Teaching Mental Health: Q&A with Kathy Shaw

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Kathy Shaw is social work practitioner and educator who recently returned to teaching at WITT after some time spent living and working in Australia. She moved back to Taranaki this year and is one of the tutors teaching on the New Zealand Certificate in Health and Wellbeing (Level 4) programme.

Kathy recently completed her Master of Social Work at Monash University and was this year awarded the Peter Boss Prize for Best Thesis for the 2020 academic year. The award recognises the Master of Social Work student with the highest score in the Master’s research course at Monash University – a huge achievement.

Q. Tell us about your background in mental health and wellbeing.

A. I am a qualified registered social worker and have been practicing for 33 years. I have had different roles in various fields of practice and have been employed in both the Government and non-Government sectors including health. I have worked in both New Zealand and Australia. Most recently I had been living and working in regional Victoria where I was also studying full time towards a Master of Social Work Degree through Monash University.

Q. You’ve just completed your Masters and won an award for best thesis. What was your thesis on?

A. Over my time working I have developed a specific interest in knowing more about how young women experience intimate partner violence. This interest has come about because of the stories young women have shared with me and what appeared to be a limited response to young women’s needs versus women in other age groups. This was the focus of my thesis. My thesis had a distinctly Australian focus. The research thesis explored how young women were represented in federal and state family violence policy and the implications of this for social work practice. My findings indicated that young women are not represented as a specific group in family violence policy despite wider research evidence that supports their vulnerability to intimate partner violence.

Q. You’ve taught at WITT before. What is it that you enjoy about teaching?

A. I taught at WITT from 2011 to 2017 in the social work bachelor’s degree program being offered at the time and also in the New Zealand Certificate in Mental Health which was the precursor to the one I am teaching in now. Of all the roles I have had as a social worker, being an educator is what I love the most. It ticks a number of boxes for me; I stay connected to an academic world and I support people in their personal and professional journey. There is nothing better than seeing students who have been successful in their studies and knowing I have been part of that.

Q. What a student can expect when they come and study Mental Health? What does a typical day in the ‘classroom’ look like?

A. Our current students are very fortunate to have myself and Helen Bingham teaching in the certificate course. They get to learn about being a mental health and addictions support worker through two different but important lenses, social work and nursing. A typical day in the classroom involves understanding theoretical ideas which underpin what a support worker does, it involves students learning the skills needed to work with people and it involves students having a clearer understanding of the strengths and sometimes vulnerabilities they bring to a support work role. Students also learn about the importance of self-care which is relevant to them now and also when they start in a support work role.

Q. Why is it important to build our healthcare workforce, particularly in mental health?

A. Support workers have been around since the mid-1990s when large psychiatric institutions were closed, and community care became the preferred approach to supporting people experiencing poor mental health. Support workers continue to be an important part of the mental health workforce. Having a good heart and wanting to help people is great but we need to ensure that people are knowledgeable and skilled when working with some of the most vulnerable people in our community. The New Zealand Certificate in Health and Wellbeing provides a platform to do this, and Helen and I are very lucky to be teaching a group of students who are incredibly passionate and committed to being good support workers.

Find out more about the mental health programmes available at WITT here.

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