PhD student Amanda Ting's research on psychological trauma

PhD student Amanda Ting’s research on psychological trauma

Amanda's PhD thesis topic on the psychic wound was motivated by her life experiences.

From first-hand experience, Amanda Ting understands the many facets of a student’s journey at Torrens University. She is a Senior Learning Facilitator at the Blue Mountains International Hotel Management School and a PhD candidate in Health. Amanda holds a Diploma in Contemporary Music, a double Bachelor of Arts degree in Tourism Management, a Master in Science (Research) and a Master in Applied Counselling and Psychotherapy. Reflecting on her work and study, Amanda’s thoughtful insights will inspire anyone who is thinking about their own career options.

Amanda's passion for the Hospitality industry

‘I fell into hospitality – into the beautiful, stunning world of hospo, as we call it. Initially, I was working in a news broadcasting agency as a presenter in Malaysia. That was in 2007 when I’d just finished a Diploma in Music.

‘Even back then, I was very intrigued by society, by the conversations people were having, by their viewpoints. I believe that all these conversations lead to the trends of that generation, to their values and their beliefs.

‘After working as a presenter, I transitioned into event management and that drew me into the world of hospitality.

‘In hospitality, we put together an experience almost like a Christmas present for our guests every day. It's immaculate, it's aesthetically as close to perfection as possible. And when we deal with the back-of-house team, we see all the cogs in the system, all the operational units. We witness real people trying to put together this beautiful piece of artwork.

‘Working with project managers, I came to see an event as a story, which is created to last for just one, two or three days. It is a moment in time when people come together and make memories. When it’s over, we only have pictures and storyboards to remember this once-upon-a-time place that doesn't exist anymore. I thought that was really interesting.

‘That's how I fell into hospitality – I enjoyed working with clients and fulfilling their ideas of what they wanted their event to be.’

Amanda’s role as a Senior Learning Facilitator at the Blue Mountains International Hotel Management School

‘I started as a casual learning facilitator in January 2017. I came to Sydney and met with Associate Professor Simon Pawson, who is now the Associate Dean for Hospitality at Torrens. He was looking for event lecturers, and also for potential students who were interested in doing their PhD with Torrens University Australia. I had decided that it was about time I looked into doing research and further studies, but I hadn't found a uni I really liked back home in Kuala Lumpur. Talking with Simon made me see how working and studying with Torrens would suit me and bring my interests together.

‘Today, in my teaching role, I facilitate students’ academic progression and focus on areas such as student wellbeing. As well, I collaborate with other academics across different departments, which I love. Our team at Torrens is extremely tight-knit, even though we aren’t physically together – working on the Melbourne, Adelaide and Surry Hills campuses and online.

‘One of the things I really adore about being a part of the Torrens family is that we also collaborate with our industry partners on various events and research projects. As well, we are heavily involved in our sustainable visions and mission. They align with my aspirations too; I am happy to be working for an organisation where can see the value in what we are doing and know that we are making a difference. It's not just a job to me, it’s much more.’

Amanda’s decision to enrol in the applied counselling and psychotherapy course

‘I've always gravitated towards my fascination with the human psyche. I find the topics around psychology extremely interesting, and I've always recognised the importance of social wellbeing. ‘While I love working in hospitality, there was that calling towards counselling and psychotherapy that just wouldn't switch off, even in the dead of the night. And so I made the transition, it was a huge leap. It is kind of my own way of giving back to society as a psychotherapist, an educator and a researcher. That's why I chose to do a Masters of Applied Counseling and Psychotherapy. And now I’m 18 months into my PhD at Torrens.’

Amanda’s PhD thesis topic

‘My PhD thesis topic revolves around “the psychic wound”, or another way we could put it is psychological trauma. Many events and lived experiences drew me towards this very delicate topic. We are extremely fortunate to live in our modern society, I'm sure a few of us can say yes to that. However, it does not come without its perils – in the 21st century we've borne witness to the Twin Towers coming down, we've seen absolute atrocities, and we have become a very traumatised society. And we're just supposed to live through these traumas and increase our tolerance.

‘Many mental health issues stem from the origins of trauma. It's a silent dragon that is often obscured, I would say, from the naked eye, but very much present in our lives. This was an area that went straight to my heart. I've lost very close friends, way too young. I've seen the dark side of the systems, and it's very hard to delete information like that from your mind. So that's really what led me to focus on this area of research for my masters and now for my PhD.’

Amanda discusses her research paper on psychological trauma

On 11 July 2022, the journal Social Sciences published the research paper ‘Intimate Relationships during COVID-19 across the Genders’, which Amanda co-wrote with Craig McLachlan, Professor of Health at Torrens University. The purpose of their study was to contrast the course of intimate relationships pre- and post-COVID-19, with a focus on diverse genders, digital dating, mental health, and behaviour.

Amanda says, ‘We've all gone through this unprecedented couple of years, and I think COVID has really put a cloud on people's temporal and spatial systems. This feeling has not really gone away; some of my students say that it still feels like 2020.

