3rd AustralasianVIRTUAL Conference for Neuroscience, Learning and Well-being





Ms Rita Princi-Hubbard 

PhD Candidate - University of Queensland

B.Psych(Hons), M.Psych(Clin), MAPS, FCCLP, MIAAN (Cert)

Director - iN-Ed 

Director - Princi Consulting

See Full Bio


Master of Ceremonies



The Student-Teacher Relationship: Exploring Behavioural and Neuroscience Variables that impact upon Student and Teacher Wellbeing


Research in neuroscience, psychology and education is experiencing a paradigm shift from a focus on cognitive development to the impact of the environment on emotional development and learning. In the educational domain, there is growing interest in understanding the science to assist with informing pedagogical approaches in the classroom. Recent research has identified how secure relationships between teachers and students contribute to the development of emotional regulation in childhood including for children experiencing emotional dis-regulation. Teacher emotional self-regulation and well-being has also been linked to student self-regulation and well-being.  


My study is integrating different aspects of previous research to investigate the paradigm of neuroscience, psychology and education on student and teacher wellbeing.


The focus of this Keynote is to identify neuroscience and behavioural variables that impact the student and teacher relationship and the importance of achieving wellbeing for students and teachers in the learning environment.


Professor Selena Bartlett

Neuroscientist and Brain Health and Fitness Advocate

QUT SB.jpg

Professor Selena Bartlett is a translational neuroscientist that is passionate about bringing brain health and fitness to improve the lives of people. In recognition of her contributions to neuroscience, she was awarded, the Lawrie Austin Award for contributions to neuroscience by the Australian Neuroscience Society. Over the last twenty five years she has been leading labs around the world to understand how the brain works. She was the Director of Medications Development at the University of California San Francisco, California for 8 years, and a Group Leader of Neuroscience and Neuroplasticity, at the Translational Research Institute (TRI), Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia.


The success of her translational approach is evidenced by significant research funding, as CI by the NIH, and NH&MRC and ARC, over 100 high quality scientific publications including Cell and PNAS, completing clinical trials of new therapeutics and novel strategies to reduce the impact of early life experiences on the brain. Her purpose is to educate the community about the power of neuroscience for brain health and fitness. An ambassador for the organization Women in Technology, Professor Bartlett has received the Biotech Outstanding Achievement award and Biotech Research awards.The strength and innovation of her lab’s research findings to impact public health is shown by regular invitations to speak at International conferences and interviews as a thought leader in public forums such as a TEDx, Ockham’s razor, World of Science Festival, Good Morning America, ABC news, and the Conversation. Brain health and fitness programs have been implemented across Schools, government organisations and not-for-profit organisations.


Brain Healthy Education ​in the Brain Health Economy

COVID-19 has created a perfect storm to generate an unfolding long-term mental health crisis in schools, homes, communities and workplaces. We have an urgent need for the implementation of brain health education and tools that incorporate advances in brain science and neuroplasticity principles that are accessible to the public and those working in organisations of all sizes and locations.


TOWARD A BRAIN HEALTHY FOCUSSED SOLUTION: Teachers are under more pressure than ever, to deliver excellence in learning and quality outcomes for students. As such there are significant benefits to be gained from understanding and improving executive function in your teachers and students. For example, by understanding one's brain and executive function, we are able to better manage stress, understand and get along with others, improve resilience, clarity, and engagement as well as educational performance and outcomes.


NEUROSCIENCE AND NEUROPLASTICITY: The aim is to embed neuroscience and brain health education in a tailored, organisationally effective, culturally responsive, and contextualised way. To achieve this Principals, staff, students and parents are trained to understand brain science that supports leadership, teamwork, students in the classroom, and educational performance and well-being.


