Psychology student placement a win-win for the APS
By Rachael McMahon, APS Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Unit, APSC (News articles only)
Hands-on student placement: A win-win for post-graduate psychology students and the APS
Master of Professional Psychology student, Layal Dia made the right choice to complete her final year field placement within the APS.
For Layal Dia, a Master of Professional Psychology (MPP) student at the Australian National University, choosing the right organisation to complete her final year field placement was an important decision on her path to becoming a psychologist.
“As a provisional psychologist, it is critical I have the opportunity to integrate theory and practice in a professional environment. I place a high value on workplaces that invest in applied research and exploring innovative solutions to existing problems."
Layal says that is why she was thrilled to land a student placement in the Australian Public Service (APS) Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Unit (the Unit), within the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC).
“I wanted a hands-on experience for my final year field placement. And that is exactly what I am getting!” enthuses Layal.
“The Unit promotes whole-of-service development of APS workforce literacy, capability and expertise in mental health and suicide prevention. Their work is evidenced-informed and puts best practice at the centre. This placement has provided me with valuable, real-world experience and the opportunity to develop and apply my professional practice, research and relational skills and knowledge.”
Layal says that working in a highly capable, multidisciplinary team has been an eye-opener. The Unit brings together dedicated APS staff with a range of experience and expertise that includes organisational and clinical psychology, suicidology, lived experience, project management, policy, research, communication and human-centred design.
“The sum of these individual parts is definitely greater than the whole. We collaborate closely and contribute our own expertise to solve complex problems. This enables the Unit to develop holistic approaches that support the Australian Public Service to improve its mental health and suicide prevention capability.”
Layal is the second MPP student to undertake a student placement with the Unit since the Unit’s establishment in June 2021. “The entire experience, and the skills I am developing, will enhance my employability as a practising psychologist.”
Connie Galati, is a Senior Clinical Psychologist in the Unit and Layal’s Psychology Board of Australia accredited field placement supervisor. Connie notes that the work of the Unit is underpinned by evidence-informed psychological approaches and research methods to ensure outputs are completely fit-for-purpose for the Australian Public Service.
“It makes perfect sense for us to participate in the MPP student placement program. The core training and skill set of a psychologist is highly valuable to the APS. Beyond their clinical skills, psychologists have advanced training in critical thinking, data and statistical analysis, program evaluation and applied research.
“My role as a field placement supervisor is to recognise the inherent strengths of the student, support them to strategise how to overcome challenges and obstacles, and to provide constructive feedback.”
Connie says that, during her placement, Layal has become a valued member of the APS Peer Support Capability project that is being led by the Unit in partnership with the Department of Home Affairs.
Layal Dia: “Peer support networks serve an important role in building a positive workplace culture across many organisations, including the APS. To support the APS to build its peer-to-peer and relational capability, we are working with ‘peer supporters’ to co-design a new peer support eLearning package.”
Rachael McMahon is, the Unit’s Principal Psychologist and Director. She noted that while MPP students are closely supervised and supported in their achievement of all mandatory competencies, the Unit proudly maintains an adaptable approach specific to the needs of individual students.
“We hold high a strength-based approach to our role in the MPP student placement program. We recognise the skills and professional interests of the student and appropriately match them to projects in our remit.” said Rachael.
What’s next for Layal? “I am looking forward to finishing my MPP, followed by an internship year and a national exam, in order to achieve general registration as a psychologist.
“My student placement with the Unit has broadened my understanding of how to safely and effectively integrate theory into professional practice. The one-on-one nature of the supervisor/student relationship has provided me with opportunities for self-reflection, a safe space to learn and empowered me to ‘dig deep’ when exploring challenges.”
Tips to make the most of a student placement
Layal Dia, final year Masters of Professional Psychology student, on making the most of a student placement:
• Form learning goals early on
• Work on projects that pique your interest, and those that place you outside of your comfort zone
• Use supervision wisely and to your learning advantage! Although it may be difficult at times, be raw and honest about the situations / tasks that impact you the most, as these are a great learning opportunity to build your skills and reflect on how / whether you might approach things differently
• Learn all that you can from fellow team-members, peers and stakeholders. Ask lots of questions to clarify your understanding and learn from others’ perspectives
• ‘Learn the language’ of an agency or team to scaffold and build mutual understanding and well-footed pathway for communication.