It can be a daunting process to bring your child to a psychologist.
But knowing whom they will be dealing with, and why that person is qualified to help your child, can help make the process a whole lot easier.
So with that in mind, get to know the newest member of our team: Jessica Levetan!
Jessica brings world experience, years of working with children, and studies in medicine (in addition to her many years of psychology study) to Melbourne Child Psychology and School services.
Born in South Africa to an artist mother and architect father,Jessica spent her first year out of school working abroad in a high school leadership program, teaching English to adolescent refugees, and running a psycho-educational workshop for school children.
She then started out her academic career in medicine, completing a year of study at the University of Cape Town.
But after work experience in hospitals, and many years volunteering as a camp counsellor for kids, Jessica realised working with people — rather than examining them — was her calling.
‘I realised that I was truly interested in talking to people and learning more about their stories and experiences.’
And why psychology?
‘I have a genuine interest in personal growth. As a psychologist, you have to be a continuous learner. You are constantly confronted with new and ambiguous situations. You are always learning and researching and coming up with new strategies and approaches — you have to have a thirst for learning.’
So Jessica re-enrolled in a Bachelor degree, studying a wide variety of subjects including art, history and literature, and — of course — psychology, and soon discovered that this was her core passion.
After completing her degree and honours year, Jessica took a year off to get some real world work experience — in this case, working as a Trauma Counsellor with abused women and children in a rough area of Cape Town.
‘It was very intense. It was a wakeup call’, she admits.
This experience, along with gaining more experience with kids by working in schools, helped convince Jessica that child psychology may be her forte…
So she moved to Melbourne to commence her Master of Educational and Developmental Psychology at Monash University.
It was the focus on preventative techniques typified by this stream of psychology that most appealed to Jessica.
‘The developmental field focuses a lot on prevention and early intervention. We try to work with people from a young age, so that they can develop the tools and life skills to offset difficulties later in life.’
Which is naturally a core focus of our mission here at Melbourne Child Psychology & School Psychology Services, and is part of why Jessica is such a perfect fit for our team.
Her postgraduate thesis focussed on parenting — specifically fathers, who have been an underrepresented group when it comes to psychological research.
‘My research examined risk and resistance factors affecting fathers’ mental health and well-being during early parenthood, such as family support, the father’s sense of competence, and how they feel about themselves as parents…’
Her findings suggested that fathers lacked the inherent confidence in their abilities as a parent when compared to many mothers, and relied more on support networks.
‘A lot of fathers don’t feel confident as caregivers, because they tend to be the primary breadwinners and have less time to spend with their children than mothers. When they have a child with additional needs, they often blame themselves, and can feel quite helpless.’
And what did she find could help fathers work through these challenges?
‘Fathers develop confidence by having more opportunities to interact with their children…. as well as through accessing formal and informal parenting support. Men tend to have smaller support networks then women, so they are not always aware that other men might be having similar issues. Having other men and family members to talk to really helps them.’
‘Although support is important for everyone, men report that they really need that extra encouragement as parents.’
It’s a fascinating concept that sheds light on many concerns that arise with new parents, and cements the importance of understanding our own emotions and seeking support when we need it.
It’s also given Jessica an incredible insight into family dynamics that will undoubtedly help her in her new role as with Melbourne Child Psychology & School Psychology Services.
But at the end of the day, when she’s adept at working with and understanding the needs of adults, why did Jessica choose to work with kids?
‘Kids and teens are full of untapped potential. They tend to be very creative, curious and honest.’
‘Self-awareness and a willingness to change are essential to achieving therapeutic gains, and with kids, you’ve already gotten past that first step.’
‘They often really want the help and support and can be less self-conscious than adults about asking for it.’
And what’s her favourite part of the job?
‘I work really well with kids and teens who are generally anxious or who worry a lot. There a lot of ways to help young people gain more self-awareness and manage their stress levels — relaxation techniques, cognitive and behavioural strategies, restructuring their environment, and getting support from their families.’
‘I enjoy working with these kids because they are often very sensitive, caring and capable children. They tend to be responsive to therapy and can learn to get in touch with their emotions and develop coping skills so that their fears do not hold them back from doing what they want and enjoy.’
‘The most rewarding part of my job is being able to witness how kids and teens are able to progress and thrive with a little bit of extra support’
It’s clear that Jessica has the knowledge, character and passion to help all sorts of children with the challenges they may be facing, and we couldn’t be happier that she’ll be doing it here with us.
And finally – what’s the best advice she can give to parents?
‘I try to remind mums and dads that there are no perfect parents, and to normalise the stress, self-doubt, and fears they may be having.’
‘All parents have things that they are great at, and things they can work on.’
‘It’s my job to help them recognise their strengths and to develop new strategies to empower and support them.’