Ms Sheryl Batchelor


Yiliyapinya Indigenous Corporation

Yiliyap image-asset.png

Sheryl Batchelor is a proud Kunja woman with over 28 years teaching, training and leadership experience in a variety of educational, community and health settings. She has been involved in projects that have measurably improved the memory, attention, brain speed and social skills of the most vulnerable children, youth and adults with severe learning and behavioural challenges arising from trauma, abuse, neglect, disabilities and other causes including children in foster care and young people in the Youth Justice system. Sheryl is a certified trainer of various neuroplasticity programs and adopts a personalised approach with no one-size-fits-all. She has presented at conferences and workshops in Australia as well as in the USA and UK. She has a keen interest in working with communities to break the cycle of intergenerational disadvantage through using scientifically validated neuroplasticity programs aimed to improve the brain health of all individuals.

Yiliyapinya was established in 2019 as a not-for-profit, registered charity to assist vulnerable children, youth, adults, and seniors improve their quality of life. Our unique service offerings are grounded in one purpose – to close the gap in learning and earning outcomes of people who have experienced adverse life circumstances/toxic stress in a culturally responsive and contextualised manner.


COVID-19 has created a perfect storm to generate a long-term brain health crisis in schools, homes, communities, and workplaces. We have an urgent need for the co-design, delivery, implementation of brain health education and evidence-based tools that incorporate brain science and neuroplasticity principles into our schools and workplaces. Yiliyapinya Indigenous Corporation is responding to this decrease in brain health by working together with First Nation communities, schools, government organization such as child protection, youth justice and police, to improve brain health across the life span in a culturally responsive and contextualised way using tailored neuroplasticity impact programs within multiple systems.  Our message is simple: Everybody needs to understand their brain, how it responds to stress and the power of neuroplasticity to boost brain health.  This presentation will discuss practical ways we are working together with First Nation communities, schools and businesses to improve Brain Health for everyone.



Understanding your brain so that you can understand others

COVID-19 has created a perfect storm to generate a long-term brain health crisis in schools, homes, communities, and workplaces. We have an urgent need for the co-design, delivery, implementation of brain health education and evidence-based tools that incorporate brain science and neuroplasticity principles into our schools and workplaces. Yiliyapinya Indigenous Corporation is responding to this decrease in brain health by working together with First Nation communities, schools, government organization such as child protection, youth justice and police, to improve brain health across the life span in a culturally responsive and contextualised way using tailored neuroplasticity impact programs within multiple systems.  Our message is simple: Everybody needs to understand their brain, how it responds to stress and the power of neuroplasticity to boost brain health.  This presentation will discuss practical ways we are working together with First Nation communities, schools and businesses to improve Brain Health for everyone.

Dr Anne Southall

Course Co-ordinator

Master of Inclusion and Diversity.

ASSC College of Arts,

Social Sciences and Commerce, 

La Trobe University, Melbourne


Dr. Anne Southall has over 30 years experience working in the field of special education and mainstream primary schools in both Australia and the UK. A Principal for many years, she developed an interest in the education of children from traumatic backgrounds and interventions which respond to the profound and long term impact on their learning. In her current role she coordinates the Master of Inclusion and Diversity and lectures in trauma studies at La Trobe University. Her research involves working in partnership with education providers in regional Victoria Australia to develop more trauma informed pedagogies through critically reflective processes.

La Trobe Uni.jpg




Supporting Educator Wellbeing


Educators are involved in complex, interpersonal and emotionally demanding work on a daily basis. In many schools this includes working with students with extreme and challenging behaviours, many of whom come from backgrounds of abuse and neglect. During the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers have been further burdened with adapting to remote learning platforms and exposure to a range of financial and health concerns about themselves, their students and their families. These multiple challenges have become overwhelming in a profession that has no formal system of psychological or social support. Decades of research demonstrates that interactions that promote trust, respect, value, and collaboration impact significantly on the quality of the learning environment and the wellbeing of both students and staff. In communities and small groups with high levels of social trust, individuals are more likely to openly exchange information and be caring towards each other. However, educators need supportive systemic processes to empower and enable their capacity to promote these effective interpersonal connections. This session will present pilot studies trialling a model of critical reflection in Victorian schools. The Reflective Circle Education Model being trialled has provided an effective process and support for teachers to critically reflect on their emotional responses and interactions, challenge the personal and professional beliefs informing their practice, and develop new skills and strategies to promote their own and ultimately their student’s wellbeing. These early studies indicate more positive interpersonal relationships; teacher-student, student-to-student, and teacher-teacher lead to increased sense of efficacy and teacher resilience.

