Psychology students gain valuable experience in the Kimberley

June 28, 2018

In Broome: (L-R) Yashi Yogaraj and Pavitra Aran, with their supervisor, Murdoch University Senior Lecturer Helen Correia.

Two clinical psychology students have returned from a life-changing trip to assist those with mental health issues in the Kimberley as part of their studies.

Provisional Psychologists Yashi Yogaraj and Pavitra Aran, spent two months in Broome, completing their first external practicum units for their Masters of Clinical Psychology and Doctorate of Psychology (Clinical) respectively.

Ms Yogaraj worked at Broome Regional Aboriginal Medical Service (BRAMS) while Ms Aran completed her placement at Broome Hospital outpatient services (Kimberley Mental Health and Drug Service), as well as Milliya Rumurra Aboriginal Corporation (Alcohol and Other Drug Rehabilitation Centre).

Ms Yogaraj, an international student from Sri Lanka, said it was rewarding to be able to assist with Broome’s backlog of mental health patient referrals.

“While there are external mental health services available in Broome, these services have long waitlists. Therefore, BRAMS had the opportunity to refer patients within the organisation, in order to receive psychological care while they wait to be seen by these external services," she said.

Ms Yogaraj said it was necessary to adapt and accommodate existing knowledge and skills from previous experiences in Sri Lanka and the Murdoch Psychology Clinic (MPC), in working with Aboriginal people within a different cultural context.

“It was important to adapt our existing knowledge and skills in delivering appropriate assessment and intervention, with a strong cultural consideration. We also had to identify what works best for this population and recognise alternative modes of treatment delivery in an ethical and professional manner" she said.

“Overall, this challenging yet unique experience was an immense learning curve, providing me with the opportunity to reflect on and assess my growth as a clinician."

Ms Aran, 2017 West Australian Young Achiever of the Year, found working in the Kimberley and engaging with Aboriginal communities through her placement to be an unforgettable experience.

“Working in the Kimberley is a completely different experience to the city.  It is a rural, remote setting, with high levels of socioeconomic disadvantage and complex health and mental health issues,” she said.

“I realised very quickly that I had to adapt the clinical knowledge and skills I had obtained in Perth, to the diverse cultural and linguistic context of Aboriginal people in the West Kimberley.

“The biggest thing I’ve taken away from my experience is seeing first hand how historical events such as the stolen generation continues to impact the Aboriginal people’s physical and mental health in significant and often fatal ways. For example, the Kimberley youth suicide rate is six to eight times higher than the State suicide rate.”

“Accordingly, there is a strong demand in the Kimberley for the services of psychologists, and I really encourage those in our profession to consider work experience and careers in rural and remote settings".

Director of the Clinical Psychology Program Associate Professor Andrew Lewis said the program of placing students in the Kimberley would continue as a key feature of Murdoch’s Clinical Psychology training.

“Pav and Yashi were the first students to undertake a clinical psychology placement with the Kimberly Rural Health Alliance and as such, they managed to establish a foothold for psychology training in this region,” Professor Lewis said.

“This is a very significant development for professional training at Murdoch in which clinical psychology students will have unique learning opportunities to understand and engage with efforts to address the substantial mental health needs of regional and rural Western Australians.”

Now that they have returned to Murdoch University to continue their studies, Ms. Yogaraj and Ms Aran will advise future students who participate in the program.

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