The challenges of mental health cannot be understated. One in five Australians aged 16 to 34 experienced high levels of psychological distress, which was more than twice the rate of those in the 65 to 85 years age bracket. Fifteen percent of Australians reported feeling lonely during the pandemic, and 16% experienced at least one financial stressor.
This inevitably means that there’s a high demand for mental health support. The Australian Bureau of Statistics found that 17% of Australians sought out a health professional to address their mental health concerns — that’s around 3.4 million people. It’s a staggering number that underscores just how important psychologists and counsellors are to society.
It’s this that 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. It also has over 60 years experience providing psychological services at clinics in Hawthorn East, Dandenong, North Melbourne and Melbourne CBD.
This guarantees that Cairnmillar’s programmes draw from decades of experience, are evidence-based and led, first and foremost, by real-world practice.
“The teachers are practitioners and/or researchers in the field,” shares Jenny Coburn, a Senior Lecturer at Cairnmillar. “That is, teachers are working with clients and/or researching what is happening in the world. They come into the classroom brimming with professional expertise.”
Ms Coburn is the course coordinator for the Bachelor of Psychology and Counselling, a three-year full-time or part-time TEQSA-accredited double major programme providing students with a job-ready, immersive learning experience. This means that by the time students graduate, they’re equipped with the knowledge and training they need to become a fully-qualified counsellor — and through this, start their journey to support the communities around them.
It’s a far cry from the normal educational journey aspiring counsellors endure. Typically, these students will have to obtain both a bachelor’s and master’s on top of supervised clinical experience before they’re able to start practising. At Cairnmillar, though, students have a direct pathway to registration as a counsellor with the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia (PACFA).
How? Through direct exposure to the field in the form of 40 hours of direct counselling experience, with real-world experience in industry placements. This means that students are supervised in providing counselling to real clients at a counselling agency or service.
“Our supervisors are trained to support you in your work with clients,” Coburn clarifies. “Students will take part in both one-to-one and group supervision. This helps you to reflect on your practice, hone your ethical awareness and sensitivity, and deepen your ability to respond therapeutically to client needs.”
Cairnmillar is steadily working at becoming accredited by the Australian Psychology Accreditation Council (APAC). With this, students will have the option of completing a fourth Honours year, which will put them on the pathway to becoming a psychologist.
Classes at Cairnmillar are unique and tailored to suit different learning styles. Topics are explored using case studies, stories, metaphors, problem-solving activities, and more. With this, students are treated to personalised learning experiences that differs by the day.
One such class is counselling skills. Here, students are exposed to what it’s like to sit with another person and listen to what they are saying. “It sounds easy, but the counselling space is different to the social or conversational space we usually occupy,” emphasises Coburn.
She highlights the “fish bowl” teaching method — one where the demonstration of a skill is done with a small number of students and the teacher, with the larger group observing. “This may sound scary, but it can be incredibly effective in demonstrating the counselling process — how the different skills fit together in being responsive to the client.”
Students at Cairnmillar are surrounded by a close-knit community that supports them every step of the way. This ranges from academic writing, study skills and career advice to leadership and peer mentoring programmes, plus a host of friendly staff with an open-door approach. “We’re not a large institution, so it is 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 counsellor and psychotherapist with a background in the performing arts. “It wasn’t hierarchical at all — more like a ‘we’re all in this together’ type of approach. I felt supported as a therapist by how the teachers related to me and what I learned from their professional experience.”
This is an important practice Cairnmillar instills in its entire community, from students to teachers. Ms Coburn refers to it as “professional humility.” “This is an important concept, particularly when working with people, because it recognises there is a limit to our professional knowledge,” she explains. “When we realise this, we create a space for the client to be empowered in the therapeutic work undertaken.”
It speaks multitudes about the attitude Cairnmillar cultivates — not only that strives for excellence, but one that is driven by purpose and passion to provide help to whoever may need it.