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Where empathetic mental health professionals are trained

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The challenges of mental health cannot be underestimated. One in five Australians aged 16 to 34 experienced high levels of psychological distress, more than double the rate of those in the 65 to 85 age bracket. Fifteen percent of Australians said they felt lonely during the pandemic, and 16% experienced at least one financial stressor.

This inevitably means there is a high demand for mental health support. The Australian Bureau of Statistics found that 17% of Australians have sought help from a medical professional to address their mental health issues, or about 3.4 million people. It’s a staggering number that highlights just how important psychologists and counselors are to society.

This is what drives the work of the Cairnmillar Institute. An industry leader in psychology education and training in Australia, Cairnmillar offers university-equivalent courses in addition to clinical psychology and psychotherapy services that are delivered with a difference. He also has over 60 years of experience providing psychological services in clinics in Hawthorn East, Dandenong, North Melbourne and Melbourne CBD.

This ensures that Cairnmillar’s programs draw on decades of experience, are evidence-based and driven, above all, by real-world practice.

Cairnmillar teachers are practitioners and researchers in their field, drawing on real-world experiences. Source: Cairnmillar Institute

“Teachers are practitioners and/or researchers in the field,” shares Jenny Coburn, senior lecturer at Cairnmillar. “That is, teachers work with clients and/or research what is happening in the world. They come to class brimming with professional expertise.

Ms. Coburn is the course coordinator for the Bachelor of Psychology and Counseling, a three-year full- or part-time program accredited by TEQSA and offering students an immersive, job-ready learning experience. This means that by the time students graduate, they are equipped with the knowledge and training they need to become a fully qualified counselor – and through this, begin their journey to support the communities around them.

This is a far cry from the normal educational path that aspiring counselors endure. Typically, these students will need to complete both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in addition to supervised clinical experience before they can begin practice. At Cairnmillar, however, students have a direct route to registration as a counselor with the Psychotherapy and Counseling Federation of Australia (PACFA).

How? ‘Or’ What? Through direct on-the-job exposure in the form of 40 hours of direct consulting experience, with real-world experience in industry internships. This means that students are supervised in providing advice to real clients at an agency or advice service.

The Cairnmillar Institute

Students are supported academically, professionally and personally at Cairnmillar. Source: Cairnmillar Institute

“Our supervisors are trained to support you in your work with clients,” says Coburn. “Students will participate in both individual and group supervision. It helps you reflect on your practice, sharpen your ethical awareness and sensitivity, and deepen your ability to respond therapeutically to client needs.

Cairnmillar works regularly to become accredited by the Australian Psychology Accreditation Council (APAC). With this, students will have the opportunity to complete a fourth year with honors, which will put them on the path to becoming a psychologist.

Courses at Cairnmillar are unique and suitable for different learning styles. Topics are explored using case studies, stories, metaphors, problem-solving activities, and more. Thanks to this, students benefit from personalized learning experiences that differ every day.

One of these classes is that of counseling skills. Here students are exposed to what it is like to sit with another person and listen to what they are saying. “It sounds easy, but the counseling space is different from the social or conversational space we usually occupy,” Coburn points out.

The Cairnmillar Institute

Cairnmillar graduates are ready to work in as little as three years, a huge cry from the normal path which sees students go through several degrees to start practicing. Source: Cairnmillar Institute

She highlights the “fishbowl” method of teaching – a method in which the demonstration of a skill is done with a small number of students and the teacher, the larger group observing. “It may sound scary, but it can be incredibly effective in demonstrating the counseling process – how different skills fit together to respond to the client.”

Cairnmillar students are surrounded by a tight-knit community that supports them every step of the way. This ranges from academic writing, study skills and career advice to leadership and peer mentorship programs, plus a host of friendly staff with an open door approach. “We’re not a big institution, so it’s easier to get to know us and for us to get to know you,” says Coburn.

“I really felt a sense of camaraderie from the teachers,” adds Anne Best, a mature counselor and psychotherapist with a background in the performing arts. “It wasn’t hierarchical at all – more of a ‘we’re all in this together’ approach. I felt supported as a therapist by the way the teachers valued me and what I learned from their professional experience.

It is an important practice that Cairnmillar instills in its entire community, from students to teachers. Mrs. Coburn calls it “professional humility”. “It’s an important concept, especially when working with people, because it recognizes that there is a limit to our professional knowledge,” she explains. “When we achieve this, we create space for the client to be empowered in the therapeutic work undertaken.”

It speaks to multitudes of the attitude that Cairnmillar cultivates – not just one that strives for excellence, but one that is driven by purpose and passion to provide help to anyone who needs it.

Ready for the next step? Apply for a place at the Cairnmillar Institute here or visit their website for more information.

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