Psychology on the front lines
As a registered psychologist, ACU graduate Patrick Dixon has been on the frontlines of the recent health crisis, supporting people through the uncertainty, one day at a time.
Since a high school psychology class piqued his interest, Patrick has always been drawn to the profession. Not that he – or anyone – could have ever predicted that he’d one day be offering psychological support to people distressed and isolated for weeks at a time in hotel rooms thanks to a global pandemic.
Patrick’s journey to supporting people on the frontlines of a crisis started with a Bachelor of Psychological Science/Bachelor of Arts. His passion for soccer, which he developed as a high school student when he was training at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in Canberra, took him overseas to the University of Pittsburgh in the US. It was there that he completed his undergraduate studies, while continuing to put in long hours on the soccer pitch.
Once he returned home to Sydney, Patrick went on to complete a Graduate Diploma in Psychology, followed by a Master of Psychology (Clinical) at ACU, as well as fitting in time to perform as a semi-professional soccer player.
Like many athletes, injuries took over, and Patrick threw himself into his studies.
“I’ve always been interested in learning about myself and what makes others tick. Studying psychology was something I naturally leaned towards,” he said.
“I admit that when I started my master’s at the Strathfield Campus, my classmates and I were all so nervous. But the environment at ACU was really supportive. My lecturers were always willing to have a chat between classes and I made a great group of mates that I’m still friends with to this day. Plus, having a master’s degree has 100 per cent opened up so many more career opportunities for me.”
On the job
Developing networks and connections through ACU is what helped get Patrick’s career going. During his master’s studies, he completed placements at two organisations that he’s now employed by – which are two of the four psychology jobs that he currently juggles.
Patrick works in private practice for The Indigo Project, he works with adolescents and young people at Headspace, and also as a group facilitator at the St John of God Health Care mental health hospital, running groups for clients managing issues with depression, anxiety and drug and alcohol abuse. His most recent role is with Healthcare Australia, supporting people through the COVID-19 crisis.
“I don’t have a specialty yet. I’m just trying to get as much experience as I can,” Patrick said. “At the moment, I really enjoy working with young people, helping them figure out their identity and build their self-esteem.
"I did a placement at Headspace while I was at uni, which is an organisation that supports people aged between 12 to 25 with mental health services. I began working with them as a youth access clinician, and now as a psychologist.
“It's inspiring to work with young people and see them work hard to reach their therapeutic goals. Their resilience grows and I watch them gain strength and open up. I’ve also developed an interest in drug and alcohol therapy, thanks to my work at the St John of God Health Care hospital.”
Supporting people through a global pandemic was not a career opportunity Patrick saw coming, but he quickly came to embrace the challenge.
“I started working with people who were returning to Australia and having to quarantine themselves in hotels mostly. This meant I’d be all decked out in the PPE gear, glasses on, seeing clients from a distance in their rooms. It’s now transitioned to a lot of phone calls and online sessions.
“It’s pretty intense at times, and such a difficult situation for people to be in. There is just so much stress, anxiety and uncertainty right now, and things keep changing from day to day.
“I’ve been on call, helping families, advocating for my clients, and coordinating treatment with mental health nurses to help everyone work through the situation as best we can.”
Patrick’s advice for everyone right now is, “Create as much certainty as you can during this time of uncertainty. Create a routine and a structure and put self-care strategies in place. Make the time to talk to your mates, use FaceTime and Zoom, send the funny memes and pictures, have the nice ‘Do you remember when…’ conversations with friends and just have a laugh.”
Learn more about undergraduate and postgraduate studies in psychology at ACU.