Dr Sonja Vanderaa.png

Dr Sonja Vanderaa

Trauma and Behaviour Consultant, nipaluna/Hobart,

lutruwita/Tasmania, Australia

BEd(Hons), Cert IV TAE, Grad Cert Dev Trauma, PhD

I am an independent trauma and behaviour consultant. I bring more than twenty years’ experience working with school communities, interagency teams and professional groups. My work has focused on improving the social and academic inclusion of children and young people with challenging behaviours and intensive support needs. My interests include a whole school approach to trauma-sensitive positive behaviour support, trauma-sensitive functional behaviour assessment and relational supervision for educators.

Sonja Vanderaa Logo.jpg


The Circle of Capacity: A New Lens for Trauma Sensitive Practice in Schools


Cathy Malchiodi’s recent work on the “circle of capacity’’ builds on Dan Siegel’s concept of the window of tolerance. While acknowledging the significant contribution of the window of tolerance in understanding trauma and its impact, Malchiodi offers the circle of capacity as a new way to speak of trauma-informed practice. In doing so, she shifts the focus from tolerance to one of “expanding the capacity for positive and pleasurable experiences in mind and body” (Malchiodi, 2021).

For a person impacted by trauma, the circle of capacity invites us to explore what might bring a sense of joy and aliveness.

Given the layers of additional pressures on school communities during the pandemic, Malchiodi’s work might be especially relevant.

I am curious about ways we might resource ourselves and students, if we bring the window of tolerance into dialogue with the circle of capacity.


Karen Ferry

Registered Counsellor 


Education, Wellbeing & Behaviour Consultant 

Disaster Mental Health accredited

Karen Ferry is an educator with experience in primary, secondary and tertiary classrooms. She has been a teacher, administrator, curriculum writer and behaviour management coordinator for over 35 years.  Her expertise has provided professional assistance to educators in Australia and internationally. Karen is also a Counsellor (Master of Counselling, University of Queensland), and a practicing Neuropsychotherapist. She now works in private practice in Melbourne Australia. Karen authored Benson the Boxer: A Story of Loss and Life, a psychoeducational tool for assisting young people who experience loss. She also co-authored “The Teachers Essential Guide to the Brain” a neuroscience text for educators.


‘I won’t and you can’t make me’: Who’s manipulating whom?


Teachers are stretched, feeling disheartened and many are leaving the profession feeling disillusioned as they struggle with excess requirements, maintain classroom control and motivate student learning, particularly after pandemic on-line learning.  And teachers are not alone.  This feeling of losing control is replicated by parents who state the parenting ‘treadmill’ is too grueling and they feel they are also helplessly failing.  The common denominator here is our children.  But children are also struggling! Mental health issues have sky-rocketed in young people.  Anxiety, fear, substance abuse, self-harm and depression a common reality.  This session presents a neuroscience perspective on behaviours and provides Neuropsychotherapy based strategies to help influence behaviours that can have significant life-changing implications for children, caregivers and those in the teaching and learning environment.   It takes another look at behaviour management techniques and helps define what many of the programs may still be missing.                                                              

Dr David Collins

Clinical Psychologist




David is a doctoral trained clinical psychologist who has worked with young people for many years. David has worked in a variety of settings in public mental health, been an honorary research fellow with the University of Melbourne, and has been involved in local and international research collaborations developing treatment programs for a range of psychological difficulties.



Understanding problem behaviours in the school context: Harnessing the social brain to create positive learning environments


Problem student behaviours can create significant disruption in the classroom. This presentation will consider some of the key functions of problem behaviours, helping educators understand such functions and thus assisting in responding effectively to them. Common misconceptions of problem behaviours will be explored in order to help educators develop a deeper understanding of why such behaviours occur. Focus will also be on how to increase the frequency of positive student behaviours, and how the social nature of the brain can be harnessed to create a positive environment where relationships are paramount to social and emotional learning. Strategies for engaging parents in such strategies will also be discussed.

