A Bold Vision
Christina Nielsen has a lot on her plate, but you won't hear her complain about it. She practices a combination of Chinese medicine and psychotherapy and runs the Metavision Institute, a private tertiary learning centre which she founded. She does it all because she feels there is a need for change in attitudes of mental health professionals.
"People look at me and think 'are you crazy?' and I look at myself and think 'am I crazy?'" Christina says. It is a busy life she leads, but she wouldn't do it any other way. "The thing that keeps me going is wanting to make a contribution to these incredibly important times of change that we live in." She is using all avenues at her disposal to bring change to a conservative field. By far her biggest project has been building the philosophically-based tertiary institute.
Now in its eleventh year, the Metavision Institute has grown from humble beginnings to offer more courses to more students. Situated in picturesque Bowral, it has also recently been accredited with the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia (PACFA). With the institute, Christina has joined something of an avant garde in mental health education and therapy.
Christina created Metavision to provide an alternative angle for studies and practices in mental health. "I think there is such a need in the field - where there's been a lot of fragmentation, isolation and disenchantment - to provide something that is more holistic." To do this she employs an array of methods from various philosophies, expanding the focus beyond traditional academia. "We draw on the work of process-oriented psychology, yet can take the work into enormously diverse and complex situations."
Christina has designed her courses to promote personal development hand-in-hand with academic development, a key part of the concept. "We encourage a lot of experiential work and peer learning. The assessments are organised to bring in the personal as well as the academic". As part of getting their qualifications, students work on themselves through group and self-therapy. This leaves students better equipped to deal with people's issues, through personal experience and a range of methods. Helen Garred, a former teacher who is now a student at Metavision, appreciates this approach. "To me that's where you do a lot of learning and growing, not only personally but as a therapist. There's that understanding that you experience all these things, so that when you have a client, it makes you more compassionate and gives you more understanding," she says.
Running the small institute as a place of learning has presented its share of problems. "Keeping up with technology - developing e-learning facilities, having enough staff and being able to cover the costs - is an ongoing challenge," Christina says. Being independent, all funding comes from student fees. It doesn't help when the institute has to spend precious resources due to bureaucracy. They've recently recovered from having their accreditation pulled out from under them during government changes.
Keeping accreditation up to date is necessary to Metavision's very existence. It means students are able to receive qualifications and practise after completing their courses. As you can imagine, proving the validity of an institution isn't easy, and they've had to do it more than once. "It's been the major bugbear all the way through running the institute," Christina says. However, she is not one to dwell on the negative. "It's also good, because it means that there has to be accountability and rigour, it's assessed and benchmarked outside of us. I think that's very important."
So far it seems traversing this shaky ground is proving quite successful for Christina's cause. With the hurdles mostly behind them now, the institute has begun to receive more positive recognition in its field. "It feels like we've got a good foundation and we're consolidating now after the difficulty of the change of accreditation. Now the task for us is to let it be known what we are doing," she says.
The students themselves are living proof of the success of the institute. The methods they practise are garnering appreciative reactions from clients on a regular basis. Carolyn Zantis, a Metavision graduate now with her own private practice, says people have been very receptive to the methods she employs. "People have been excited to discover it takes them and meets them in different ways in exploring themselves," she says. "I've had people say 'wow I've never done this.'"
This explains why the students are quite happy to put in the extra, and sometimes confronting, work. But it's not just down to getting good results, they believe in Christina and her vision. "She's holding up this light in this direction, making a new pathway. The course there really is bringing together a new package of how to do counselling," says Carolyn.
When you think about it, the things Christina is doing make a lot of sense. That is, combining personal and professional development in education, and incorporating a range of methods and philosophies in practice. It begs the question - why don't all such courses offer this experience? How can counsellors or psychologists work on others if they haven't really worked on themselves? Of course, that is why Christina spends her life devoted to the field and this cause. "That's the underlying aim: that people, through developing awareness, become empowered, and have skills to bring change," she says.