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JCU | Psychology
in partnership with
TEXT FRANCIS KAN
PHOTOGRAPHY JOSEPH NAIR

James Cook University has been grooming a
generation of psychologists to battle growing
mental health issues in Singapore and the region.

G rowing awareness of mental health issues is likely to fuel demand for more trained psychologists in the coming years. According to the 2nd Singapore Mental Health Study released in 2018, one in seven people in the country has experienced a mental disorder in their lifetime. The study also found that young adults are most at risk of suffering from mental disorders. Worryingly, over three-quarters of the people who suffered a mental disorder in their lifetime did not seek any professional help. With the COVID-19 pandemic, more people are also facing stresses, pressures and disruptions to their lives and livelihoods.

“Core psychological principles of learning and behaviour, human motivation and emotion, and human cognition [learnt at JCU] are directly applicable to my current work at APSN.”

TAN XIANG TIAN, TRAINER, APSN

The Singapore campus of James Cook University (JCU) anticipated the growing need for mental health professionals over a decade ago when it set up its flagship Psychology programme in 2003.

One of its recent graduates is Mr Tan Xiang Tian, 28, who joined the Association for Persons with Special Needs (APSN) as a trainer after graduating with a Bachelor of Psychological Science (Honours) in 2019.

At APSN, Mr Tan teaches vocational and soft skills such as emotional regulation and social communication skills to persons with special needs. “My team works collaboratively with other departments in APSN such as the Allied Health Professionals and key industrial partners to deliver a holistic education to our trainees. We also work closely with volunteers to engage them in our activities to promote an inclusive community,” he says.

“Having understood the importance of holistic learning and teamwork, I work closely with my team to design multimodal and learner-centred activities in our teachings.”

A reputable programme

Mr Tan chose JCU’s Psychology programme due to the high contact time with supervisors, the quality of its lecturers and the reputation of the course, as well as the convenience of being able to study at the Singapore campus.

“The programme is accredited by the Australian Psychology Accreditation Council (APAC) and offers an in-house Psychology clinic for aspiring psychologists to practise under direct supervision from lecturers-cum-clinical psychologists on campus,” he says.

Graduates are eligible to pursue a fourth year of study and then ultimately a professional Master’s degree, which is the minimum standard required to be eligible to register as a psychologist in Singapore.

Students also choose JCU to study Psychology because most of its subjects are taught by Singapore-based, full-time, research-active faculty members who are experts in their respective fields. “There is no substitute for being taught by someone conducting cutting-edge research and pushing the boundaries of knowledge in that particular field,” says Dr Jonathan Ramsay, Academic Head of the School of Social and Health Sciences at JCU’s Singapore campus.

More than 3/4 of people in Singapore with a mental disorder in their lifetime did not seek any professional help.

“There is no substitute for being taught by someone conducting cutting-edge research and pushing the boundaries of knowledge in that particular field.”

DR JONATHAN RAMSAY,
ACADEMIC HEAD OF THE
SCHOOL OF SOCIAL AND HEALTH SCIENCES, JCU

Practical learning

Mr Tan believes that his time at JCU has prepared him well for his career. Through coursework and research-based modules, he learnt the importance of holistic learning and working effectively in teams that has directly contributed to his work as a special needs instructor.

“Having understood the importance of holistic learning and teamwork, I work closely with my team to design multimodal and learner-centred activities in our teachings. Additionally, core psychological principles of learning and behaviour, human motivation and emotion, and human cognition are directly applicable to my current work,” he says.

Mr Tan also benefitted from activities outside of the classroom at JCU, whether it was representing the university in wushu (Chinese martial arts) competitions around the world, or having discussions with JCU staff on campus-wide projects such as promoting environmental awareness and reducing the use of plastic.

Bright Prospects

Dr Ramsay notes the career prospects for Psychology graduates are promising, as the field is relevant across a range of professions and industries. “Whatever issue you are facing, whatever problem you are trying to solve, there is always a human element. Being able to understand and anticipate how people will think, feel, and behave in certain situations is the key to workplace success, and employees who can do this will be a genuine asset to their organisation,” he says.

Another reason for optimism is the strong analytic and research skills possessed by Psychology graduates. “In the age of digitalisation and big data, employees in all sectors need to know how to ask the right questions and make sense of the resulting data. In this regard, Psychology students are taught a variety of research methods that can be applied to a wide variety of organisational and societal issues,” explains Dr Ramsay.

On his part, Mr Tan plans to take advantage of the expanding professional opportunities ahead by pursuing the Masters of Psychology (Clinical) at JCU sometime in the future, as he continues on his lifelong learning journey in his chosen field.

TOP THREE MENTAL DISORDERS IN SINGAPORE

MAJOR DEPRESSIVE DISORDER

1 in 16 people

ALCOHOL ABUSE

1 in 24 people

OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE DISORDER

1 in 28 people

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