David has designed and delivered training for Orygen, The National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, which is the peak body of youth mental health in Australia. He also sits on the board of the International Association of Applied Neuroscience. David has delivered keynote addresses across Australia focusing on the developing brain.

David has delivered workshops for teachers, psychologists, counsellors, parents, and students across Australia in the neuroscience of young brains. David specialises in practical and entertaining workshops that attempt to distil the complex nature of the brain into something immediately understandable and usable. David is also the director of Braingrow, a whole school well-being program running in schools across Australia teaching young people about the neuroscience of well-being

Mr Thedy Veliz 


California USA - Neuropsychotherapy - Working with Youth and Their Families 
PhD Student in Transformative Studies at the California Institute of Integral Studies

Thedy Veliz is a Relational & Developmental Neuro-Therapeutic CoachSM, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), a Certified Clinical Neuropsychotherapy Practitioner, and a Certified Resilience Coach (CreC) in private practice in Los Gatos, California, USA.  Veliz is founder of People Systems, a leadership & human development consulting firm through which he works with youth, adults, families, and couples who are experiencing challenges caused by behavioral, relational and emotional dynamics.

Thedy recognizes that children’s symptoms communicate the relational dynamics of the family, and uses a family systems approach to encourage parents to become curious about what aspects of the family dynamics might be showing up as challenging behaviors in their children. Thedy uses “Relational Neuro-Narratives” as the active ingredient of his Parent Relational & Developmental Neuropsychotherapy Protocol which guides his treatment of youth by working with their parents. 

Thedy combines 15 years of corporate engineering design and finance management experience with his experience in motivational speaking, leadership development, and his most recent education and training in neuropsychotherapy, counseling psychology, human development, and resilience & life coaching to provide families with a neuropsychotherapeutic path towards wellness by focusing on the power of dyadic relationships as the medium for healing. 

Thedy specializes in working with fathers and sons, and the entire family by utilizing “neuro-therapeutic coaching” in order to assist individuals to achieve resilience through personal fulfillment and creativity while becoming social innovation catalysts. Thedy is currently working on a PhD in Transformative Studies at the California Institute of Integral Studies. His research uses a transdisciplinary approach to understanding the role of sensitivity and creativity/giftedness on the conceptualization of children’s behavioral, emotional, and learning challenges. Thedy has a Masters in Counseling Psychology (MA) from Santa Clara University, a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Notre Dame, and a Bachelor in Mechanical Engineering (BSME) from Iowa State University.



Educating for democratic engagement: What is the role of Superpowered Children in advancing or derailing the democratic experiment?


In his book The Abuse of Evil, professor of philosophy Ricard Bernstein in making reference to American pragmatist philosopher and psychologist John Dewey states that:


“Democracy, according to Dewey, does not consist exclusively of a set of institutions, formal voting procedures, or even legal guarantee of rights. These are important, but they require a culture of everyday democratic cooperative practices to give them life and meaning. Otherwise, institutions and procedures are in danger of becoming hollow and meaningless. Democracy is “a way of life,” an ethical ideal that demands active and constant attention. And if we fail to work at creating and re-creating democracy, there is no guarantee that it will survive. Democracy involves a reflective faith in the capacity of all human beings for intelligent judgment, deliberation, and action if the proper social, educational, and economic conditions are furnished” (Bernstein, 2005, p. 25-26)


Dewey became an influential educational reformer focusing on progressive education by highlighting the importance of problem solving and critical thinking rather than memorization of facts, experiential learning, and development of social skills and group collaboration.


In reflecting on Bernstein’s passage, what is the purpose of education? And are we living up to that purpose? What is at stake if a child is unable to make use of their education? And what are the themes that are important when we consider how brain development and functioning might affect educators’ and parents’ abilities to advance the goals of education?


