I work as a Community Psychologist in everything that I do. This means that I am not tied to prescribed job roles advertising for "Community Psychologists", and I can be creative in looking for employment opportunities. When I graduated from university I found this a little daunting, I wanted to have a job advertised for me to tell me what I should do. However, with time, as I have developed a sense of my professional identity, I have realised that I don't need someone to tell me who I am anymore. I don't need to fit a "box" of a community psychologist.
In what other ways do you use your community psychology training and skills?
As I have said earlier, my personal values are in line with my professional 'Community Psychology' values. This means that I try to live by these values every day. I am an analytical person, so when I am faced with information presented by the media or by others I am socialising with, I tend to think critically. I raise contextual issues that might be relevant to the topic at hand.
What advice would you offer to someone contemplating a career in community psychology?
I think you need to be clear about what you want to achieve. A Community Psychologist cannot obtain a Clinical Psychologist job, so if you want the Clinical Psychologist job don't study Community. Spend some time exploring all your options and then make up your mind. Also, bear in mind that there are no advertised positions for a Community Psychologist, but you won't need them when you start to understand more about your professional interests. So when it comes to choosing research topics and practicum placements, it is important that you choose according to your passions. It's your passions that will help guide your decisions about employment.
What are your research interests?
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Please list any professional memberships.
Australian Psychological Society - Member of the College of Community Psychology