Meet Dilworth's Registered Psychologist

Date: 23 Jun 2023


Dilworth is one of the few New Zealand schools that employ a full-time registered psychologist, offering students access to mental health and wellbeing support, and providing a safety net for students facing challenges.

We chat to psychologist Jaimi Flood about her role at Dilworth, and the ways she helps students who need an additional layer of support.

Jaimi, please tell us about yourself.
I graduated from Waikato University with a Bachelor of Psychology and Human Development, then completed my Honours and Master’s Degree, and Postgraduate Diploma in Counselling Psychology at AUT. I’ve also completed a second Postgraduate Diploma in Education, Guidance and Counselling.

After seven years at university, I spent the next four working as a psychologist for a specialist organisation that supports people with harmful or problematic behaviours, many of whom are referred through the court system or Oranga Tamariki. I began as part of the Youth and Children’s services there, and most of my clients were young males and their families.

I really enjoyed being able to help that demographic who don’t necessarily learn how to talk about their emotions as much or as freely, particularly those people whose behaviour was so severe it was having a significant impact upon not only their lives, but those of their families and often others within the community.

In my final year there I was promoted to the manager of the Youth Service for the upper North Island, but I missed working one-on-one with clients, so when I saw Dilworth recruiting for a psychologist I jumped at it. I’ve been here for over two years now.

Not many schools have access to a psychologist. Why did Dilworth feel it was important?
Dilworth has put a huge focus on enhancing student wellbeing. We believe schools are so much more than just educational facilities, especially boarding schools which are also a home away from home. Students need to know there are people who care about them and people who are qualified to help them through their concerns. This is more important now than ever before.

According to the latest NZ Health Survey, the number of young people reporting mental health concerns has increased from 5% in 2011 to 25% in 2022, and rates are even higher for Pasifika and Māori youth. Considering this, it’s incredibly important for us to provide robust and accessible support for our students to ensure they have access to help as and when they need it during these formative years. New Zealand youth are going through a mental health crisis, and at the same time psychologists’ wait lists are becoming longer and longer. I know this first-hand because I also work two evenings a week in my own private practice. Often young people have to wait many months before a psychologist can see them. Not only that, but the amount of intervention they can access tends to be quite short-term, often just three to six sessions if funded. This is just not enough to address all their concerns.

That’s the fantastic thing about Dilworth having its own psychologist – the typical wait to see me is about one week, and students can access me for long-term support. Typically I see students for about two terms, but in some cases it’s been as long as two years; some young people need that continued support.

The other benefit is that the cost of ongoing treatment can be a huge financial burden for families. Private sessions typically cost around $200 each, yet here at Dilworth all sessions are funded by the Dilworth Trust Board, so there is no cost to whānau.

What sort of issues can you assist with?
Dilworth is incredibly fortunate to have both a full-time counsellor and a full-time psychologist, and we assist in slightly different areas. I’m looking for a pattern of behaviour or severity, so if the same sorts of challenges keep coming up repeatedly for a student or if the concerns are significantly impacting their day-to-day life, they might work with me, whereas the counsellor might work them if they’re dealing with shorter term issues that they’re trying to overcome.

I see students with a broad range of challenges - anxious thoughts, overthinking and low mood are probably the most common, but students also come to me for support in areas such as low self-esteem, procrastination, forming and maintaining friendships, and lack of motivation.

I work one-on-one with students, taking a person-centred approach and drawing on a range of methods including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT).

How can students access you?
There are many ways that a student can be referred. Most students self-refer, they directly email or talk to me to arrange a session. This is great as they know exactly what’s going on for them and we can set up a meeting quite quickly. Sometimes students I’ve seen in the past bring their friends along to set up a meeting if they see they’re struggling, it’s really encouraging to see friends looking out for each other. Deans and house leaders can also refer students; teachers or house staff go to them to discuss concerns and they talk to us about whether it would be useful for a student to get psychological support. Parents or other whanau can also get in touch if they have concerns, though it’s important they speak to their children about it first. The student has to be on board, as you can’t force someone into seeing a therapist.

We also have STYMIE, an online tool that allows students to anonymously report any kind of concerns. Students can log on and send through a notification about anything, it could be about themselves, a class member, or a friend they’re worried about. STYMIE has been a great way for students to have a voice in the school, and because it’s anonymous it takes away any anxiety or reluctance students may feel about bringing their concerns up face-to-face with a staff member.

Can you offer any tips to students who may be struggling?
It’s important to accept and normalise the fact that we all have emotions – nobody is happy all the time. If you’re feeling anxious or suffering from low mood don’t keep it to yourself, talk about it with someone you trust. Prioritising your relationships with friends and family is key, because these are the people you can turn to when you need help. Find people you really connect with and make time for them.

Having fun is also vital - and often the first thing we stop doing when we’re under stress - so make sure you’re doing things you enjoy often!