This workshop will suggest that students presenting as the superpowered “emotional type” – the ones that exhibit behavioral, social, and learning challenges are the ones that have the inherent complex non-linear thinking abilities that are needed for collaboration and consensus building whereas the superpowered “logical type” – the ones that have a tendency to be the model student - have a tendency to be disconnected from emotional ways of attending, and thus might be predisposed towards working against democratic values due to the rigidity, need certainty, and linear rational thinking that defaults towards the either/or polarization mentality that might be driving our current geosociopolitical challenges.

Dr Delia McCabe

MA (Psych), PhD | Optimising Stress Resiliency + Mental Wellbeing in Value-Driven Companies by Applying Principles from the Intersection of Neuroscience, Psychology + Nutrition and Author of ‘Feed Your Brain - 7 Steps to a Lighter, Brighter You!’ and Feed Your Brain - The Cookbook’

Delia McCabe (PhD) shifted her research focus from clinical psychology to nutritional neuroscience upon discovering nutrition’s critical role in mental wellbeing. Delia’s research has been published in several peer-reviewed journals, she is a regular featured expert in the media, and her two books, translated into four languages, are available internationally. Delia uses her psychology background, combined with nutritional neuroscience and neurological perspectives, to support behaviour change and stress resiliency within corporates and individuals via online courses, workshops, and tailored events internationally.


How To Maximise The Cognitive Development of Children via Nutrition

The human brain requires optimal positive interventions to maximise development during critical and unique windows of opportunity. Research across decades highlights that environmental insults and nutritional deficits in utero and childhood impact the developing brain across the lifespan. Optimising environmental experiences and nutritional intake influences cognitive capacity, concentration, focus, and thus learning and memory, and mood regulation, along with physical health. Insuring the developing brain doesn’t experience nutritional deficits during these specific developmental opportunities can maximise cognitive and intellectual potential. Essential fatty acids, specific amino acids and antioxidant and B vitamins, and minerals, are critical for optimal brain development. The availability of such nutrients supports the neurobiology of the developing brain, which maximises the effects of positive environmental interventions and provides a springboard for future accomplishment and success across the lifespan. 

delila logo.JPG

Dr Kelly-Ann Allen


Educational and Developmental Psychologist

Senior Lecturer

Dr Rick Van Der Zwan

Behavioural Neuroscientist

Dr Allen, PhD FAPS, is an Educational and Developmental Psychologist, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Educational Psychology and Counselling, Faculty of Education, Monash University, and an Honorary Senior Fellow at the Centre for Wellbeing Science, University of Melbourne. She is the co-director and founder of the Global Belonging Collaborative which represents a consortium of belonging researchers and advocates from around the world. She is the current Editor-in-Chief of the Educational and Developmental Psychologist and both the current and founding Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Belonging and Human Connection. 

Dr Allen’s research underscores the importance of a sense of belonging as a universal human need and she has built an international reputation for her work in the area of school belonging. The quality of her research has been acknowledged through various esteemed awards by international bodies including the International Positive Psychology Association, The Australian Psychological Society, and The American Psychological Association. Dr Allen received the Dean’s Award for Research Enterprise in 2021 and was recognised by The Australian as a leader in her discipline. Dr Allen has twenty years’ experience working in educational contexts which motivates her to produce work that is characterised by accessible applications into everyday practice, especially as it relates to the core beneficiaries of the work.

Dr Rick van der Zwan spent more than 20 years as a behavioural neuroscientist investigating how the brain mediates social behaviours. He was most interested in understanding how people perceive, and particularly how they perceive each other and their environments. He continues to collaborate on research projects investigating non-verbal interactions between people.

Rick began working specifically in education in 2010, helping schools rethink education and excellence from a neuroscientific perspective. Rick brings his knowledge of psychology and non-verbal communication into educational settings, leveraging neuroscience to build students’ and teachers’ capabilities and pathways. He His work has taken him around the world, including projects in Norway, Japan, Hong Kong, China, and elsewhere. Rick is an experienced presenter and writer, and an expert at unpacking difficult ideas. He speaks regularly at national and international conferences and workshops. Rick is actively sort-after by the media, and as a presenter who will challenge his audience to reframe their thinking and make the most of opportunities.


