Gina Thomas: Learning About Mental Health Care in Ireland

Honors Students away from campus for study abroad, co-ops, or internships are encouraged to write about their experiences to share them with the Honors community. In the post below, senior psychology major Gina Thomas ’19 describes her summer internship experience in Dublin, Ireland.

– by Gina Thomas

I completed an eight-week long internship at the St. John of God (SJOG) Foundation in Dublin, Ireland. My trip was extremely beneficial to both my personal and professional development as it allowed me to contribute to the field I love while exploring and immersing myself into a different culture.

My internship responsibilities centered around supporting adults with intellectual disabilities in a residential setting. I worked closely with other SJOG employees to identify the service users’ needs and goals, assist them in their daily routines in achieving their goals, and integrate them into the community. I also got the unique opportunity to assist psychologists with neuropsychological assessments, and worked with them to implement behavioral support plans to manage challenging behaviors.

This internship led me to develop a completely new lens on what can be achieved for adults with disabilities, because I had never been exposed to these types of programs before. Texas is near the bottom of the national list in mental health funding; insurance is often not accepted and there are very few mental health resources for individuals with intellectual disabilities, especially adults (18+). In Dublin, I worked with adults with severe intellectual disabilities ranging from Angelman Syndrome to Autism Spectrum Disorder. While there tend to be more resources for children with disabilities in Texas, adults who cannot be independent are typically moved to group homes or stay with their parents full time, without much opportunity for growth. Ireland is miles ahead of us in regards to programs and initiatives for low functioning adults with intellectual disabilities.

This internship was so special because it allowed me to witness how these types of programs positively impact the service users’ quality of life and potential for growth. It also gave me some insight into how Texas can hopefully take steps to improve their mental health policies, and down the line I would like to contribute to that process. Additionally, my experience solidified my desire to pursue a degree in school psychology and helped me hone in on autism research as my focus. I’m very thankful for my Dublin Internship because of the valuable clinical exposure, mentorship, and travel experiences I was able to gain.

Gina Thomas ’19 in Howth, ireland
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