Holistic design for new mental health courses

Published 13 October 2009

headThe University of New England is adopting an innovative approach to the training of health-care professionals in mental health practice.

Next year, UNE’s School of Health will introduce a new program that will address mental health from the perspectives of all the professionals who deal with it – including nurses, GPs, counsellors, teachers, social workers, and occupational therapists.

“With this holistic approach, we’ll be bringing together students from throughout the community of carers,” said the convener of the new program, Dr Sally Hunter. “This will give each of them a greater appreciation of the input of their colleagues from other health-care disciplines in dealing with mental health issues. The course will include case studies from all of those disciplines.”

This interdisciplinary approach includes the composition of the teaching staff as well as of the student cohort. “A core guiding principle has been that teaching will be by an interdisciplinary team,” Dr Hunter said.

The new program builds on UNE’s established reputation in fields such as nursing, counselling and psychology, and the success of its recently-introduced Bachelor of Medicine (Joint Medical Program) and Bachelor of Social Work degree programs. It provides for a “nested” series of awards beginning with a Graduate Certificate in Mental Health Practice and progressing to a Graduate Diploma in Counselling for  Health and Social Care, and then to a Master of Counselling degree.

The entire program will be delivered by distance education, with the Graduate Certificate program comprising four units that can be completed in one semester of full-time study or one year of part-time study. The Graduate Certificate program also includes two compulsory residential schools.

“Students will be working on-line with people from other health-care disciplines, and meeting them face-to-face at residential schools,” Dr Hunter said. “This will enable them to develop an interdisciplinary perspective on mental health care. Currently, professionals in one health-care discipline are often unaware of what their colleagues in other disciplines do.

“We are very excited about the new program, and have received positive feedback about it from many of our current students.”

“There’s an acknowledged need in our community for people who can help those suffering from mental illness – and their carers,” she explained. “This is especially so in rural areas, where there is a hidden level of depression. If we catch mental illness early, people have a better chance of recovery.”