Potential challenges with allied health student placements in a mental health practice context
Mental Health settings vary greatly, as does the level of resources required and opportunities available for students. Clinical supervisors need to consider a number of factors before offering a placement in a Mental Health context. Some of the challenges that may be encountered include:
- Managing the impact of student placements on consumers. Frequent changing between staff and students and altered access to immediate care can lead to adverse effects for the consumer
- Managing costs (time and financial) associated with placement. These can includes set up costs, as well as any educator and student training requirements.
- Lack of physical resources – community managed organisations may not have the physical desk space, clinical rooms or computers often required for supervision sessions, student research and documentation.
- Workload management for clinical supervisors - including disruptions to work practices to allow for adequate student supervision, and/or the need for the supervisor to access and schedule professional development in clinical education
- Ensuring adequate student preparation, including the development of suitable communication skills to build trusting relationships with consumers or understand the broader context including social, economic and cultural determinants on the consumer’s experience.
- Managing the student's personal beliefs regarding mental health stigma that impact on their ability to provide ‘client-centred’ assessment and intervention techniques.
- Ensuring students develop awareness of specific Mental Health models of practice
- Support available from Universities and other Mental Health organisations around practice placements
- Other more generic challenges and considerations identified in 'Preparing for and managing placements'
Tackling the challenges
The clinical educator needs to consider the relevance and possible impact of challenging factors carefully. Some of these challenges might simply need to be accepted as inevitable, but worth tackling, to achieve the benefits of providing clinical education placements in Mental Health contexts. However, many of the challenges can be eased by:
- Accessing resources designed to assist the clinical supervisor to coordinate smooth running of a placement
- Accessing existing education resources to facilitate the student's preparation for placement
- Adequately preparing the student
- Accessing adequate training and education resources for the clinical supervisor to build education and mentoring skills
Prioritising time and opportunities specifically for these aspects can be a challenge in its own right when facing a busy caseload. The early investment into planning and preparation of both the clinical educator and the student can save time in the long run.
Wendy Szatkowski, an experienced mental health Occupational Therapist and Clinical Educator, shares a few suggestions on how to manage a successful mental health practice placement.
The following resources suggest a range of solutions to commonly identified barriers at an organisational level, including a pro-forma Practice Placement Agreement between the workplace and university to facilitate the process:
- The Mental Health Coordinating Council’s Scoping Report (2013, pp. 22-24)
- Practice Placement Guide (2013, pp. 12-13)
- Mental Health Coordinating Council's Practice Placements in Mental Health.
- Mental Health Coordinating Council (2013). Practice Placement Guide: Mental Health Workforce Professional Entry Practice Placements in the NSW Community Managed Mental Health Sector – a NSW Pilot Study. MHCC, Sydney. http://mhcc.org.au/media/11009/ppp-placement-guide-final-2013.pdf
- 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. https://www.mhcc.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/ppp-scoping-report-final-2013.pdf