An internship at the University of Technology Sydney's Counselling Service became more than a study success story for ACAP Master of Psychology (Clinical) student Matt Vaughan, when he secured a paid position as a counsellor at the facility.
Matt was the first ACAP student accepted by UTS in its clinical placement program. He spent his 250 hours there under the supervision of Senior Clinical Psychologist and Training Coordinator, Dr Jessica Gray.
Accessible to students as well as staff, the UTS Counselling Service manages a high volume of diverse demand. More than a resource for those in crisis, the centre fosters a healthy attitude of support-seeking among its community.
"We are conscientious in promoting our service across the university, and in normalising the stressors students face, which helps to reduce stigma," said Jessica.
The facility typically provides placements to two trainee clinical psychology students per semester, exposing provisional psychologists to many of the wellbeing issues common to clinical practice.
Expectations and challenges
With his objective of working in individual therapy with young adults, the UTS setting as a placement host ideally matched Matt's professional aspirations. His two other placements were at The Sydney Clinic, a private eastern suburbs psychiatric hospital, and the Prince of Wales Hospital Adolescent Service. As a student himself, Matt was able to approach his UTS duties with particular empathy for those he would assist.
"My personal experience with developing effective time-management and study skills throughout my years as a student definitely came in handy when helping UTS students trying to find their way with these concerns," he said.
However, any vision of the university counsellor's role being more or less limited to addressing academic issues was tested early on, by the confronting nature of some of the consultations Matt attended.
"I was surprised by the complexity of many of the clients I saw. Going into placement, I had not expected that a university counselling service would attract as many distressed clients," he said.
"The challenge for me was to quickly develop effective and thorough risk assessment skills, which was ultimately a great learning opportunity."
Setting foundations for effective practice
During a typical training day, Matt would see six or seven clients in either 30-minute 'intake' appointments or hour-long ongoing sessions. Though his schedule was busy, he thrived on the variety and pace at UTS, which is now his workplace.
"Settling into the role was definitely made easier by having already been there on placement and working with the team last year," said Matt.
"Also, I was lucky to have had a fantastic supervisor who I felt very comfortable with in discussion of any of the challenges of the placement work, as well as in sharing my personal reflections. These things combined definitely helped me to quickly grow in confidence with regard to my clinical skills and ability to work with a wide range of presenting concerns."