Understanding the best and worst of human relationships - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Understanding the best and worst of human relationships

7 Dec 2021

My career as a Clinical Psychologist has taken me on a journey of understanding the best and worst that can occur in human relationships. Human connection is as important for Homo sapiens as shelter and food, we thrive when we are surrounded by positive connections.

Connections are key

My original clinical psychology training was completed in New Zealand. I then worked in the UK and in 2007 settled here in Australia. My first goal when I got here was to complete two years of supervised practice in Adult Mental Health and Child and Youth Mental Health to gain my clinical psychology endorsement in Australia. My work has shown me the worst in human relationships: the abuse, the heartbreak, the loneliness, and the isolation that can occur. However, I have also seen the way therapeutic relationships can heal and assist people to recover from mental health issues.

Through my work I became particularly interested in the way that relationships impact mental health. Research has found that the client-therapist relationship is a reliable predictor of positive clinical outcomes. These ideas led me to attachment theory and an understanding that our initial relationships shape our understanding of relationships as well as develop the framework for our future relational patterns. My interest in attachment theory and a desire to understand how technology could be used to foster connection motivated me to undertake a PhD at USC.

BetterBonds

My PhD involved the development of the BetterBonds parenting program. This is a six-week online parenting program which aims to help parents build happier, healthier bonds with their children. This was trialled in a range of populations including parents and caregivers involved with Child Health, Child and Youth Mental Health and Child Safety. My PhD focused on the relationship between a child and their primary caregivers or parents. This relationship is incredibly important in terms of the future physical and mental health of the child. A responsive and warm relationship or secure attachment with a primary caregiver can provide a child with resilience to future stresses.

The goal of BetterBonds was to teach parents and caregivers the basics of understanding the importance of a secure attachment and to provide them skills to help their child develop a secure bond with them. Participants were positive in their feedback regarding the content of the program but as it was trialled in a beta version my goal is to conduct further research once the design of the website is refined.

To complete my PhD, relationships were also key. I had wonderful support from my supervisors, Dr Rachael Sharman and Dr Lee Kannis, and I also built many lasting relationships with people in the University and external stakeholders involved with the research. At the same time I was also raising my two small children with the support from my partner and my dad. During my PhD I was lucky enough to receive a Postgraduate Research Scholarship but knew once this finished, I would need to return to work. This gave rise to my next project, PsychHelp.

PsychHelp

PsychHelp is a Telehealth psychology service which places the relationship between a psychologist and their client at the core of the practice. We know that to care for others you first need to be cared for, so we provide our psychologists with the ability to work when and where they want to allow them to provide the highest quality care to our clients.

The concept of PsychHelp was developed during my PhD studies and in 2018, with the support of a Small Business Digital Grant from the Queensland Government, the website was developed. PsychHelp has since expanded its services due to the growing demand for Telehealth psychological support, particularly since the COVID pandemic took hold and Telehealth Medicare items being extended to include people in cities and regional areas. In the last two years, our team at PsychHelp has grown to include over 20 psychologists and clinical psychologists.

This year PsychHelp was a finalist in the Sunshine Coast Business Awards in the Health and Wellness category. This was based on our business goals and plans, team culture, economic success, social and environmental impact, marketing and of course our business relationships. More recently we have been successful in obtaining another Business Boost Grant from the Department of Employment, Small Business and Training. This grant will allow us to grow PsychHelp further and standardise our digital health services.

PsychHelp has also been accepted in the second cohort of the Sunramp Healthtech Accelerator program being run early next year.

Another role I am immensely proud of is that I am the social media committee member for the Australian College of Clinical Psychologists. My role focuses on developing the social media accounts for the Clinical College and allows me to assist in launching clinical psychology into the digital age.

When I look back, USC has provided me with many connections and has been a launching pad into many interesting projects. I am still connected with USC as a supervisor for Clinical Psychology students at the Thompson Institute and I am grateful to have this opportunity to pass on my knowledge and build relationships with the next generation of Clinical Psychologists. I also enjoy sharing my experiences with students as a mentor in the USC Mentoring program. Through all these roles, what I have learned is that relationships are incredibly important, and that technology allows us new and interesting ways to build those relationships.

Dr Mary Gregory

Dr Mary Gregory

As a Clinical Psychologist, alumna Dr Mary Gregory has undertaken a journey to explore human connection and found it is as important for Homo sapiens as shelter and food. Mary graduated with a Doctor of Philosophy from USC in 2021.

Scott Williams AM and Dr Mary Gregory
Mary Gregory accepting her Graduation certificate from the Deputy Chancellor, Scott Williams AM.