Date: May 2023
Field of Study: Psychology
Students who head on rural placement come from all sorts of backgrounds. We were lucky enough to have John Dowling on placement with us in the SQRH Health and Wellness Clinic after an esteemed career in the defence force.
When we heard that John has been kicking goals working as a psychologist in both private practice and contracting to the defence, we knew we wanted to sit down with him to ask questions and dive deep into his story.
Why did you choose to study psychology?
As a mature age student, I’m 35 now, I had a 16 year career in defence, I did several deployments overseas, a couple of which to Afghanistan, and I was working in high risk search and bomb disposal, and coming back from that, I saw people who had similar experiences to me handled good, bad or otherwise. So that got me curious as to why, and I had a close friend whom I had grown up with that was a psychologist who said to me during a conversation ‘well if you’re interested in it, go and study it’. That’s how it came about. So, it was a little bit serendipitous.
What program did you undertake?
I did a few. I completed a Bachelor of Psychology Science at the University of New England and then a Bachelor of Science (Honours) at UniSQ. After completing those I was fortunate to get a spot in the Master of Clinical Psychology program with UniSQ. It was during that program that I came into my SQRH placement.
Are you done studying now?
There are talks of a PhD but I’m going to give it a few years and then come back around to that.
What do you think your PhD would be about?
I’m really curious in the research that is coming out to do with psychedelics and trauma. It would be trauma related. I completed the Level 1 training in Internal Family Systems therapy late last year, which is an emerging therapy for use with trauma and disassociate conditions which is where my professional interests lie. So, any PhD that I set out to do would likely be in that space, and potentially veteran-related. There are a lot of opportunities out there.
How did your SQRH placement come about?
I networked with a past student who had done a placement before me in the SQRH Health and Wellness Clinic. So, when it was advertised within the cohort I reached out to one of the clinical psychology staff to ask for the placement.
At the time I had my sights set on Private Practice psychology work but was excited at the opportunity to work in a multidisciplinary team, which the Health and Wellness Clinic offered.
How did you find the placement?
It was good. I felt that it was a pivot from traditional one-on-one clinical psychology to that of predominantly group health-psychology. So that required an adjustment. Although the opportunity to work alongside the other health disciplines such as dietetics, physio, exercise physiology, and nursing was very rewarding both professionally and personally.
So do you think what you learnt on your placement translates into what you do now?
The exposure to an interprofessional workforce has contributed a lot to my early career achievements and helped me integrate into my current workplaces well.
How long was your placement?
It was around five months long. When we started, we were doing the follow up appointments with past participants, and then we took a program on right from Week 1 right the way through, and also ran the booster program they were coming up with towards the end of last year. So, it was good to be a part of it the whole way through.
Are you from Toowoomba originally?
No, I was born in Brisbane, but grew up and spent most of my adolescence in Townsville. I joined the army from there, then spent 12 years in Brisbane before posted back to Townsville, before coming to Toowoomba for the Masters.
Well I did my honours remotely through UniSQ and enjoyed that experience. I also had to make my employment line up with my study so I put all my eggs in the one basket and applied for the Masters program with UniSQ and at the same time arranged for a posting with the army to Toowoomba. It was a bit of gamble as I required both to be approved to get to where I wanted to be professionally.
What would you say to students who might be thinking doing a rural placement?
I find working in these areas, the team environments are often a bit more cohesive. I like working with people from rural backgrounds because they are a bit more ‘no-nonsense’ maybe than some city folk. I guess my advice would be to give it a go. I’ve heard consistently that the exposure you can get through a rural placement throughout the allied health discipline is more than what you would see if you were working in a big city because the clinical scope is much narrower.
So that’s professionally, what about personally? How do you enjoy living rurally?
Toowoomba is pretty well-resourced. My partner works 50/50 at Kingaroy so we spend time there also. I like the slower paced lifestyle and we do a lot of camping and get outdoors as often as possible when we find the time. Toowoomba also has some pretty great sunsets.
What does your two-day-a-week private practice look like?
After completing my Masters I established a private practice here in Toowoomba which I’ve recently scaled up to three days a week. A day there is where you really are working autonomously, seeing between six or seven clients. They are big days. I see clients with quite a broad range of presenting problems. It’s busy but very fulfilling both professionally and personally to be able to do that work because you can really get stuck into the clinical work in private practice.
What would you say to psychology students who might be considering going into private practice?
Have good mentors would be a big one. I’ve been really well supported. Even my past clinical supervisor that I worked with at Health and Wellness Clinic, I am regularly in touch with her.
Perhaps going back to the previous question about what did you get out of studying rurally – the staff, professors and associate professors through UniSQ that I worked with over those two years have become part of my professional network now.
For anyone looking to go straight into private practice, you’ve got to be as dedicated to your business as you do the clinical work itself. If you’re ready to do that, then my advice is to get stuck in. If not, there are plenty of options to contract at established organisations or be an employee somewhere where there can be more scaffolding of your skills before you step out independently. I’ve just been very fortunate to feel ready to go straight into that. It’s been a really good challenge and I have been enjoying it.
From Toowoomba to Charleville, Kingaroy to Goondiwindi, our students’ complete rural placements all over regional, rural, and remote Southern Queensland (across more than 400,000 square kilometres).
Learn first-hand from students, just like yourself, about their experience going on a rural placement, and why it’s an experience like no other!