Get to know your College: Amalka Edirisinghe, Master of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, 2020

The Master of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy empowered me with knowledge, skills and professionalism that I always dreamt of, and I know that I am now truly making a valuable difference in my community.

Amalka Edirisinghe, graduate: Master of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, 2020
Current position: Manager-Program Design & Capacity Enhancement – Family Rehabilitation Centre (FRC), Colombo, Sri Lanka

Why did you choose to study at Flinders University? I came from Sri Lanka to study at Flinders University specifically because of the unique degree in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT).

This was the dream course that I wanted to study, and it also very closely aligned with my educational background in Clinical Psychology.

As well as offering the program that I most wanted to study, my preliminary research about Flinders revealed a number of positives that swayed my decision to move from Sri Lanka to Australia for study. Flinders has an outstanding reputation for excellence in teaching and research, with prestigious and highly regarded international rankings. Further, it is also ranked highly in graduate employability, teaching, facilities, innovation, internationalisation, access, and specialist subjects.

There is also a rich multicultural diversity of students and staff at Flinders: there is no doubt that the people I met from diverse and unique cultures have enriched my understanding of the world and my empathy towards different value systems.

What is your favourite memory from your time at Flinders? I have so many wonderful memories of my time at Flinders. I made many friends through Oasis, the on-campus Student Community Wellbeing Centre, which has facilities and resources to support students’ physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs.

There were also many opportunities to go to afternoon teas organised by the International Students Society, to participate in the Horizon Award workshops, and attend Lunch with Leaders programs. I also gained a lot of skills and knowledge by being a student mentor and was able to contribute for the betterment of student experience at Flinders University by being part of the Student Voice Group where I advocated for services for students with vision impairments (for example 24-hour access to the Adaptive Technology Rooms). I also enjoyed being a member of the Flinders University Students Disability Association (FUSDA) and have fond memories of being part of the Flinders University Lions Campus Club. There are so many opportunities for students to become involved in campus life!

What did you do after graduating? My son and I were not able to leave Australia for almost six months due to Sri Lankan borders being closed because of COVID-19.

Once the lockdown was lifted in Sri Lanka, I re-joined Family Rehabilitation Centre (FRC) as the Manager: Program Design and Capacity Enhancement in March 2021.

I redesigned the clinical supervision model at FRC with the knowledge and skills I learnt during my Masters of CBT and have been providing clinical supervision to the Psychosocial Workers who are working in the war-affected areas in Sri Lanka. This has made it possible to help reduce the stress they face when providing counselling to clients, to increase accountability of their work, and provides a platform to increase their knowledge and skills.

With the knowledge I gained and the practical experience I received during my placements during the Master of CBT, I am also designing session plans for the remote counselling program that FRC is planning on implementing to support people affected by the pandemic, and a therapeutic module that includes material to raise awareness on mental health and activities to overcome worry, anxiety and low mood that people are experiencing due to the uncertainty, mandatory lockdowns and isolation as a result of the pandemic.

Have you maintained connections with fellow students or academics since graduating? I have been in touch with my research supervisor regarding the publication of my research carried out during the Master of CBT and also about the possibility of further postgraduate studies at Flinders University. I have been in touch with my clinical supervisors at the Centre for Anxiety Related Disorders (CARD) as well as my Australian friends whom I met during the course and outside of the course.

What are the three most important professional attributes that your Flinders degree equipped you with?
1. Professional knowledge and skills in theory and practice of CBT
2. Reflective practice and commitment
3. Discipline, perseverance, collaboration and focus in delivering an assigned responsibility.

How does your current career compare to the job aspirations you had as a child? I always wanted to be a clinical psychologist and worked towards achieving this goal throughout my school and university years.

After becoming a clinical psychologist in 2010, I began working in the Mental Health and Psychosocial Sector (MHPSS) in Sri Lanka, which also made me realise the importance of evidence-based therapy and practice, scientist-practitioner and ethical practice in mental health service provision. This led to the enrolment and completion of the Master of CBT at Flinders University.

I have become somewhat of a CBT resource for Sri Lanka, where I am being invited to teach CBT modules in undergraduate and graduate programs. Further, I always visualised myself working at the grass root level with survivors of violence-related trauma. However, this has now changed to a level where I am also contributing towards designing programs that combine both rehabilitation and prevention aspects into the change mechanisms in the projects combined with designing and conducting capacity-building of the MHPSS workforce in Sri Lanka.

I also did not imagine myself working as a clinical supervisor; yet here I am, doing exactly that, supervising psychologists and psychosocial workers at FRC! I have also been fortunate enough to contribute to the Mental Health Policy of Sri Lanka and advocate for the establishment and absorption of the clinical psychologists into the Sri Lankan Government Health System.

How did your time at Flinders University change you both professionally and personally? Flinders has a culture of inclusivity, multiculturalism and participation. My visual impairment needs were accommodated by and supported by the University. The openness and acceptance have made me more comfortable as a human being, knowing that my future visual impairment challenges will be surmountable.

I am truly humbled by all the experiences I had at Flinders and greatly appreciate the opportunity to study there with the Australia Awards scholarship I received.

What has been the greatest accomplishment of your career to date? Being able to help numerous children and adults to overcome the various mental health challenges they have faced. There were many instances where individuals were simply not able to participate in their day-to-day lives, with many contemplating suicide. It gives me immense pleasure in seeing the clients progress from where we start the journey of healing together and progress to a point where they are happier and comfortable with their life.

It is also a very humbling experience to see the grit in the survivors of violence-related trauma and how they pull themselves up bit-by-bit to overcome their mental health challenges and achieve their goals in life.

Who has inspired you the most in life? My mother was my best friend and my pillar of strength. Due to not being diagnosed with a vision impairment that is making me lose my central vision, I struggled at school, failed subjects and there were instances that I almost gave up on studies.

I found it difficult to cope with the negative comments I received from some teachers and other students at school. My mother was a constant support and she believed in me and my ability to achieve my dream of becoming a clinical psychologist.

During school days she used to bring me books from the library about people who overcame adversities and read them to me. Even though she herself suffered from an untreatable lung disease, which required her to be on oxygen, she never gave up on what she wanted to do in life and encouraged me to do the same. She always told me that I can achieve anything if I persevere and encouraged me to do the right thing for myself as well as for others. She passed away in 2005 and was not there when I graduated as a clinical psychologist. But her gentle ways, values such as honesty and helping those who are less fortunate, and the lessons she instilled in me and her courage in facing life gave me the strength to be who I am today.

Professionally, I respect and have been tremendously inspired by my lecturers and clinical supervisors who not only imparted their knowledge so generously but also have been true giants in developing the mental health sector nationally and internationally.

The Master of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy empowered me with knowledge, skills and professionalism that I always dreamt of, and I know that I am now truly making a valuable difference in my community.

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