The importance of school belonging for learning and wellbeing: perspectives from neuroscience and psychology 

Feeling a sense of belonging to school has been identified as an element critical for a happy and successful school experience. Associated with academic motivation, wellbeing, and mental health, the benefits of school belonging at school have been shown to have lasting effects well into adulthood. Research has identified a range of factors that build students' sense of belonging, and these factors offer important implications for practice and policy within schools. But what underpins responses to belonging, or otherwise? In this talk, we dive into belonging through a neuroscientific lens: The brain has well developed, well understood mechanisms mediating human responses to threat (situations that can or do cause physical harm or pain). Recent research suggests responses to threats in social contexts are mediated through the same processes. That is, social threats are treated by our brain as if they are physical threats. Similarly, the reward pathways also are driven by social connectedness. Thus, feelings of belongingness at school, a socially rewarding situation, activate reward pathways, releasing dopamine, endorphins, serotonin, and so on. Feelings of isolation, ambiguity, or disconnectedness from school, conversely, cause activity in centres like the amygdala, and cause an upregulation of sympathetic nervous system responses designed to alert individuals to, and protect them from threat. Using this model, we explain, using neuro-physical responses, how belongingness, or lack of it, impacts learning, wellbeing, and mental health.

Maria 1.jpg

Ms Maria Ruberto 

Director, Psychologist, Clinical Neuropsychotherapy Practitioner



Maria Ruberto is the founder and director of Salutegenics Psychology, a strengths-based practice that moves people in personal and professional spaces toward mental fitness and life-health.  Maria’s work is based on the theory of Salutogenesis where wellbeing is built from the development of positive human assets, including affective functioning and strengths-based skills. 


She is a psychologist and certified neuropsychotherapist with over 23 years experience in education, clinical and industry platforms.  Her implementation of research encourages the increase in capacity and performance of individuals and teams who rely on highly tuned relationships, emotional intelligence and resilience to achieve professional, organisational and client growth. 


Promoting protective factors in the primary years through a Brain Fitness Conference: An immersion approach of senior primary school aged children in resilience training

The latest research shows that Australian students are currently suffering unprecedented rates of developing mental health problems, especially during the CoVID-19 pandemic. Building a health and wellbeing curriculum is therefore a social imperative to educate and promote positive growth, which serves not only to mitigate mental ill-health, but also foster greater neural capacity for learning outcomes and overall student success.

In this session, delegates will be given a brief theoretical context of the resilience model, with a specific focus on latest national data and the need for proactive mental health.  We will explore the triune brain model [in a way which can also be presented to students], and the interplay of certain neurotransmitters in relation to learning.  An overview to the main areas of the brain that highly align to resilience will be presented and how we can teach these concepts to children up to middle school, to provide the impetus for regulatory behaviours around motivation and attention. 


Character resources have been created by a team of educators to teach brain-based strategies to young children as a prevention against developing mental health problems.  The characters take a narrative approach to help children understand the function of their brains under stress and what they can do to manage their body’s responses.  The characters represent scientific strategies and enable children to apply them with confidence and meaning.  These strategies are scientifically aligned with the latest research in Neural Resilience, which underpins adaptive behaviours and fosters social development. Some of the areas covered in the narratives include, exercise, sleep hygiene, self-regulation and optimism. Examples will show a whole school approach and footage of what it could look like within educational settings. 

Learning Outcomes:

  1. To understand both theory and learning approach for brain fitness within an educational setting

  2. To use teachable concepts to primary aged children on mental fitness

  3. Become familiar with the Mental Fitness Characters that can be used with ease with children and help identify early their experiences of mental health and how to address the symptoms and build wellbeing

Mr Robert Rostolis is the current Principal of Diamond Creek East Primary School. Robert has been Principal at Diamond Creek East Primary School for the past 24 years. In his capacity as principal, he has developed significant leadership skills to enable the learning community to build a culture of teamwork and mutual respect underpinned by a well-being focus.


Robert has an avid interest in positive psychology and neuroscience and believes that educators can make a positive contribution to all stakeholders through modelling and developing fun and informative brain based activities in the form of rituals, presentations, programs etc. that assist in encouraging growth and a positive mindset. In essence providing lifelong strategies to promote brain fitness and self-care.

