Benefits of Clinical Education in a Mental Health practice context

Student Placements in Mental Health Care settings

"Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes ...their own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community". (World Health Organisation, 2018)

Each year, one in five Australians are diagnosed with a mental illness that affects their mental health and wellbeing.  The terms mental illness or mental health condition cover a spectrum of disorders that can vary in severity and duration and have a relationship to an individual’s physical wellbeing. As a result, mental health care settings and treatments vary.

Students may work with a person who has been diagnosed with a mental health condition:

  • Directly, in a specific mental health practice setting:
    • Public and private mental health hospitals
    • Mental health wards within general hospitals
    • Mental health residential care facilities
    • Mental health rehabilitation facilities
    • Community mental health care services (which can include outpatient services, crisis or mobile assessment and treatment units, day programs and outreach services)
  • Indirectly, in any health care setting, where the client may present for treatment for a coexisting health condition (for example, diabetes).

Depending on the setting, students may have opportunity to gain experience working with a diverse group of people:

  • Children and youth
  • Mothers and children
  • Single parent families
  • People with a lived experience of substance misuse or addiction
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples
  • People who are culturally and linguistically diverse
  • Carers and families
  • Older persons
  • People with chronic disease, injury and/or trauma.

Given that mental health conditions do not discriminate and affects a broad spectrum of Australians at any given time, supervisors and students should also consider the likelihood that they will be working alongside a person with a mental health condition as part of their multidisciplinary team.

Benefits of student clinical placements - for the consumer

"Consumers are people who identify as having a living or lived experience of mental illness, irrespective of whether they have a formal diagnosis, have accessed services and/or received treatment. This includes people who describe themselves as a ‘peer’, ‘survivor’ and ‘expert’ by experience" (National Mental Health Commission, nd, Australian Government).

  • Consumers, families and carers may use their lived experience to inform student perceptions and assist to shape the future mental health workforce.
  • Students may bring a fresh perspective to the consumers or allow opportunity for more intensive interventions.
  • Students bring a greater diversity of perspectives to the treating team.

Benefits of student clinical placements - for the student

  • Promotes understanding of holistic practice and the importance of valuing lived experience.
  • Challenges perceptions and may reduce the stigma and assumptions about mental health conditions and recovery processes
  • Increases understanding of their own mental health and wellbeing.
  • Increases understanding of mental health interventions and treatment planning
  • Increases understanding of ‘designing for diversity’ in mental health to ensure that vulnerable or diverse populations (for example: all cultural and linguistic groups, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, refugees and asylum seekers, women and gender-diverse people) have the same level of access to the same services.
  • Enables students to understand the relationship between physical and mental health and the interface with health care services.
  • Enables development of transferable skills for all areas of clinical practice, including communication and development of therapeutic relationships, and counselling micro-skills.


In this video, Jamie Williams describes her experience of participating in a Mental Health student placement.  Then, listen to Wendy Szatkowski discussing the opportunities that can be gained by participating in a mental health student placement in the second video.



  • World Health Organisation (2018) Mental Health:  Strengthening our response. Accessed May 2021 from:
  • National Mental Health Commission (nd) Consumer and carer engagement: a practical guide.  Australian Government.  Accessed March 2021 from:
  • Australian Bureau of Statistics (2018) Mental Health.  Accessed February 2021 from:
  • Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2017. Mental health services—in brief 2017. Cat. no. HSE 192. Canberra: AIHW
  • Australian Government (2021) Mental Health Services In Australia – Australian Instititute of Health and Welfare.  Accessed February 2021 from:
  • Productivity Commission 2020, Mental Health, Report no. 95, Canberra
  • Foster K, Withers E, Blanco T, Lupson C, Steele M, Giandinoto JA, Furness T. Undergraduate nursing students' stigma and recovery attitudes during mental health clinical placement: A pre/post-test survey study. Int J Ment Health Nurs. 2019 Oct;28(5):1065-1077. doi: 10.1111/inm.12634. Epub 2019 Jul 23. PMID: 31338978.
  • Happell B, Gaskin CJ, Byrne L, Welch A, Gellion S. Clinical placements in mental health: a literature review. Issues Ment Health Nurs. 2015 Jan;36(1):44-51. doi: 10.3109/01612840.2014.915899. Epub 2014 Nov 14. PMID: 25397660.
  • Mental Health Coordinating Council (2013). Scoping Report: Mental Health Workforce Professional Entry Practice Placements in the NSW Community Managed Mental Health Sector – a NSW Pilot Study. MHCC, Sydney.
  • Pepin, G. (2013). Working in Mental Health. In Stagnitti, K., Schoo, A. & Welch, D. (Eds). Clinical and Fieldwork Placement in the Health Professions (2nd ed.)(pp.95-127). South Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
  • Nancy Bagatell, Jennifer Lawrence, Marissa Schwartz & Whitney Vuernick (2013) Occupational Therapy Student Experiences and Transformations During Fieldwork in Mental Health Settings, Occupational Therapy in Mental Health, 29:2, 181-196, DOI: 10.1080/0164212X.2013.789292
  • Occupational Therapy Practice Education Collaborative-Queensland (2017) 'Why supervise a student'.  Accessed December 2018 from:
  • Victoria Health (2021) Diversity.  Accessed March 2021 from:


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