‘During COVID, when I was delivering psychotherapy online, I noticed that although we were well connected through virtual digital mediums, loneliness started to come to the surface. And it was very much realised in each person’s own individualistic ways. People talk about being lonely in a setting or being lonely in their minds sometimes. But I think the time during COVID highlighted that we are a very lonely society and community. Of course, loneliness was present before COVID came along, but I believe that during the pandemic loneliness was really uncovered.

‘Our social connections act as protective factors when life is extremely bleak and uncertain, and that informs our attachment styles. When writing the research paper, we asked, What are the changes or trends in how are we restructuring the meaning of a close relationship? What does that mean now in this day and time and age? It's very different from pre-COVID where our mortality wasn't dangled like a carrot in front of our faces. The pandemic was so extreme and so sudden that our evaluations of life are very different from what they were pre-COVID. We wrote the paper during COVID, so there wasn't a lot of material around on those subjects then. About one year in from the start of the pandemic, I used the material that was available and observed what was happening around diverse genders and relationships and how certain cohorts had it way worse at that time.

‘This paper's aim was to catch a glimpse of how our perceptions, behaviours and ideals – that romantic ideal of intimate relationships – have changed. And to see the ways in which those changes may affect how individuals foster future relationships.’

Torrens University recognises that student loneliness is a serious issue

As Amanda considers the issue of loneliness for university students, she says, ‘I think Torrens has done quite a bit in this area. We have EAP services for students, especially if they are studying offshore. They can go to our student counselling page on the Torrens website and book a session online or face-to-face. Also, in our role as learning facilitators, we check in with students if they've been absent, for example, in the crucial first few weeks of term, to find out how they are. We do this in a way that is not intrusive but to say, "Hello, we've missed you in class. We just wanted to conduct a wellbeing checkup to see if you're going to be joining us and if there's anything we can provide to assist you." We check in with them in a very personal way.

‘It's important to get the message out that mental health is like physical health. Everyone goes to their GP; sometimes you go because you have an illness or you feel unwell. And many of us go to the GP routinely, even when we feel okay, to get a full checkup. In the same way, taking a mental health wellbeing checkup does not necessarily indicate that you are sick or experiencing any psychological difficulties. It just means that you want to see how your wellbeing is going. It's the same as someone asking you, "Oh, how are you today? How are you feeling this week?"

‘We want to ensure that our students feel comfortable speaking to us about their wellbeing; that they can say to us, "I would like to have a chat about my mental health."’

What are Amanda’s plans for her Health career?

‘Well, I do have some future research papers that I would like to work on. I'd be really interested to go back to philosophical bases and observe how individuals have reprioritised their lives. Through recent events, people's bucket lists have changed, their motivations towards life, and their values have changed. I want to tap into those changes and see how people’s lives and priorities have been altered.

‘Their expressions of love, their understanding of hate, gratitude, kindness, all of that have transitioned, based on the Great Resignation, and of course, the social movements such as the Me Too movement, the Black Lives Matter movement. All these transitions are fundamental to how our generation perceives the world. People’s perceptions and behaviours are significant because they really form the foundation of how we govern ourselves as a society today.

‘Another aim – I would love to continue being in the classroom. I find that teaching is very grounding. While I have expertise in the subjects I teach, and I want to shower students with the knowledge I have in these topics, when I go into a classroom filled with students from all walks of life I stop and think, I'm not the expert of how you lead your lives. I like to meet new students and find out how they think and have them share their own learning experiences, as a way to grow our collective pool of knowledge. I believe that's extremely important.

‘I would also like to collaborate on future projects that will have value for people – whether they're academic research projects or applied practice, or projects with clinical applications. Collaborating with different industries, especially in Health, takes you outside of your regular feedback loop. I love to collaborate with media industries and design industries, too, looking at the things that people gravitate towards every day.

‘It doesn't make sense to think of a discipline sitting within closed borders. For example, Health is everything – it's the way you go to work, the way you share knowledge, the way you operate on social media, and the way you spend time in intimate settings with your family. That's all mental health as well.’

Amanda’s advice for Health and Hospitality students

‘I would start by saying there are no guidebooks to structure how best to learn. Learning is a personal journey; you can personalise your academic GPS so that it aligns with your learning style. As a lecturer, I'm also a learner and we all learn in a very individualistic way. So don't be afraid to tap into that. And remember that everyone's unique.

‘Secondly, don't be afraid to ask questions. There are no silly questions. I think curiosity is really linked to passion; together they will drive your motivation to tap into diverse areas you might never have thought about at the very start of your course.

‘Thirdly, plan well. Attending classes consistently is great, but to discover your fullest potential, you should also allocate personal study time and block it out in your calendars so it takes priority in your week.

‘Also, reframe the way you might perceive failure. A journey to success requires many, many attempts but surely, if you persist, you will arrive at your destination. So try not to take feedback too harshly, and if you fail a subject or an assessment, it just means you're still learning. That's the whole reason we're all here at university and engaging in the school of life – we're all learning until we get to our destination. And even that is not the end of the road, learning doesn’t end and our careers can keep evolving.’

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