Mr Stephen Campbell is the current Assistant Principal at Diamond Creek East Primary School. Stephen is a passionate educator with a keen interest in helping young people reach their potential. Stephen has been a member of the Diamond Creek East Primary School staff for the last 8 years and enjoys playing an active role in the development of the school’s Well-being Program.

Stephen has worked closely with the school’s leadership team and expert consultants in the development of a revolutionary two day ‘Brain Fitness’ Conference which was delivered to the school’s Grade 5 and 6 students in 2017. The depth of knowledge and recall of key learnings and strategies acquired is still resonating throughout the school community.

Mr Josh Gee is the Well-being Coordinator and a Grade 5/6 teacher at Diamond Creek East Primary school. Josh has an interest in well-being and wants to help students become more resilient. Josh has been a teacher at Diamond Creek East Primary School for 4 years. He has assisted the staff and students at Diamond Creek East Primary School in the development of strategies to support mindfulness, gratitude and positive psychology.

image001 (1).jpg

Jacqueline Reid

M Ed (Educational and Developmental Psychology); B Psych; BEd; BSc; PGC Leadership

Chartered Developmental and Educational Psychologist (BPS, HCPC UK); Associate Fellow BPS; Registered General Psychologist (APS, AHPRA)

sonja k.JPG

Dr Sonja Kuzich

PhD; M Ed; Grad Cert. PSM; B Ed; B A

Jacqueline has worked for over 30 years with children, young people and families in disability and mental health in Australia and United Kingdom.  Her various roles include: Chartered Developmental and Educational Psychologist; School Principal; Consultant (Mental Health); Manager Disability WA State Government leading disability support and reform; Deputy Chair of Ministerial Advisory Council on Disability; and Strategic Leader (system wide initiatives); Student Services Manager with Catholic Education (WA) leading School Psychology and Disability Consultant Teams.


Jacqueline also ran a state-wide trauma informed project with schools across WA and she is passionate about improving understanding and support for trauma in the education system. Her Churchill Fellowship (2018) took her overseas where she examined the role of governments and schools in supporting the mental health of children and young people.   

Dr Sonja Kuzich is a Lecturer, Curriculum and Pedagogy, at the School of Education (Curtin University). She is currently the President of the Western Australian Institute of Educational Research (WAIER), Co-Convenor of  the UNAAWA Education Committee. She is also a member of the Australian Association for Environmental Education (AAEE). Her research interests include social justice and equity, educational policy development and implementation particularly through a sustainability agenda, and the impact of nature on children’s affective and cognitive outcomes, in particular the impact of COVID-19 on their mental health.


When nature becomes good medicine –the environment as a therapeutic opportunity

Our children and young people are increasingly impacted by mental health issues. The COVID-19 pandemic, likened to a collective trauma (Crosby, Howell & Thomas, 2020), has been shown to disproportionately affect young people (Power, Hughes, Cotter & Cannon, 2020). In fact, the mid to long term impacts of COVID are not really known.  Given that up to half of all mental health conditions manifest before the age of 14 (Kessler et al, 2007) there is an imperative to develop interventions to support children and young people. Schools are increasingly seen as the ideal place for students to access help as they are a consistent and safe environment. However, access to support and services in the school setting can be limited as school psychologists are often asked to focus on assessment rather than therapeutic intervention. Access to services within Health can be difficult due to high practitioner caseloads, and scarce and infrequent provision of services especially to those living in rural and remote communities (NRHA, 2017). Where formal support for mental health and wellbeing cannot meet current needs, there is a necessity to examine alternative, low cost but efficacious therapeutic interventions. One of these, showing great promise, is interaction with nature. There is growing evidence of a positive association with being in nature or engaging in nature-based interventions to support mental health. The effects described in the literature include reduction in stress, anxiety, depression, aggression, and the development of resilience, self –control and self-esteem (Bratman, et. al, 2019). This presentation explains the benefits of engagement with nature and provides strategies to use in the classroom and at home.