Postgraduate psychology students from the Australian College of Applied Psychology (ACAP) are making a difference in the community by facilitating mindfulness training sessions for parents and teachers at a Sydney school for children with intellectual disabilities.
The outreach partnership, between ACAP’s School of Psychological Sciences and St Lucy’s School at Wahroonga, involves tailored mindfulness classes held at the school’s premises, for the convenience of course attendees.
The group training program is founded in the conventions of self-care and was the initiative of St Lucy’s counsellor, Anna Schwarz, herself a 2015 ACAP Master of Psychology (Clinical) graduate.
After successfully proposing the program of eight weekly, two-hour sessions to the school, Anna contacted the ACAP faculty to suggest the involvement of provisionally-registered Psychology students in delivering the classes.
“Many of our families struggle to deal with the daily stressors that accompany looking after a child with special needs,” said Anna.
“As I had completed my clinical training at ACAP, I offered to run the courses free of charge to the parents. They were happy for me to approach ACAP to see if its students could assist me with delivery. It was a wonderful opportunity to continue my connections with the college and facilitate continuing learning for its postgraduate psychology students.”
The ACAP students’ participation is overseen by their supervisors from the college’s on-campus Psychology Clinic, a key venue for supervised clinical placement established in 2012 by the ACAP faculty.
Taking the lead
Staff and clinicians at disability sector schools are under significant daily pressure, largely due to class sizes. St Lucy’s teachers manage classes of up to nine disabled students in total, many of whom have medical needs, too. This combination of responsibilities creates a complex learning environment requiring physical and health care, as well as providing a quality education.
Current funding prohibits the lowering of teacher-to-student ratios, making self-care a priority for maintaining emotional health. According to Anna, some parents at St Lucy’s have more than one disabled child with special needs and receive limited support.
“The school’s leadership team are open to any programs that will assist parents. They were delighted to host the training groups on the premises,” said Anna.
“Mindfulness is an evidence-based wellbeing strategy that fits the school’s agenda. Our community has been so happy and appreciative of the benefits of the ACAP students’ contribution they asked us to continue providing this support to families and staff.”
Following the favourable feedback from the St Lucy’s principal, course participants and ACAP students when the first group sessions ended in November 2016, the school has committed to continuing the program through 2017 and 2018.
“All participants reported that they found mindfulness training very helpful and were able to use the new skills in their everyday life,” said Anna.
“One participant completed the course twice as she had gained so much from the material the first time. Many remarked how helpful it was to be with other parents who were experiencing the same difficulties. They were able to have their experiences acknowledged and validated in a supportive non-judgemental setting.”
One student involved with the program is applying the connection made with St Lucy’s to assist with their qualitative research paper on the support needs of carers. According to Dr Senderey, future outreach by the ACAP Clinic has the potential to assist other students with meaningful assessment projects.
“St Lucy’s proactively supports the emotional welfare of its students and staff by focusing on preventative strategies that enhance and promote psychological wellbeing,” she said.
“The project is a win for both parties. ACAP students have the opportunity to practise professional skills on an engaged and willing audience in the field, and the St Lucy’s school community is greatly assisted, as well. The initiative has demonstrated the clinic’s capacity to engage in community outreach programs.”
The ACAP Psychology Clinic provides individual and group therapy to the general community at the college’s Hyde Park campus at 255 Elizabeth Street, Sydney. In its first five years, the service has assisted more than 2,600 clients through a suite of popular psychological services.
Now, following the success of the St Lucy’s School partnership, the clinic is offering tailored training to organisations for their employees or other stakeholders, for hosting on their premises. Interested parties are invited to email Dr Ester Senderey to discuss your requirements.