NSWIOP interviewed Dr Clare Chapman, recipient of the 2015 NSWIOP Fellowship for Psychiatric Research on why she is passionate about psychiatry and research. Clare, who also graduated from NSWIOP with a Masters in Psychiatry degree in April 2015, talked about the importance of the “human touch” in mental health training, education, research and practice.

NSWIOP: Why did you choose Psychiatry?

Clare: For me, psychiatry involves everything that makes us human and because each person is different, psychiatrists have to look deeply into an individual’s unique needs and circumstances and then approach those in a way that allows the person to cope with mental health issues.

I also find psychiatry holistic, allowing clinicians like myself to bring together so many skills and interests. I was initially interested in finding out how the brain worked, but as I progressed in my career, I found that there is a clear connection between physical and mental health.

I believe psychiatry is solidly based on science but goes beyond the workings of the mind.
Early in my career, I was influenced by supervisors who skilfully blended the science of psychiatry with the art of supporting the recovery of people who suffer from mental health illness, as well as their families and carers.

Ultimately, it was my love for research and how it can lead to new ways of understanding and preventing mental health illnesses that made me choose psychiatry.

NSWIOP: You recently won the Committee for Research Trainee Presentation Award during the 2015 RANZCP Annual Congress in Brisbane. How did you feel about receiving it?

Clare: I was surprised but pleased because there were many good oral presentations during the Congress. My supervisor Dr Matthew Large and I thought it would be a good opportunity to talk about the work*. We found there was a stronger link between suicidal thoughts and completed suicide in those suffering from schizophrenia spectrum disorders as compared to mood disorders. The result is surprising, and so more studies need to be done, but it highlights a need to pay closer clinical attention to the assessment and management of patients with schizophrenia spectrum disorders, particularly regarding suicidal thoughts.

NSWIOP: You are undertaking research as an NSWIOP Psychiatric Research Fellow on Stress Reactivity and Information Processing in Conversion Disorder. Can we ask how you would explain Heart Rate Variability to a person without any medical or mathematics background? Why is it important in your research?

Clare: Put simply Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is a measure of the average time between heartbeats and has been used to monitor a person’s stress system. My research focuses on using HRV to look at the stress responses of conversion disorder patients versus healthy subjects, before, during and after cognitive and emotion processing tasks and the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) - a set of twenty questions that taps into adult representation of attachment by assessing recollections from a person’s childhood.

I am also working directly from the time between heart beats to gain more clarity on dynamic changes in an individual’s stress system.

The aim of the research is to combine psychological conceptual models with a mathematical representation of the physiology of people who have Conversion Disorder.

For this research I will use skills from my Applied Maths PhD as well as my Masters of Psychotherapy studies.

NSWIOP:  How has the Fellowship in Psychiatric Research helped you in furthering your career in Psychiatry?

Clare: I can definitely say that the NSWIOP Fellowship has helped to advance my career in psychiatry.

The Fellowship provides a platform for shaping a career that balances both my clinical and research interests in my chosen field of psychiatry with chronic complex trauma patients.

NSWIOP: What has been your experience as a Masters of Psychiatry student at NSWIOP?

Clare: I found the academic and support staff at the NSWIOP to be extremely helpful. They have not only been supportive of my work needs – they have consistently been flexible in their approach towards student requirements.
NSWIOP was adaptive enough to allow me to work around my personal and professional schedules. NSWIOP staff went out of their way to put a human touch to my postgraduate mental health education.

*Clare was given the Committee for Research Trainee Presentation Award (which goes to the trainee or recent Fellow adjudged to have given the best oral presentation) for her oral presentation on “Meta-Analysis of the association between suicidal ideation and later suicide among patients with either a schizophrenia spectrum psychosis or a mood disorder”.


"The Fellowship has helped me to advance my career in psychiatry."

- Dr Clare Chapman, NSWIOP Training Fellow in Psychiatric Research.