The social worker making old age more enjoyable for West Australians 

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Bronwyn Cutler has sampled the wares of a variety of educational institutions in recent years. Below she explains why she is finding her HETI course so impressive.

I took a long break after finishing my Bachelor of Social Work in 1995, but in recent years I’ve turned into a perpetual student. In 2015 I got a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment from TAFE. In 2016, I completed a Graduate Diploma in Sexology at Curtin University. Then, following a career transition, I started ;my HETI Graduate Certificate in Applied Mental Health Studies in 2019.

A mid-life  career crisis

I worked as a  therapist in private practice for 17 years. By the end of that period, I was  looking to do something different. In the latter five years in private practice  I had worked primarily as a couples and sex therapist, so imagined I might  continue in this field. But then I got a job in 2018 working as a Senior Mental  Health Professional (Older Adults) with WA Country Health Service.
I’d encountered  older people while working as a therapist. But now I was, firstly, working in  the public system and, secondly, working exclusively with older people. I  didn’t have any doubts about my ability to do the job I’d been hired to do. However,  I wanted to raise my level of understanding of older people’s mental health, as  well as learn more about how the public health system operated.

The ideal course

I’m based in  Albany, right down the bottom of Western Australia. Given my location, getting  to Perth – let alone Sydney – for on-campus lectures or exams wasn’t  feasible.
HETI offering a  fully online course was a godsend. Once I enrolled, I was delighted to find the  support provided to students was fantastic. Everyone from the lecturers, to the  librarian, to the admin staff went out of their way to help me. The course  content has also been excellent. After completing the first unit – Professional  Standards in Mental Health Care – I was a lot better informed about how to  navigate the public health system.

The TAFE and university  assignments I’ve done in the past have typically been pretty abstract and of little  real-world use. But I’ve been able to use the HETI assignments, informed by my  previous sexology studies, to create work presentations on topics such as  ‘Recovery Oriented Mental Health Care with Older Adults who identify as LBGTI’  and ‘The Ethical Dilemma of Sexual Intimacy for Older People with Dementia in  Care’. I’ve given those presentations to colleagues, community groups and conferences.

Personal and  professional payoffs

You never know  what opportunities will arise as a result of doing a course. But even before  finishing mine, I can point to some exciting developments. Perhaps the most  important one is that, as a result of learning about proactive mental health  initiatives in other states, I’m now part of a team working to establish a memory clinic in Albany.
I’ve also been  made aware of how much impact the lifestyle decisions people make in middle age  have later on. As someone in their fifties, I’ve been motivated to exercise, to  remain socially engaged and to keep learning new things rather than surrender  to an ‘I’m too old for those things’ mindset.

Be in it to win  it

As a Western  Australian, I didn’t realise I was eligible for a HETI scholarship until they  got in contact to offer me one. Rural Health West had already agreed to pay for  my course, so I didn’t accept the offer. It was much appreciated, nonetheless.
I now give  colleagues considering further study two pieces of advice.

One, always check  if you qualify for a scholarship.

Two, rather than  agonising endlessly over whether to do a course, just make a start. Even if you can only manage one unit a semester, one day you’ll wake up and have a  qualification. A qualification that could lead to some exciting opportunities.

Older People's Mental Health Scholarships