Psychology Assistants: A revolution in mental health care for children and youth

Young children in classroom

Early intervention is key to ensuring all Australian children can thrive; access should not be limited by geography or economic circumstance. [Image: Turner Institute for Brain and Mental health Impact Statement 2023-2025]

PROFESSOR KIM CORNISH AM, PROFESSOR JUDITH GULLIFER, PROFESSOR LORELLE BURTON, MR RENE JR PEGARRO
By
Professor Kim Cornish AM, Professor Judith Gullifer, Professor Lorelle Burton, Mr Rene Jr Pegarro
Monash University
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The Harsh Reality: Following the COVID-19 pandemic, children are facing mental health challenges more than ever. Psychologists are experiencing relentless demand for their services – a third can't take new clients, and many report a surge in young people seeking help. The biggest hurdle? Long wait times. Over half wait four to six  weeks, with a quarter waiting over two months. This problem is even worse in regional areas, where psychologists are scarce. Left unaddressed, childhood psychological issues can have lasting negative consequences in adulthood. Providing timely support for the mental health of children and youth can significantly improve their long-term wellbeing.

The Solution: To address this growing crisis, Monash University's Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health and the University of Southern Queensland (UniSQ) are joining forces to create a brand new model for the mental health workforce. Inspired by the 30-year precedent in the UK NHS, we are introducing the concept of ‘Psychology Assistants’. These specially trained graduates will work alongside registered psychologists, providing much-needed support to children and adolescents with essential preventative mental health services.

The 12-Month Cadetship: In this program, bachelor of Psychology undergraduates or ‘cadets’ dive into a mix of academic learning and real-world experiences over a twelve-month period. They will enrol in a specially crafted Graduate Diploma in Applied Psychology, which lays down a solid foundation of essential skills and knowledge. Ethics and safety are big themes throughout the program. Cadets balance their coursework with supervised placements at community mental health organizations, gaining practical experience right away. This practical side of things lets them put their new knowledge into action directly in the practice setting.

Upon graduation, we propose a new workforce titled “Psychology Assistants” (PA.) PAs will be equipped to facilitate group sessions, conduct initial assessments, and develop comprehensive care plans specifically tailored to children and young people whilst being supervised by registered psychologists. This new workforce directly translates to implementing low intensity interventions with at risk communities enabling registered psychologists to work to the top of their scope of practice.  As a result, the program ultimately leads to more accessible, effective, and compassionate mental health services for the community.

The Benefits: A Ripple Effect of Positive Change: This game-changing approach has the potential to revolutionise mental health services for children and youth nationwide by:

Reaching Beyond the City Walls: Currently, accessing mental health services, especially for children and youth in regional and remote areas, is a daunting task. This program acts as a bridge, with UniSQ strategically placing Psychology Assistant graduates in underserved regional and rural communities, and the Turner Institute focusing on metropolitan and regional areas. This targeted approach leverages our established partnerships to increase accessibility of much-needed mental health services for children and youth. By bringing vital support closer to home, we can significantly reduce wait times and ensure children, youth, and vulnerable people in regional and rural communities receive timely help.

Improved Mental Healthcare Landscape: This innovative program acts as a powerful booster for our overstretched mental health system. By taking on crucial tasks, Psychology Assistants will alleviate the current strain on mental health professionals. This creates a cascading effect of enhanced access to quality mental health care, ensuring all Australians can readily access the support they deserve.

Enhanced Career Opportunities: The program offers exciting new career paths for psychology undergraduates. The Graduate Diploma and cadetship will equip them with specialised skills, boosting their employability and opening doors to rewarding careers in mental health care.

A Vision for a Brighter Future: We envision a future where all Australian children and youth have direct access to the critical mental health support they require. This innovative solution will revolutionize the accessibility of mental healthcare services throughout the nation, ensuring timely intervention and improved wellbeing for young Australians regardless of their location.

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