Dale Rowland is a Wiradjuri and Biripi man who comes from a proud Aboriginal family. At an early age, he observed his mother’s and grandmother’s contributions to First Peoples mental healthcare, which would later influence his own academic path.
Following his Bachelor of Psychological Science in 2013, Dale was reluctant to engage with research and statistics. Nevertheless, he went on to complete a Graduate Certificate in Health Professional Education and obtained valuable experience investigating the cultural capability of health students at Griffith University. It was this practical and hands–on experience with research that gave Dale the confidence and dedication to complete his honours year in Psychology, measuring mental health professionals’ engagement with digital interventions.
Dale has worked at Griffith as a Learning Assistance Officer with the GUMURRII Student Success Unit and as an Associate Lecturer with the First Peoples Health Unit. Dale is also the 2020 recipient of the Australian Psychological Society’s Bendi Lango bursary, which was established to support postgraduate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander psychology students. Currently, he is completing a Doctor of Philosophy in Clinical Psychology.
In our Q&A, Dale shares his vision for the future of mental healthcare.
Q & A:
What is your area of research?
I am now researching the ways in which digital interventions can improve mental health. I am currently looking at virtual reality (VR) and its capacity to be used remotely as an adjunct to traditional face-to-face treatments.
VR is an emerging and unique treatment modality that is highly interactive and engaging. Despite this, uptake and use by consumers is low. VR is becoming more affordable and, in light of the COVID pandemic, VR interventions can pair nicely with traditional face-to-face therapy, providing another avenue for treatment that may be preferable to telehealth or computer-based interventions.
A lot of promising research has been done on VR interventions for anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder and phobias, but I am interested in the transdiagnostic capacity of VR and the ability for VR interventions to be delivered remotely or in a way that is unguided by a therapist.
What sparked your passion for this area of research?
The mental health and wellbeing of our First Peoples is what sparked my passion in digital mental health interventions. We know that there is currently an unmet need for accessibility, serviceability and culturally validated assessments and treatments for First Peoples; however, the gaps in research are so great that I needed to first start with something specific and tangible.
I have experience with First Peoples research, but less so with clinical research with digital interventions. I recognised early on that the PhD program is also about learning how to do research, so I used this as an opportunity to learn from the best and develop my skills within my profession.
VR is exciting and has a lot of potential in Psychology. VR interventions are a way to deliver controllable, multisensory, interactive and immersive environments to address mental health. We can customise VR environments to produce an emotionally evocative and meaningful therapeutic experience to address a client’s presenting problem. The School of Applied Psychology has become a pioneer in VR research in the country and this further motivates me.
Why is this research important?
Not only are mental health issues common in Australia—approximately 20% of the Australian population is affected by mental illness—but access to treatment can be problematic due to the geographical distribution of our population. In urban areas there can be lengthy waits before you can see a Psychologist; in contrast, access to treatment is a particular concern in rural and remote areas where services are limited. Evidence-based digital interventions have the capacity to address unmet need through promotion, prevention, early intervention, long-term treatment and ongoing management of mental illness as a supplement to traditional treatment. Many digital interventions are accessible, flexible and cost-effective.
What advice do you have for students and researchers?
Seek out your peers for support, advice and help. Start weekly writing sessions. Utilise Library services and ask for help when you need it. Make the most of training opportunities and professional networking.
Who has inspired you?
So many people! My mother, Dr Tracy Westerman and my supervisors Dr Bonnie Clough and Dr Leanne Casey. My family and friends inspire me every day. I have been very fortunate to have a long list of people who have supported and mentored me during my 10 years at Griffith. The Library has been a particularly useful avenue for support, help and advice. The School of Applied Psychology, Indigenous Research Unit, and GUMURRII have made my PhD journey possible.