A tale of two loves
All images used with permission.
For educational and developmental psychology registrar Bethany Gleeson, the opportunities at Victoria’s largest public health service Monash Health have allowed her to expand her clinical skills and grow her career in rewarding directions.
Bethany started with Monash Health as a graduate after completing a Bachelor of Psychological Science (Honours) followed by a Master of Psychology (Educational and Developmental) at Australian Catholic University (ACU).
She has progressed through several challenging roles since, but the steepest learning curve came in her first job at an adolescent psychiatric inpatient ward.
“Stepping Stones supports patients aged between 12 and 18 who are quite high risk, usually of harming themselves,” said Bethany. “They may have had a suicide attempt or a severe mental illness, like depression or anxiety, and come in and stay for a couple of weeks or longer.
“I worked there as a case manager in a team that supports a young person to transition back home and back to their school. I was there for two years, and it was quite a steep learning curve for me because it was my first job and a very intense working environment.”
As a young graduate herself, Bethany felt overwhelmed and quickly had to find self-care strategies to help protect against burnout. But she said she wouldn’t swap the experience for anything.
“You question if you have the clinical skills to manage the risk, and you have to remind yourself this is what you’re trained in, and you have a supportive team around you to help support that young person.
“I absolutely loved it though and loved being able to learn about those risk management skills which apply to every other job that I’ve gone on to do. It was really worth it.”
From challenge to challenge
While at Stepping Stones, Bethany started helping at an inpatient ward for eating disorder patients. She’d done a master’s thesis on body dissatisfaction and the work rekindled her interest in the area.
“I always had an interest in the eating disorder field, but I had sworn off working in it because I was very aware that people with eating disorders are quite treatment resistant and have the highest mortality rate of all the psychiatric disorders,” she said.
“The ward was desperate for staff though and, because I had knowledge in that area, it was easy to step in and support the adult inpatient units. I realised I wanted to go into this field after all.”
Bethany applied for a job at the Butterfly Day Program and ended up staying for five years.
Designed for young people aged 12–24 years, the program involves group therapy delivered from 8.30am to 3.30pm, four days a week for three months. It’s intense – but effective.
“You really get a chance to connect with the young people and see them develop quite quickly, because you are working with them most days of the week, and doing things like meal support, educating them around body image, and witnessing the power of the group.
“Rather than the clinician being the one instigating change, it’s really the young people being able to share their experience with someone else who is going through the same journey as them.”
The patient’s family also participates, Bethany said, which is particularly helpful as it helps the young person see they don’t need to experience their illness alone.
“We look beyond the patient and focus on the whole person with their goals and dreams, whether they want to go back to school and complete their VCE, travel overseas one day or create a family. It removes pathologising or engaging with their illness.
“You normally work with someone at the start who is very anxious, disengaged, and towards the end, the parents say they’re coming back to who they were. It’s definitely very rewarding.”
Learning and supporting
It would have been easy to stay in the eating disorders field, but Bethany chose to challenge herself clinically through a secondment with the consultation liaison psychiatry team at Monash Clayton.
She said the placement was tougher than expected – three months turned into a two-year stint as the only psychologist supporting medical patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. Strict visitor restrictions were in place and most patients were isolated from family support during lockdowns.
“I worked in a team with psychiatric registrars and psychiatrists, and as the face of psychology it was incredibly interesting to expand my clinical skills, have an appreciation for the overlap between medical and psychology, and get my head around that.”
After finishing the secondment in late 2021, Bethany decided to continue to push her boundaries and explore a third field, securing a role as a psychologist in a physical rehabilitation setting.
“A lot of patients I worked with in the medical setting transfer to rehabilitation when they need a longer stay to recover from their illness; for example, patients who experience an acquired brain injury,” she explained.
“My role is to provide an assessment and brief intervention to assess if there are any psychological, behavioural or cognitive factors that might impact a patient’s therapy engagement with allied health or delay their discharge. That’s when we get drawn in to support the patient and the team.”
Bethany also coordinates Monash’s psychology graduate and registrant program, which supports graduates in their first two years of clinical practice as they transition to their area of endorsement.
She runs a group supervision every two months to help budding psychologists achieve the core competencies in their chosen specialisation – and said she loves imparting her knowledge.
“Now I have this clinical experience and an appreciation of being a graduate working in an intense job, it’s nice to be able to support and empathise with graduates.”
Coming full circle
It’s not surprising that Bethany finds teaching fulfilling. She’s always loved working with children and grew up wanting to teach.
“Initially I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher and I did my work experience there in Year 10 and it was so exhausting. Then I learnt about the brain and its development in a psychology unit at high school, and encountered a couple of psychologists there, and thought that was really interesting.
“I thought if I could join my two loves – working with children and psychology – it made sense to go down that track.”
When it came to choosing her specialisation at ACU, those twin interests again propelled her decision.
“I’ve always loved working with children, and I was always interested in the brain and early development of children through to adolescence and young adulthood, so it was a no brainer to go into educational and developmental psychology to get more specialised training.”
And returning to her roots is where she plans to take her career next.
“My long-term plan is to head to Monash Children’s Hospital and work in their paediatric rehab team. I think that gives me a nice full circle, where I’ve covered a lot of different things – but I get to go back to working with children and I’ll have the skills to work in the rehab department.
“I always like to know where I’m going. Sometimes in your career you’re not really sure, but with time things open up and there are so many opportunities for psychologists. I always let students who come in to work or do their placements with us know that they’ll never be without a job.”
Want to provide meaningful insight and support to others when they need it most? Study psychology at ACU.